Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
I’ve been meaning to read the rest of Juliet Marillier’s novels ever since I fell in love with her Sevenwaters series. It’s taken me a while to pick up another Marillier book because the huge TBR pile keeps distracting me with other choices. Nowadays, I’m behind on reviews so I thought it would be a good idea to sink my teeth into a doorstopper so I can catch up on blog posts. The Dark Mirror, the first in the Bridei Chronicles, is certainly one of those with its 670 pages.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Bridei is a young nobleman fostered at the home of Broichan, one of the most powerful druids in the land. His earliest memories are not of hearth and kin but of this dark stranger who while not unkind is mysterious in his ways. The tasks that he sets Bridei appear to have one goal-to make him a vessel for some distant purpose. What that purpose is Bridei cannot fathom but he trusts the man and is content to learn all he can about the ways of the world.
But something happens that will change Bridei’s world forever… and possibly wreck all of Broichan’s plans. For Bridei finds a child on their doorstep on a bitter MidWinter Eve, a child seemingly abandoned by the fairie folk. It is uncommonly bad luck to have truck with the Fair Folk and all counsel the babe’s death. But Bridei sees an old and precious magic at work here and heedless of the danger fights to save the child. Broichan relents but is wary.
The two grow up together and as Bridei comes to manhood he sees the shy girl Tuala blossom into a beautiful woman. Broichan sees the same process and feels only danger… for Tuala could be a key part in Bridei’s future…or could spell his doom.
The Dark Mirror spans several years – it starts from Bridei’s childhood when he was first brought to Broichan’s household to endure long years of training. While not cruel, Broichan is very strict and Bridei’s childhood seemed a little bleak without the company of fellow children. Which is why he was ecstatic when he discovers a child left on the doorstep – Bridei names her Tuala and he firmly believes that she is a gift from the gods and he is meant to protect her. As always, I found Juliet Marillier’s writing lyrical and atmospheric. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the pacing of the book was slow. The first half of the book was devoted to Bridei’s learning and how he relates to Tuala as a child. While I liked Bridei, Tuala and several of the secondary characters, I didn’t feel as connected to them as I did with the Sevenwaters characters. I was curious enough about the story to keep on going – I wanted to see how Bridei would develop into a young man and how he’ll face the plans that have been laid out for him. I also wanted to know what Tuala’s role is in Bridei’s life, why she was entrusted in his keeping. But I wasn’t as invested in the story as much as I’d like. I felt a little detached and I guess that prevented me from falling in love with this.
I still believe Juliet Marillier writes excellent historical fiction – I enjoyed reading The Dark Mirror because it reads like a well-researched historical novel with just the right amount of magic to make things interesting. She’s still an auto-buy, auto-read author for me and I’m planning to read the other books in the series because I already have copies. I’m just hoping I’d like them more than I liked this one. The Dark Mirror is a quiet kind of story so I feel like it’s not something that every reader will enjoy. I feel bad that I didn’t find this as amazing as I expected because Juliet Marillier is one of my favorite authors and I can’t even explain why the book didn’t work for me. This experience reminds me of the first Marillier that I read: Wildwood Dancing and the fact that I didn’t love that either. The Dark Mirror really is a well-written novel but I think it just wasn’t for me or I wasn’t in the right mood to read this. If this sounds like your kind of thing then go ahead and pick it up but if you’re reading Juliet Marillier for the first time, I recommend that you start with Daughter of the Forest instead of this one.