Retro Friday: The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier

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:

The Dark Mirror by Juliet MarillierBridei 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.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Calico Reaction

18 thoughts on “Retro Friday: The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier

  1. Interesting!
    I saw this books shortly after I discovered Juliet’s books but I never felt the pull toward them like I did to Heart’s Blood or the Sevenwaters books.

    And I don’t think I’ll read it, it sounds a little slow over all to me.

    Thanks for the review.

    • I’ve heard Heart’s Blood too because I’m always curious about Beauty and the Beast retelling. I didn’t love that either. But like I said, I still enjoy reading Juliet Marillier’s novels.

      Hmm you might giver YA novels a try? Wildwood Dancing, Cybele’s Secret and her latest one, Shadowfell.

  2. Oh I second your recommendation of Daughter of the Forest. I loved it! Are the rest of the Sevenwaters books just as good?

    Is there a second book to The Dark Mirror? Perhaps things will start to pick up there. Just like the Queen of Attolia of MWT’s The Thief series. πŸ˜€

    • I loved Son of the Shadows just as much as Daughter of the Forest. I had a hard time getting into the third book but the fourth was really good. πŸ™‚

      The Dark Mirror is the first in a trilogy so yes, there are sequels. I already have copies of both so I’m planning to read them – I just don’t know when I’ll get to them. Right now, I’m still in the mood for contemporary YA.

  3. I am so glad that you reviewed this one. I am OBSESSED with Juliet Marillier and I have just started reading her books that are NOT Sevenwaters because I spent years just reading them over and over. Recently I read (and reviewed) Heart’s Blood by her which is a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast which I ADORED. It was reminiscent of her Sevenwaters ones and I liked it just as much. I felt the same way you feel about this one when I read Wildwood Dancing, I loved it but it just wasn’t the same :]

    • Hello, fellow Juliet Marillier fan. πŸ™‚ I’ve read Heart’s Blood as well and I liked it but didn’t love it. Huh, that makes me realize that so far, I’ve only loved her Sevenwaters books. I’ll keep reading her books though, I’ve heard that the Bridei sequels are even than the first book.

  4. I’m reading Daughter of the Forest now and have been for about 3 weeks frankly, it’s not a quick read but I’m loving it. I’m sorry you didn’t connect with this one like you expected or hoped to, I hope that the rest of the series works out better for you! Her writing is certainly atmospheric and lyrical, but I could see how she could venture into slow. I’d say take a break at least before you try and go back for more of this series.

    Did you get approved for an ARC of Shadowfell? Interested to hear what more people think of her new YA series.

    • Hmm I can’t remember how long it took me to finish Daughter of the Forest but it was probably a couple of days. I think I kept comparing the pace of this to Daughter of the Forest and I never felt that Sorcha’s story was slow. Sure, it was long but I didn’t have problems with that. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll like the sequels better.

      Looking forward to seeing your review of Daughter of the Forest! So glad you loved it. πŸ™‚ Yep, I got approved for Shadowfell on NetGalley but I haven’t had a chance to read that. I’m thinking I’ll start on Unspoken first because that one doesn’t have a Kindle edition.

  5. To be honest, I am really into the quiet sort of thing and can put up with a slow pace if the writing is right. So, I’m still going to read the heck out of The Dark Mirror. Also, Sevenwaters totally holds a special place in my heart and I’m not sure she can top that place.

    ALSO! I love the idea of reading a doorstopper so as to be able to catch up on a backlog of reviews. I feel like I need to do that, ha ha.

    • April, I have a feeling you’ll like this since you don’t mind slower paces in books and you loved the Sevenwaters series. Like I said, I’m still planning to read the other Bridei books and I’m hoping I’ll like them a lot more than this one.

      LOL it’s a good idea and I guess I was able to catch up a bit but I’m behind again – I think I have two or three reviews that I need to work on.

  6. I have this on my TBR and have been meaning to start it forever. Maybe I’ll save it for a lazy summer holiday.

    I’ve loved her Sevenwaters books, but for some reason haven’t read any of her other ones.


    • Li, that’s a good idea! Over here, the rainy season has started and I think it’s always nice to curl up with a good book indoors while it’s raining outside.

      Hope you get to read Juliet Marillier’s other books soon. πŸ™‚

  7. I’ve had this series setting on my shelf for months now and I keep meaning to pick them up. Hmmm.. I don’t know if I’ll love it now tho. Thanks for the review.

    • Michelle, I still think it would be a good idea for you to read them since you’re a fantasy fan and you already have copies. I’d love to know what you think of this. πŸ™‚

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