This was a book that I really, really wanted to like, but, in the end, felt quite meh about it – 3/5.
The story starts strong, with Caitrin, who tells her own story, fleeing into a dark and creepy countryside and being taken in by nervous and suspicious villagers. We come to find Caitrin’s story slowly, but it is obvious from the beginning that she is running away from a bad home life and hoping to make her own way as a scribe, a trade she learned from her now-deceased father.
There isn’t much business for a scribe in the wilds, and one begins to wonder why Caitrin would flee there instead of to a city of some sort, but, luckily for her, the lord of the area just so happens to need a scribe for the summer. The catch? Everyone is terrified of Lord Anluan, who is cursed and lives on a cursed hill with his demons. Caitrin decides beggars can’t be choosers and heads up the hill the next day anyway.
The story is a rough retelling of Beauty & the Beast, but lacks many of the basic elements (the fact that Caitrin’s father is dead and has nothing to do with the situation being one). One of the keys, though, to successfully recapturing the essence of Beauty & the Beast is that Beauty is able to look beyond the Beast’s exterior to love, cherish, and appreciate who he actually is. (And, actually, Beast does the same for Beauty.) But in Heart’s Blood, I just never got that feeling. Yes, Anulan is crippled and not very good looking, and yes, Caitrin falls in love with him – but I never believed the love story. There were never scenes of Caitrin and Anulan having real conversations, or learning that they both really loved something, or just enjoying each other’s company. Their conversations always seemed to end in misunderstand or in Anulan getting angry, or whatever. We went from Caitrin being scared of him and uncomfortable in his presence, to her suddenly not being able to live without him, being “filled with desire”, etc.
Beyond that, the book just went on for too long. Instead of focusing on Anulan’s home, his curse, the dangers threatening him and his people, we had to deal with this really long section of Caitrin basically “discovering herself” and learning to be strong by going home to face her own problems and get them all taken care of. Nice sentiment, except it really just threw off the whole groove of the story. Marillier manages to make it sound like Caitrin going home to face up to an abusive family and claim her rightful inheritance was at the same level of importance and difficulty as Anulan facing an entire invading Norman army while at the same time dealing with a century-old curse. I am not at any level belittling the suffering and difficulties people face at the hands of abusive relatives, but it just really didn’t fit in with this story, and it really felt like the whole side-story with Caitrin going home was merely being used to add another hundred pages to the book.
Heart’s Blood had its strong moments, with some good characters and intriguing premises, but overall I just couldn’t get behind the love story, which felt stilted and forced. And since the love story is really the crux of Beauty & the Beast, the whole book ended up a bit meh for me.