In this sequel to The Dark Mirror, King Bridei of the Priteni believes his mission is to eradicate the Gaels and their Christian religion from his lands. He is a strong king, brave in battle and devout in his allegiance to the old gods, so he’s the ideal person to unite the Priteni against this outside threat. Bridei is planning a big move against the Gaels, but in order to succeed, he needs the help of a foreign chieftain named Alpin. Bridei therefore proposes to offer his royal hostage, Ana, to Alpin as a bride, hoping this will ensure his loyalty. Ana longs to marry for love, but she knows she has no choice in the matter. She sets out for Alpin’s lands in the company of Faolan, Bridei’s most trusted bodyguard, spy, and assassin. As Ana and Faolan travel together, their relationship deepens, but she is already promised to Alpin. And when she finally arrives at Alpin’s court, Ana discovers a shocking secret that will have drastic implications for both Bridei’s campaign and her own heart.
Much like its predecessor, The Dark Mirror, this book is very slow-paced, and I had trouble getting into it as a result. I find the world of this series fascinating; it’s based on historical facts (the Priteni were real, and Bridei really was their king for a time), but Marillier weaves many fantastical elements into the setting. Half the novel focuses on Ana’s story, while the other half follows Bridei’s campaign against the Gaels. Personally, I was much more interested in Ana’s story, especially since I always enjoy a little romance with my fantasy! Interestingly, the story seems very predictable at first, but it eventually veers into an unexpected direction. I wasn’t entirely pleased with the resolution of Ana’s story, but it does provide some interesting avenues to explore in the final book of the trilogy. I’ll definitely be reading The Well of Shades to see how everything turns out, but I don’t think this series is Marillier’s best work. Try her Sevenwaters books instead!