Caitrin is a scribe running away from her past when she stumbles into a strange, enchanted city. At the heart of this place filled with whispering townspeople and strangle ghosts in the woods is Whistling Tor - the home of Anluan, master and cripple. He hires her for a summer, but when war seems to be on the horizon, Caitrin must be able to overcome her fears in order to help save this place she starts to call home.
I love this book. Marillier is such a talented writer for these re-imagined fairy tales. This story pays a near-perfect homage to Beauty and the Beast. It is absolutely beautiful because it takes the story but makes it completely new. I don't say that lightly. We can see the shell of the original fairy tale, but these characters, the situation, the struggles are all new. Beautiful.
The characters are written so well. I love how Caitrin is a strong woman. Not through physical strength, but through her convictions.
Marillier does such a wonderful job writing a woman who can be strong without punching idiots left and right. Usually strong women in books end up as a stereotypical "kick-ass" heroine who asserts her strength by actual muscle and playing ball with the big boys. Here, Marillier accomplishes it by letting Caitrin face her fears and stick to her convictions. She doesn't run away when the chips fall, she doesn't shirk her duty even though she bone-scared. And she presses on forward. Strength in the subtlety. A rare find in books these days.
I love how Anluan is not the stereotypical beast, but rather a cripple. A homage to the true story of a man who is no longer a man, reduced to something else. I love the way the relationship develops. Not the ridiculous insta-attraction, but something slow and sweet from care to friendship to love. It is so real, so raw.
And though these two are the main characters, I loved every single character in this book. Fleshed out, important side characters.
I loved how the two main characters were given time to face their fears alone on their two feet before the war begins. Their strength isn't goopy, sappy, imagined strength from the ohmigahd power of love! (sarcastic). Rather, it's found within themselves first. They fix themselves first before falling into something so deep and committed as a relationship. It's a relationship done right..
Perhaps the only weakness in the story is the amount of history that was thrown at us in the beginning - but that is also fairly necessary for reader understanding, so it's fine. But I had a little trouble sifting through what was important and what was extraneous. Ah well, that's history for you.
Four and a half stars because it was so, so lovely. I haven't read a beautiful fairy-tale adaptation like this is a while. I rounded down (and didn't give it that last 0.5 star) because even thought it was beautiful and I have pretty much nothing but compliments and declarations of love for this book.... it didn't give me the shivers, if that makes sense. It didn't make my heart ache as much as I hoped. Despite the brilliant story and wonderful characters, I wish there were more parts that made me gasp and hurt and love and hate. But that isn't something that one can just prescribe to an author. But it is a requirement for that last 0.5 star for me.
Very highly recommended for anyone who loves a slow, beautiful romance with a bit of a fairy tale twist.