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The Dark Mirror: Book One of the Bridei Chronicles    by Juliet Marillier order for
Dark Mirror
by Juliet Marillier
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

There are Arthurian resonances to Dark Mirror, a very welcome beginning to a new fantasy series (The Bridei Chronicles) by one of my favorite Antipodean authors. Marillier's dedication 'TO GOOD TEACHERS, from whom we learn to think for ourselves' stands well as a summary of the book's message.

Bridei, youngest son of King Maelchon of Gwynedd and his wife Anfreda, is fostered at the age of five with powerful druid Broichan at his steading of Pitnochie in the northern realm of Fortriu. Bridei's guarded upbringing is a lonely one of cold discipline, learning, and occasional danger. He's guarded, taught weaponry and befriended by seasoned campaigner Donal. Broichan teaches him lore and ritual, magic and personal discipline. He also teaches Bridei to respect and be wary of the perilous Good Folk, and accompanies him to the Dark Mirror in the Vale of the Fallen, where the boy sees visions of Fortriu warriors' defeat at the hands of the Gael invaders.

Bridei's chilly upbringing changes one Winter Solstice when Broichan is away from Pitnochie. The boy feels called to go outside into the cold, blue moonlight. There, he finds a small basket, holding a baby, one of the Good Folk. He takes her in, names her Tuala, and uses magic to persuade the adults to allow her to stay. On his return, Broichan fears what might come from this, but reluctantly allows the baby to remain in the household. Tuala's presence enriches Bridei's life and he treats her as a beloved, small sister. Revealed only to the reader are two powerful presences watching from the wild, with their own agenda for the children, who they say have a long, hard road ahead of them.

Bridei grows and learns, and is gradually introduced to a council of Broichan's peers, who have plans for his and Fortriu's future. Tuala guesses it long before he does - she learns what she can, and privately develops her own magic. As she reaches puberty, she's shunned and mistrusted by all but Bridei. When he leaves to join a venture against the Gael with his new friend Gartnait, Broichan seizes the opportunity to remove Tuala from Pitnochie, and she ends up at Banmerren, a stone-walled compound where daughters of the nobility are educated, along with young women trained to serve the Shining One as priestesses.

While, unbeknownst to Bridei, Tuala suffers loneliness and banishment, he begins to make a name for himself in war, an assassination attempt kills someone close to him, and enemies gather. His protectors assign the king's assassin, Faolan, to watch over him, on their return to court at Caer Pridne, where King Drust is slowly dying. Amidst plots and counter-plots, Bridei learns of Tuala's whereabouts and determines to see her, though it is forbidden for a man to enter Banmerren. Events unfold, testing both Tuala and Bridei to the extreme, and developing intriguing characters like the strong princess Ferada, who fights the will of her Lady Macbeth of a mother, Dreseida.

I highly recommend The Dark Mirror as a brilliant beginning to a new series about the Picts of Scotland. It blends a Camelot-like tale with faery magic, dynastic politics, and a forbidden romance. I can't wait for more.

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