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Blade of Fortriu: Book Two of the Bridei Chronicles    by Juliet Marillier order for
Blade of Fortriu
by Juliet Marillier
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters trilogy is still by far my favorite of her works, the Bridei Chronicles - that tell of the Picts of Scotland - are not far behind. In the first book, The Dark Mirror, Marillier told a Camelot-like tale with faery magic, dynastic politics, and a forbidden romance. It ended with Bridei - anointed as King and wed to Tuala, a child of the Good Folk - marshalling his forces to repel the Dalriada. The latter invaded from Ireland several generations earler, and brought a new religion, Christianity, unwelcome to Bridei's people. Bridei and Tuala also now have a small son, Derelei, already showing signs of his mother's powerful talents.

But though Bridei and Tuala play significant roles in Blade of Fortriu, they are not the main focus. The lovely, serene Princess Ana of the Light Isles has been a hostage at the court of Fortriu since she was ten, and is a close friend of Tuala's. Now Bridei needs her to ensure that a powerful northern chieftain, Alpin of Briar Wood, does not ally with the invaders. At short notice - and without being able to negotiate first with Alpin, Bridei sends Ana north to be offered as a reluctant wife to Alpin, guarded by his trusted friend (also a spy and assassin), the dour and bitter Faolan. It's a hard journey through wilderness, met with disaster close to the end that rids them of their entourage and brings them closer to each other. When Alpin unexpectedly meets them, hiding his identity, Ana fears for Faolan and claims him as her bard, a role that he is surprisingly capable of filling, but which causes him great pain.

At Briar Wood, Ana slowly uncovers secrets. Like Bluebeard's wife, she seeks the truth of a hidden set of rooms and of the man Alpin has imprisoned there, someone who is said - and believes it himself - to have done a great evil and to be a madman. This man turns out to be Alpin's brother Drustan (guarded by the compassionate Deord) and to have a surprising talent with birds. Ana finds a place where she can privately talk to Drustan through the walls of his prison. She falls hard for the prisoner, but is committed to perform her duty, as long as Faolan is convinced that the 'cruel and barbaric' Alpin will keep his word to stay out of the coming war. There's a romantic triangle, a daring escape, past (horrific) secrets revealed, war, and treachery - including a plot against King Bridei himself, that might undo all his efforts to repel the Dalriada from his people's shores.

As Faolan says of his and Ana's journey toward the end, 'We are all changed ... Forged in the fire; stripped bare and made anew. Our sinews stretched into harp strings, our hearts made beating drums. Fate plays a different tune on all of us. Love, loss, betrayal, fulfillment.' I can't wait to read Book Three, The Well of Shades.

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