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The Well of Shades: Book Three of the Bridei Chronicles    by Juliet Marillier order for
Well of Shades
by Juliet Marillier
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I've been looking forward to The Well of Shades for some time, knowing that it would shed light on dour, embittered Faolan - one of the most intriguing characters in Juliet Marillier's Bridei Chronicles - and develop his story further. The first in the series, The Dark Mirror, told a Camelot-like tale of faery magic, dynastic politics, and forbidden romance. In it, Bridei grew up to rule Fortriu as King and wed fey Tuala of the Good Folk.

In Blade of Fortriu, the second in this series about the Picts of Scotland, Faolan accompanied serene Princess Ana of the Light Isles to Briar Wood where she was to marry its chieftain Alpin, to solidify an alliance. Instead she fell in love with Alpin's abused and imprisoned brother Drustan, whose friend and jailer Deord gave his life to assure their escape. Though admiring Drustan, Faolan also fell hard for Ana during their adventures. When he told her of the dark secret in his past, Ana made Faolan promise to go home again to Ireland and reunite with his family, no matter how painful it might be.

As The Well of Shades opens, Faolan is in Ireland, combining a visit to his own folk with a mission for Bridei. He stops in Cloud Hill, seeking to tell Deord's kin (his sister Anda in particular) of his death. At Anda's hut, he finds a green-eyed, starved and abused young woman named Eile, who's very protective of a small girl, Saraid. Faolan does what he can for them and moves on. But Eile follows with Saraid, after a violent act that sets pursuit on their trail. When they're captured by a (surprising) enemy of Faolan's, Eile saves his life and ends up accompanying him back to Fortriu.

There, Tuala has confronted druid Broichan with what she believes is the truth of her parentage and he has disappeared to seek answers, to the dismay of two-year-old Derelei, whom he tutored in magic. Tuala and Bridei welcome a new daughter, Anfreda. At the same time, an entourage arrives from the Light Isles including Ana's lovely younger sister Breda, who's very different in nature. There's a puzzling death, deemed accidental by most, followed by disappearances. Eile becomes a suspect and Faolan, who's changed a great deal from proximity to Eile and Saraid, is frantic.

Juliet Marillier's writing reminds me of Sharon Shinn's in its combination of world-building and magic with romance. This particular episode of the Bridei Chronicles focuses on several characters who have suffered from extreme abuse when young, but who have led their lives subsequently in very different ways, some turning to darkness and others to light. It's a remarkable, thoroughly gripping series, and I look forward, impatiently, to more.

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