About the Book
Bridei is a young nobleman, a fosterling of one of the most powerful druids in the land, Broichan. All of Bridei’s earliest memories are of this dark and mysterious man he trusts above all others. Broichan seems to have plans for Bridei, seems to be training him for a special purpose the older man will not divulge. One bitter Midwinter’s Eve, everything changes when Bridei finds a child on their doorstep – a child abandoned by the Fair Folk.
It is the height of ill fortune to have truck with the Fair Folk, and all in the area counsel the babe’s death. But Bridei sees an old and precious magic at work and, heedless of the danger, fights to save the child. Broichan is wary but relents, for Bridei must grow to be his own man and make his own decisions. As Bridei comes to manhood, he watches the shy girl Tuala blossom into a beautiful woman, and feels things he didn’t know were possible. Broichan sees the same process and feels only danger, for Tuala could be a key part in Bridei’s future…or could spell his doom.
If there’s one thing I can say about the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on recently due to cancer and all that is that my mood for books has been wildly swinging. Some days I’m angry and bitter and want to read something with some epic carnage and serious blood, creative deaths and loss of limbs. Some days I might feel a little…forlorn and alone so I need a book that has some form of comforting relationship in it. I was fitting in the last category when I picked up The Dark Mirror.
I have read the first two books in Marillier’s Sevenwaters series. While I enjoyed the first book, I wasn’t so hot on the second (though it was enjoyable). I do, however, enjoy how Marillier blends Celtic culture and lore with fantasy aspects to always create something new, different, interesting and heartwarming. This book fit the bill for my mood when I picked it up. Though, due to previous experience, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like The Dark Mirror, love it, or be rather indifferent to it.
The Dark Mirror isn’t a book you need to read every word of to fully grasp. It’s one of those books you can happily skim and gather just about as much event information, world building and characterization details as if you had read it word for word. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, books that you can skim in this fashion are kind of nice if you are more in the mood for something a little more predictable, a little less profound. Skimming books often means that they aren’t quite on the same level of books that require detailed reading to fully grasp. Then again, I’m not sure you can compare the two. It’s like comparing The Dark Mirror to Gardens of the Moon. They both scratch very different itches and both do what they set out to do very well.
I mention the skimming detail above because I think it highlights one important point I should make about this book. The Dark Mirror is what I consider a surface level read. It’s a feel good book that manages to keep those feel good aspects interesting. The world building, while satisfactory, wasn’t anything that was ground breaking. It’s easy to get a feel for the world, history and culture but it’s not vivid or incredibly colorful (though she does add some nice, well researched details to the world and culture that do make it pop). What Marillier spends more of her time on is characterization and the emotional intensity of relationships and aspects of the plot.
I don’t think anyone who has read Marillier will think of her as an epic world builder. She’s more known for her characterization and the emotional intensity of her plots. The Dark Mirror is no different. The world rightfully pales beside her characters, which are vibrantly drawn, if not completely well rounded. The Dark Mirror falls into the same hole that many other “feel good” books fall into. The characters tend to be two-dimensional; some are far too perfect, some are far too mysterious and some are far too evil. Everyone has duty and honor and they all live up to it (or try to) to the letter. This tried and true black-and-white aspect to The Dark Mirror gives the book a slightly tired feel and removes any unique edge the plot could have contained.
The book pays for this with its predictability. With the two-dimensional characters it’s almost painfully obvious who the good guy is, who the mysterious one is and which ones will form a romantic bond. After the history and satisfactory world building has been established, the book loses any form of surprise it could have once contained. It’s unfortunate how much The Dark Mirror looses by falling into a cookie cutter mold regarding relationships and conflict. The two protagonists meet, things happen, feelings begin, something pulls them apart wherein they realize they had deep feelings for each other; then there is more conflict and an ending of true love with hints for more hurdles to cross in later books. None of this is unique; in fact, I’d venture to say every three star romance book has a plot that follows this well-established path.
However, I should note that there is a reason many books follow this mold. For heart warming books that focus on relationships and have strong lines of emotional intensity running through them, this paint-by-numbers plot is comforting and satisfies what many readers are looking for. The Dark Mirror is no different. What redeems The Dark Mirror from being the same-old-same-old coming-of-age and falling-in-love trope is Marrillier’s obvious research with the time period, historical details and added cultural nuances which keep the otherwise predictable plot interesting and helps balance the two dimensionality the characters suffer from.
In summary, this is no Sevenwaters. In my mind, The Dark Mirror is Sevenwater’s younger, piggybacking stepsister. It doesn’t have the attention Sevenwaters has garnished, nor does it deserve it. The Dark Mirror scratches the itches it was meant to scratch, but not as adequately as it could due to satisfactory world building, two-dimensionality and a very predictable plot. However, if you are looking for a “feel good” surface level book, this one fits the bill. While it does have it’s problems, Marillier’s way with words and obvious historical research couple well to balance out its flaws.