Blade of Fortriu by Juliet Marillier (Bridei Chronicles: Book 2)

The kingdom of Fortriu has enjoyed five years of peace since Bridei came to the throne. Now the king is preparing for the long-awaited war that he hopes will see the Gaelic invaders driven from the west forever. The princess Ana, a hostage of Fortriu since childhood, is sent north to make a strategic marriage with a chieftain she has never met – and with it gain an ally on whom Bridei's victory relies. Her escort is led by a man she despises: the enigmatic Faolan, Bridei's assassin and spy. The expedition is ill-fated, and when Ana arrives at the chieftain Alpin's stronghold in the mysterious Briar Wood, she is uneasy. This is a place full of secrets. When Ana discovers a prisoner kept within the bleakest of confinement, she is met with a conspiracy of silence. Faolan, tortured by an impossible love, walks a delicate path between loyalty and betrayal...

In this second book of the Bridei Chronicles, Juliet Marillier picks up the story five years after The Dark Mirror concludes. Bridei is king, has built his new “castle,” and is married to Tuala (the Fey girl raised almost as his younger sister) who has given birth to his son. While this book gives hints and glimpses of the toddler's (Derelei) special gifts, and develops the reader's interest in the elderly druid Broichan's health and obsession with Derelei, this plotline is obviously meant for a future novel.

The story line that this book concentrates most closely on is Bridei's campaign to get the Christian-practicing Gaels out of Priteni lands, which includes forming an alliance with a particular chieftain (Alpin of Briar Wood) whom no one in Bridei's immediate council knows very well. To form that alliance, Bridei sends the lovely hostage Ana, a friend of Tuala's, to marry the guy. Despite Ana's stoic, queenly march off to her duty, surprise after surprise messes with her heart. Now, don't get me wrong. This doesn't turn into merely a mushy romance story. Marillier maintains a well-researched, historically-influenced fantasy story with several intricate plotlines.

In one story, we have Bridei faltering in his convictions regarding the religion of the invaders, yet we're not supposed to see this as a king's weakness. In another story, we have the overthrow of the invaders. In another story, we have a plot to kill the king, which is woven with threads from the story where Ana and the two men who love her stand upon the verge of destroying an alliance. The plotlines take quite a while to develop over the seasons during which the action and travel take place, but, as the first novel in the series did, The Blade of Fortriu gives time to learn more about the characters and to look forward to the next installment in the story.

8/10 A well-researched, historically-influenced fantasy story with several intricate plotlines.

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