Something different was going on here; a broken 'couple' who needed each other but not in a way typically seen on page. Blackthorn (not her real name) in particular always jumped off the page. She is intelligent, emotional, and complex; a mostly good person who is currently clouded by thoughts that are assuredly not so good. A fae enforced bargain ensures she stays in one place helping the locals as a wisewoman/healer instead of focusing on the revenge she so eagerly seeks. Her partner, Grim (probably also not his real name), provides a balance that she comes to rely on to remain sane. They learn a bit about each other, solve a sticky mystery, and entertain anyone who wants a fairy tale they have not seen re-spun twenty times already.
The second book of a series must then provide a reason to keep reading through the trilogy. Tower of Thorns was not the same magical experience Dreamer's Pool was but it held its own. The two protagonists learn a bit more about each other and confront the fears that may keep them apart. A new mystery is solved. If one was already a fan of the series, and more importantly, already all-in on Blackthorn's plight then enthusiasm doesn't wane and that third book is eagerly anticipated.
Back to that third book. The one that forever sets the memories in place, Den of Wolves. A book that not only must set up a whole new sub plot (that in reality takes up the majority of the page count), but also must start tying up the dangling plot lines two books before it have left it. Success gives the Blackthorn and Grim series lasting memory. Failure (or worse, mediocrity), dooms it to the dustiest shelves of used book stores everywhere.
Something Marillier seems to excel at is letting the reader think they know where everything is going and rather than shatter that feeling gradually showing that there is way more than even the most astute reader could guess. Having the cake and eating it, who could ask for more? The serial mystery format works surprisingly well and is no exception in Den of Wolves. A construction project with a mysterious history leads both Grim and Blackthorn to question everything about the family financing it. A man with obvious fae ties may be the key to unraveling the mystery but the past is almost a blank to him. All the while Blackthorn suddenly finds herself with an opportunity to provide some closure to her own past (and thus the series). But is she willing to pay the cost?
The two plot lines are woven so tightly they almost feel like one; at no point does it feel like the author is fighting her own story to fit everything in. The frustration with this book may come in how easy it seems the long game comes together. Through two books Blackthorn was defined by her past; at least in her own head. Readers hoping for the epic confrontation with the man her hatred burns for may be disappointing by the almost casual nature of the final showdown. On one side of the coin it actually feels real; it takes more than one person to solve large problems. It also allows the protagonist to fully show her growth, specifically in the decisions she makes when her change at vengeance comes. On the other side of the coin it comes down in a fairly anti-climatic form. Still a bit heart wrenching, but not exactly exciting.
How this series is remembered reader to reader will most likely hinge on how that ending is perceived. Overall this has been a very strong series and a worthy read for any lover of fairy tales tired of the same old thing. Den of Wolves shouldn't disappoint anyone already invested. And those who haven't started Blackthorn and Grim should probably give it a chance. That all important third book did exactly what it is supposed to for the series.
Copy for review provided by publisher.