Heart's Blood tells the story of Caitrin, forced to leave her house, running from her violent and controlling family. She finds herself upon Whistling Tor, a place dominated by a haunted castle, where spirits roam the hill, terrifying the village. The Lord of the castle, Anluan, does nothing to save the villagers from the presences of the underworld, in fact, he does nothing to rule his lands.
When Caitrin ran, she took with herself the tools of her father's trade: inks, quills and paper. As a scribe, and fluent in Latin, she sees an opportunity when a man from the castle comes to the village inquiring for someone with such skills.
She comes to meet Anluan, a man with a bad temper and some physical deficiencies, and a retinue of servants, most of them not entirely human. Her task will be to translate the diaries of Anluan great-grandfather, in which there might be a way to save the Whistling Tor from the host of undead that roam the hill.
Based on the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, Heart's Blood is much more than a simple retelling. Caitrin, the heroine, is a girl running away from the nightmare that her house has become, but not a frighten girl cowering from the world. She has a strong mind and during the story she comes to face her biggest fears. Anluan, the “Beast”, is not the monster portrayed in the fairytale. Most of his beastly qualities are due to his temper, and his attitude towards Caitrin. Most of all, he sees himself as a monster. However, the story does have the elements of the fairytale, a magic plant, not a Rose, but Heart's Blood; a magic mirror, actually several; a household full of enchanted servants, in this case undead. And of course, a happily ever after ending.
Although the book follows Caitrin, there are different storylines woven in Heart's Blood. Parallel to Caitrin's story, there is the story of Nechtan, the evil great-grandfather, and his quest to assemble an horde of spirits to his binding; the story of Anluan's father, Irial, a botanist at heart struggling with depression after his wife death; and the story of the women of Whistling Tor, all of them with a tragic ending.
Among the amazing characters are the undead that live in the castle. Do not think of spirits, because they can be touched, they are not wisps of smoke moving about; neither are they zombies, running aimlessly around. They are clearly different, cold and pale, but they remain human (although some more than others). And it's their humanity that brings a bigger depth to this story, to be more than a simple fairytale.
It's a beautiful story, that deals with fears and disability, well suited for young adults, although there is no age restriction to like a good book. The style of writing is very fluid, like all of the Juliet Marillier's books. (5/5)