(This “review” was originally posted 6/20/2006 at wotmania.com, which closed down at the end of August in 2009. [Most of the members can now be found at RAFO.] It has not been edited, since I cannot remember the novel in question. Seriously. The cover [I read the blue twilight edition) is lovely, and that is all I recall.])
The Dark Mirror, book one of The Bridei* Chronicles, follows the life of Bridei, king of the Picts from 554 A.D, from his early life to his ascension to the throne. Marillier makes no bones about the fact that a lot of the things in the novel – the pagan religion, the magic, etc., are derived from educated guesswork. What we have is a fairly competent retelling, with a dash of destiny, magic and elves (the Good Folk) thrown in for taste.
Characterisation is competent, believable. Nothing very surprising shows up re: the hero-who-would-be-king Bridei, or his druid-mentor Broichan, or his childhood companion Tuala (Tuala might be more interesting in the later books, since she’s got some fairly heavy mysterious/Good Folk strings in her background). In fact, some of the minor players are more interesting than Bridei and Tuala, and Marillier has drawn them quite well. If I read the further novels, it’ll be for the minor characters, and not Bridei himself.
The plot doesn’t lag, but four or five days after I read it simply cannot remember what happened that was enough to fill six hundred odd pages. A lot of the time is spent simply reflecting on emotions or what has happened or on dialogue. It’s a fairly standard young-boy-is-groomed-to-be-king plot, no huge surprises. As most retellings of this sort, the characters and the peoples are involved in wars, territorial rights, honour, marital alliances – and of course, negotiations between the established religions and the newer Christianity. Again, Marillier handles this last quite well, and if I read the next few novels it will be to see how she handles this negotiation.
I cannot really point out anything that is wrong with the novel. But it’s… well, it’s not exciting. I don’t need to read the next novel, and I have no deep urge to look up the history of the Picts (what is known of it) and their legends. Marillier is not boring, I was thoroughly engaged throughout the text. And yet. There’s something missing, that essential oomph of good readering, and I guess I’ll be more likely to pick up the next book if I don’t have to pay for it, if I have time and nothing else to read.
My rec? Eh. Pick it up if it’s on sale or in a library. Borrow, don’t buy.
*Pronunciation: brid (rhymes with bid) –ay (as in day). I spent too much time calling him Bride-ee. This did not help.