It all started when Thorvald read the letter holding the long-concealed truth. His father was not the venerable, slain chieftain Ulf who led the expedition and settling of the Light Isles, but Somerled, his hated brother who’d been banished by his blood brother Eyvind from the islands before Thorvald was born. Driven by the anger of his mother Margaret’s deceit and the intense need to find his father, Thorvald plots to sail with his friend Sam on Somerled’s same course. The two friends aren’t the only to sneak away on the journey, however. Creidhe, the daughter of prietess princess Nessa and Wolfskin Eyvind also saw Thorvald storm off. Without asking or being told, she knows exactly what Thorvald will do. For she loves him, and has been his best friend since they were young. It doesn’t matter that Thorvald doesn’t look at her that way. Creidhe has the faith that one day he will come around to her domestic charms she so values. Besides, he needs her help. And it may also have to do with the small flicker of rightness she feels deep down that this is her path.
I think of all Juliet Marillier‘s books this one had me from the first sentence. After being left with that sad, lonely image of Somerled and the heartbreaking position of Margaret at the end of Wolfskin, I’ve never been quite as anxious to open the next book in a Marillier series. The need to find closure with some characters and catch up with others could not be when I get around to it, but immediately. Only winning characters cause this kind of urgency, and as it turns out, seeing these characters find happiness and redemption was the most rewarding part of Foxmask. That and the well-written, suspenseful plot, which had me throwing out all my expectations in turn and biting my nails at the sheer impossibility of the decisions Thorvald, and especially Creidhe, are forced to make. Choosing your love or your friends at the death of the other, or killing your countrymen over and over to protect your kin and live a solitary life, or choosing your family over everything you know – these are far worse than your standard win-lose situations and resulted in strong character development from both Thorvald and Creidhe’s characters, who went from childish to incredibly mature. While I was in denial over how things would turn out and would’ve wanted it different, I had the sense that things ended as they should, maddening misunderstandings and sorely missed chances aside. And this is exactly what I’ve come to expect from a Juliet Marillier novel.