I just finished two books by Juliet Marillier, Cybele's Secret and Heart's Blood. They were both very good so I wanted to do a little mini-review of each.
Cybele's Secret is a companion - really a sequel, because if you haven't read the first book the second could get rather confusing - to Marillier's Wildwood Dancing, which is her take on the fairy tale of the seven dancing princesses. Secret is the story of one of the sisters, who travels with her father to Istanbul and has to unravel a mystery surrounding an ancient cult and a valuable artifact, with the help and/or interference of the creatures from the Other Kingdom.
(The covers of both Dancing and Secret deserve a special mention. They're incredibly detailed, and the pictures are all directly related to the story, like little clues about characters or plot developments. While reading I was constantly flipping back and referring to the cover. Nothing bugs me more than a cover that doesn't reflect the story, either in tone or details, like the heroine having the wrong color hair... it just proves that the cover artist never even read the book in the first place. The cover for Heart's Blood isn't quiet as impressive, but it's perfectly accurate.)
Heart's Blood is a stand-alone story of a young woman, a scribe, who runs away from abusive relations and winds up on a haunted hill ruled by a rather unstable chieftain. It's set in Ireland during the Norman conquest, and although I haven't specifically seen it stated anywhere, it struck me as a twist on the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, complete with magic mirror.
One of the things that Marillier does extremely well - if you haven't read her Sevenwaters books, what the hell are you waiting for? - is that she really makes you love the characters. You want what they want and when they hurt, you hurt. That sounds like a fairly obvious thing, but for me it goes beyond them just being sympathetic or likable characters. She knows just the right heart-strings to tug on.
The other thing she constantly gets right is the relationship angle. In all of her books (that I've read... I think there's a few out there I haven't gotten to yet), the romantic pairing is set up pretty early on, and you're almost completely sure that it's going to turn out okay. Almost. Marillier makes sure to put her characters through all kinds of emotional trials and tribulations -- misunderstandings, personality clashes, heartbreak of all kinds -- but it just makes the eventual happy ending all the more awesome. Secret in particular has a pretty impressive love triangle... for a long time, I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out, and to make things better, both of the men vying for the heroine's affection are both good men who would have both been a good match for her in their own way. It was nice to have a love triangle where one of the suitors isn't standing in the shadows, twirling an oily mustache.
Finally, her integration of the different ancient cultures is just fascinating. I don't know how accurate any of it is because I'm not a scholar of ancient European history, but she sure makes it sound believable.
Very good books, great author.