Initial thoughts: Just manages a 5, but only because I'm judging harshly based on my theory that nothing, ever, in the history of awesome, will ever top Daughter of the Forest.Review: As I've mentioned on an occasion or seventy, I am a BIG fan of Juliet Marillier and count her Daughter of the Forest not only as my favorite fairy tale retelling, but among my favorite books, period. Because of this, I am always just about equal parts excitement and trepidation when I start a new book by her. A part of me knows it's never going to measure up to the pedestal I keep Daughter of the Forest on, and part of me doesn't care because I know it's going to be so frakking good anyway. So I went into Heart's Blood, which had been on my wishlist for eons, knowing I was going to be let down and that I was still going to love it. It's such a strange way to read a book...Heart's Blood is a very full and complete story - as her tales always are - easily standing on its own two feet outside of its Beauty and the Beast bones. In fact, many readers may not even recognize it outright as a B&B tale, it's so well-developed beyond that. Marillier is at the top of my list of authors to recommend both to people looking for a fairy tale retelling and people who think they'd never like or want to read a fairy tale retelling. The elements are there for those who love the tales, but her stories are so much more than a simple fairy tale, always. Her world-building is thoughtful and skillful, and beyond her gorgeous writing, her handling of a story is sure to please so many different types of readers, looking for so many different things. Her stories are atmospheric and lush, very vividly detailed and lovingly rendered - the types of stories to escape into, to sigh over, and to push rabidly on every reader to cross your path.In addition to her world-building, Marillier shows a real mastery of character-building. As with her other works, Heart's Blood demonstrates great character growth for so many of the characters, right down to the minor ones. Marillier can really make you grow to love someone in such a short time-frame, she is just so very good at building a character. They can be introduced in the end of the book and still you root/fear/feel for them. But beyond letting you love them, she gives each of them, right down to the most minor, the chance to become a round character and have their moment to shine. Marillier doesn't deal in cardboard characters, and hallelujah, if that is not every reader's dream... So you can only imagine that if her minor characters are full and realized, her main characters are practically touchable. Caitrin and Anluan are no exception, and I really feel as if, were I to climb some random Irish hill with a castle at the top, I'd find Anluan pacing unevenly yet stormily about the courtyard...That said, I felt there were some... missing links. Missed connections, I guess... I felt like Caitrin and Anluan should have loved each other, that they were absolutely meant to love each other, but I couldn't quite see how they did. It was like, there's something there and they're made for each other, but within the actual text of the story, it was never really put out there, not fully. It wasn't given enough of a foundation, beyond the reader's expectation. It was close, so close, but there was just something a little off, some teensy but key moments where the romance buds and blooms, and I don't know, maybe they happened offstage, but I needed them (because I'm living vicariously, dammit!). I'm sure I'm being hard on Marillier because I know just how goddamned well she can build a romance and make me believe every palpable, heart-rending, fluttery moment of it. But still...But this is really a tiny drawback, because even Marillier slightly off her game is leagues beyond what you'll get from many authors out there. Something I came to realize as I finished this book was that I trust Marillier implicitly. I'll go wherever she wants to take me, because I know she's going to make it worthwhile. Heart's Blood is fantastic as a Beauty/Beast retelling, of course, but so much more than that. It adult moments, but it's not gratuitous; it can be dark, but it's never without hope. Marillier understands balance and she understands longing, and it's a very honest story. Marillier is always honest and doesn't toy with her readers, and I've come to respect and trust her immensely because of that. Her writing is very authentic and real-feeling, always. Even when that may be uncomfortable. And above all, her stories fulfill something deep inside of the reader, and I love her for that.