Author: Juliet Marillier
Published: April 1, 1999
Publisher: Tor Books
Series: Sevenwaters #1
Genre: Adult Fantasy, Retelling
Rating: 5 stars
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“But there is one thing you must remember, if you forget all else. There is no good or evil, save in the way you see the world. There is no dark or light save in your own vision. All changes in the blink of an eyelid; yet all remains the same.”My Thoughts
― Juliet Marillier, Daughter of the Forest
Lovely Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by her six brothers who love and protect her. Sorcha is the light in their lives, they are determined that she know only contentment.
But Sorcha's joy is shattered when her father is bewitched by his new wife, an evil enchantress who binds her brothers with a terrible spell, a spell which only Sorcha can lift-by staying silent. If she speaks before she completes the quest set to her by the Fair Folk and their queen, the Lady of the Forest, she will lose her brothers forever.
When Sorcha is kidnapped by the enemies of Sevenwaters and taken to a foreign land, she is torn between the desire to save her beloved brothers, and a love that comes only once. Sorcha despairs at ever being able to complete her task, but the magic of the Fair Folk knows no boundaries, and love is the strongest magic of them all...(Goodreads)
Daughter of the Forest had me under its spell from page one. I went into this book with high expectations, having already read Marillier's Shadowfell, and I was not disappointed. Marillier skillfully weaved a tale that rendered me speechless, and I am dying to read more of her books.
Daughter of the Forest is a retelling of the Six Swans fairy tale. This story tells of six brothers who are turned into swans by an evil stepmother. In order to break the enchantment, their sister must stay silent, not uttering a single word, until she has finished her task of sewing six shirts of starwort for her brothers to wear. Only then will her brothers be transformed back to men. Marillier's retelling is so richly imagined that I actually forgot it was a retelling for awhile. Marillier took this fairy tale and claimed it as her own, bringing the story to life with her beautiful prose.
Once again, Marillier's writing has left me in awe of her world building. While I believe the story was set in Ireland, a lovely country to begin with, Marillier was not afraid to stretch the boundaries of reality. In the woods surrounding Sevenwaters, nothing is as it seems. Magic is alive and ever-present. The Fair Folk are always interfering in human affairs, as people strangely disappear after stepping into a mushroom circle. If they ever return from the Fair Folk's realm, they may have gone mad or they find that decades have passed since their disappearance and their loved ones are all dead. In this magical world, anything can happen, making it all the more frightening and enchanting.
My favorite parts of Daughter of the Forest were when stories were told in a group or a pair. Storytelling was a means of entertainment and also a way of passing myths and legends from generation to generation. They passed the time and gave people strength in harder times. I always enjoyed listening to my mom read to me before bedtime when I was little, but it wasn't long before I grabbed the book from her and wanted to read it all by myself. Soon, I was reading alone and I lost that connection we had shared while reading it together. I long for a time when tales were told around a fire, and each tale changed depending on the storyteller. In this book, I got a taste of that time period, and I found myself entranced by the tales. I enjoyed them immensely, and I fell in love with a people that respected storytelling and even saw grains of truth embedded in the stories. I could not get enough of their magical tales and the old faith they believed in. It added so much character to the book and really made it stand out in the fantasy genre.
As for the romance in Daughter of the Forest, I adored Red. He was patient and understanding, and the romance between Sorcha and Red was wonderfully done. Red was just what she needed. He didn't pressure her to return his feelings because he sensed she had been through a great deal. He protected her, but at the same time, he did not hinder her in her quest. Even though he did not know her entire story, he accepted her for who she was and refused to interfere with her task. Their love was strong and lasting, and I could not have picked a more suitable romantic interest for Sorcha.
And the brothers. I loved them. All six of them. I delighted in each and every one of them, but for different reasons. I loved Liam's strength and leadership. And Diarmid for his charm and charisma. Cormack for his ferocity and Conor for his wisdom. Finbar for his selflessness and then Padriac, my favorite, for his innocence and his love of animals. They had their flaws and shortcomings, but they also suffered alongside Sorcha, stuck in their swan forms. They loved their sister greatly and were extremely overprotective of her.
While there are many sweet, touching moments in Daughter of the Forest, they are outnumbered by the painful scenes that are interspersed throughout. Just as you think things can't get any worse for Sorcha, they do, and it is difficult to read on at times. There is one disturbing scene in particular that just ripped me in two, and I had to put down the book and return to it the next day. Sorcha and her brothers endure so much, and their stepmother puts them through so much suffering, and you may often wonder to what end? This book is not comforting in its portrayal of evil. Instead of a simple separation of black and white, evil and good are present in each individual but in different doses. Daughter of the Forest is not like a Grimm fairy tale, where the witch is definitely evil and the children she wants to gobble up are definitely good. It is way too complicated to be distinguished as such. Sorcha and her brothers suffer because they are good people, and they love their homeland and each other. They refuse to give up because they have something to live for, and good things come to those who wait, and well, to those who spend some time as swans. I might not understand it completely myself, but I admired all of them for their fortitude. No matter what they are put through, their hope is still not extinguished. And out of all of them, Sorcha suffers the most, and she emerges a different, stronger person because of it, eventually finding some happiness out of her circumstances.
I am eager to read the rest of this series and more books by Juliet Marillier. She excels at fantasy, and I can hardly imagine I'll be disappointed. If you are also a lover of fantasy or retellings, I highly recommend Daughter of the Forest. I wish I could read it anew so I could rediscover its wonders all over again.