This is one of the few books I’ve ever bought before reading it (yes, most books in my library I checked out from the public library first… I’m not big on spending money on things I’m not guaranteed to enjoy). This one, however, seemed promising and I had a really good coupon, so I thought, “Eh, what the heck…” and bought it sight unseen.
And I’m very glad I did.
Daughter of the Forest is based on my favorite faerie tale of all time, The Wild Swans, or The Six Swans depending on which anthology/collection you have.
It’s the story of a young girl who is forced to give up her voice for love of her brothers. Their stepmother curses the boys to remain as swans except for the night of either the full moon or the new moon (can’t rightly remember) and casts the young girl out of the family home. In the night, her brothers come to her, explain the spell, and tell her that the only way to free them is for her to weave shirts out of specific nettles and not speak to a soul til the task is done. The girl agrees, lives in the forest while weaving, and gets along swimmingly til a king from a foreign land finds her, takes her to his castle and marries her. Soon after, he leaves and his unscrupulous adviser uses the girl’s gathering of nettles and silence as proof that she’s a witch and proceeds to condemn her to being burned at the stake. The swans fly in, she throws the shirts on them, they turn to men and declare her innocent, just in time for her husband to return and punish the advisor. After that, they all live happily ever after, except for the youngest brother who has one swan wing instead of an arm, because his shirt didn’t get finished.
I love this story because it has a lot of character depth and development for your average faerie tale. Marillier takes it and adds so much more. She uses the discord between the Britons and Irish Celts as the framework for the tale and ties in both the Anglo-Christian culture of the day and the pagan rituals of the Druids to shape the foreign king and his woodland bride (here, given the name Sorcha) into actual people. These ties to the original faerie tale and the pagan culture of the Celts (think Mists of Avalon) give the story that mystical High Fantasy feel that is so engrossing.
My favorite thing about this story is how gradually the love story between Sorcha and her foreign king plays out. It draws on the setting and characters of the people involved, instead of defying them. That makes it so much more satisfying when they finally figure things out in the end. Instead of plopping a love story on top of the fantasy setting, Marillier weaves it in. Very refreshing.
My only gripe is with Sorcha’s chronically low self-esteem. It made sense, it was woven in very well, but it was still grating after a while. But that’s just me as a reader; I’m less likely to enjoy what I consider angst or gloom.
Overall, a very good book. I haven’t gotten around to reading its companions (is the first in the Sevenwaters Trilogy), but I’m sure I will at some point. The fact that I want to is a good reflection on the quality of the storytelling and the writing itself. But I am a Fantasy/Faerie Tale nut, so I think I would have enjoyed this one regardless. 🙂