Title: Daughter of the Forest
Author: Juliet Marillier
Stand Alone/ Series: Book 1 of 4 books set in the Sevenwaters world. It can be read as a stand- alone – the next books deal with the descendents of the protagonist.
Summary: from the author’s website – First published in 1999, Daughter of the Forest is loosely based on the traditional story of The Six Swans, which appears in Grimm’s Fairy Tales and has been re-told in many versions, including one by Hans Christian Andersen.
In Daughter of the Forest, the fairy tale story – a youngest sister must maintain complete silence while weaving shirts from nettles in order to return her swan brothers to human form – is combined with a family drama set on both sides of the Irish Sea. More than anything, this is a story about the bond of love between siblings.
Why did I read the book: Thea dared me so I had to . She has been talking about it for ages now, saying how much she loves it. Book 4, Heirs to Sevenwaters has made her top 10 of 2008. Why does this constitute a Feat of Strength? There is one event in the book that I avoid reading if I can.
There are those books that grab you by the guts, and won’t let go. The kind that you want to keep on reading until you are done whilst at the same time you don’t want it to end. Ever. The kind that you realise the moment you start reading it that this one is going to be a Good One , the kind that stays with you long after you are done. Daughter of the Forest is one such book – a historical Fantasy (with a bit of romance on the side).
Sorcha is the youngest of seven siblings, children of Colum, Lord of Sevenwaters, a stronghold deep in the forests of Celtic Ireland. Their mother died over Sorcha’s birth and their grief-ridden father has all but left them to run wild in Sevenwaters with nothing but each other’s company. As the children grew each of the brothers assume their position in the household as their mother predicted. Liam, the eldest, the chosen protector and heir; Diarmid, the next in line, the rogue and ladies man; the twins Conor and Cormack – the first a thinker, the latter a warrior; Finbar, the seer, Padriac the healer of animals. As the youngest, Sorcha who is also a healer is closer to Finbar and Padriac, but specially Finbar with whom she is able to communicate with her mind. The brothers are extremely protective of their sister and all of them love their land.
In a time way before England exists, where the peoples of the islands are split into tribes – our protagonists are Celts in Ireland and they are in constant war against Britons, Saxons, Pics, and Vikings. Their main source of conflict is against the Britons though – seen as savages, lacking decency especially after they took the Irish’s places of mystery: Little Island, Greater Island and the Needle which were the heart of the old faith. Lord Colum spends most of the year away in campaigns against the Britons and as the boys reach a certain age they start going off as well – first Liam, then Diarmid. It is after one of these campaigns that they bring a Briton hostage. A young man, whose lineage is of consequence and who is severely tortured for information. Finbar, who at this point has come into himself, as a young boy with a strong mind and strong resolution concocts a plan to aid the prisoner’s escape and he is taken to Father Brian, a catholic hermit who enlists Sorcha’s help in curing the boy. This is not only a source of grave danger for Finbar and Sorcha as discovery means punishment for treachery but also the beginning of a difficult journey for all of them. Sorcha spends time with the boy – who is gravely ill, mind and body and they start an uneasy friendship. One day, while out on the forest, Sorcha is visited by The Lady of the Forest, queen of the Fair Folk and is given a ominous message – that soon, their lives will chance and it has started with the Briton boy, whose name is Simon and that the path ahead is going to be hard.
Before Simon can fully recover, Sorcha needs to go back home for her father has returned with a new wife. Sorcha had promised to stay with him and for breaking her promise she clearly breaks his heart – he disappears leaving behind nothing but a carved piece of wood as a gift.
Upon returning home, Sorcha and her brothers immediately realise the Lady Oonagh is not what she seems and they know they are all in danger. Things start to change in their household – evil has come and their father will not listen to them. The brothers and sister decide to take matters into their hands but before anything can be done, the stepmother curses them – all of the boys are transformed into Swans and only Sorcha manages to escape. She is then met by the Lady of the Forest who tells her that her time has begun to start on her journey. There is a way to bring her brothers back and it is all down to Sorcha: she must weave six shirts out of starwort nettle, a plant that stings and hurts and throw them over her brother’s heads at the same time. But until the task is finished , she is not allowed to say a word or a sound nor tell anyone of her tale or ask for help. If she does, her brothers are lost forever. They will only become human twice every year – midsummer and midwinter and this is the only time they are allowed to come to her. She accepts the task and at this point, Sorcha is 12 years old, all alone, in hiding and with all the weight of the world in her shoulders.
This is truly where our story starts. Narrated in first person by Sorcha, all that happened to this point – 150 pages into the book – is set up. But an essential one. Because we have seen Sorcha with her brothers and got to know each and every one of them through her eyes, we are right there with her in her love and devotion to them, and it is obvious that she must do whatever it takes to bring them back. And it is hard, folks. Really, really hard. The things she must go through are not kids’ games. Her poor hands that hurt and look ragged for the hands of a 12 year old. Months, years pass: the loneliness of being all alone in the forest and the dangers she must face that sometimes are too much for Sorcha and for the reader. Things got slightly better (for a time at least) when she is found by a group of Britons, led by a man called Red who is in Ireland looking for his brother Simon who disappeared months ago. He finds the carved piece of wood and recognises his brother’s handiwork and he takes this mysteriously silent girl back to his own home until she can tell him all about his brother.
Sorcha then gets to learn that the Britons are much more than savages especially Red. He becomes her protector, and so much more. I don’t want to say any more because their story is one that needs to be read to be savoured and believe me when I say, it is one of the best romances I have read of late ,if ever. It is not always that I have this overwhelming feeling that I am reading one for the books, where my heart is racing with pure anticipation and the build-up of their love is…amazing.
I have only but touched a few points in the plot – so much happens, so much sadness it is almost too much to bear. But there is also hope. So much hope and so much love and devotion. I feel like my words fail to convey how beautiful and engrossing this book is.
This story is based on the Brother Grimm’s tale of the Six Swans but Juliet Marillier set it against the backdrop of Celtic legends and it is this magical feel that permeates Sorcha’s everyday life and therefore, the whole book. The meddling of the Fair Folk is accepted as a reality and it is clear that they have a hidden agenda when it comes to Sorcha and her brothers – and Sevenwaters.
A lyrical tale of family, love, devotion and of a courageous and resilient young girl who becomes a young woman. A book where every character counts and every page is filled with wonders. I feel that I connected with Daughter of the Forest in every possible way that a reader can connect with a book. Objectively speaking, I cannot fault the storytelling, the execution of the plot, the characters’ arcs, the heart-throbbing action or the love story. There is no shying away from strong, painful occurrences but there is no darkness for darkness sake; everything that happens is a natural progression of the story and feels organic. But with all good tales there is recompense at the end of the way even if they come with bittersweet consequences.
Subjectively feeling? I felt like I couldn’t speak myself as if any uttering from me would somehow make Sorcha suffer (a reaction I know Thea had as well). I cried and laughed and was utterly satisfied with the ending. When I was done I placed the book in my keeper shelf and immediately went on to buy other books by this author.
I wholeheartedly recommend Daughter of the Forest to readers of both Fantasy and Romance. Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Notable quotes/ Parts: an example of the magic:
“when I remember the years of our growing up, the most important thing is the tree. We went there often, the seven of us, southward through the forest above the lakeshore. When I was a baby, Liam or Diarmid would carry me on his back; once I could walk, two brothers would take my hands and hurry me along, sometimes swinging me between them with a one-two-three, as the others ran on ahead toward the lake. When we came closer, we all became quiet. The bank where the birch tree grew was a place of deep magic, and our voices were hushed as we gathered on the sward around it.” (…) “The birch tree(…) held her spirit, our mother’s having been planted by the boys on the day of her death, at her own request. Once she had told them what to do, Liam and Diarmid took their spades down to the place she had described, dug out the soft turf, and planted the seed there on the flat grassy bank above the lake. With small, grubby hands the younger ones helped level the soil and carried water. Later, when they were allowed to take me out of the house we all went there together.”
Additional Thoughts: I cannot stop thinking about this book. All I want now is to read more by Juliet Marillier. It has been such a long time since a book has touched me so. What have you been reading lately – which was the last book that made you go WOW?
Verdict: Lyrical tale of growing up, of siblings’ devotion and of the love of a man for a woman. One of the strongest female protagonists I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Highly recommended.
Rating: 10 – Perfection. I can not fault this book, and I have re-read many of its passages already.
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