This Episode’s Unearthings: Two of my favorite Daughters–Daughter of the Forest and Mara: Daughter of the Nile
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
This is the first book in the Sevenwaters Trilogy. While I have to admit I haven’t yet read the subsequent books, I believe that you can read each independently. Daughter of the Forest Ms. Marillier’s beautiful, haunting first entry, and is a skillful take on the Six Swans fairy tale.
Sorcha should have been born the seventh son of a seventh son. Instead she was born a girl, with six older brothers. Her mother died in labor, breaking her father’s, Lord Colum of Sevenwaters, heart. As an Irish warlord, Lord Colum turned away from the painful memories at his Sevenwaters home and dove single-mindedly into battle against the English, only returning to visit his seven children rarely, and not particularly paying them any attention–especially not Sorcha, who is the splitting image of her mother. Until, one day Lord Colum returns home with a new beautiful bride–who is actually a cruel sorceress. Determined to save her father who has fallen under the Lady Oonagh’s thrall, Sorcha and her brothers try to break her spell in any way they can. The powerful and crafty Lady Oonagh curses them though, and turns the six brothers into swans, doomed to remain as such, save for twice a year when they can return to human form for a day. Sorcha manages to escape, and now is faced with the task of trying to break the curse on her brothers, and save her family. The Fair Folk–faries, fae, whatever you wish to call them–help Sorcha by telling her that if she wishes to break the curse, she must weave six shirts from the burning, thorny starwort weed for each of her brothers. The shirts must be made by her alone, from the weed gathering and thread spinning to the actual weaving and sewing of the cloth. What’s more is, Sorcha cannot speak a word until her task is done, or her brothers remain swans forever.
This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story of sacrifice, family, and romance. I could not put the book down. I even found myself biting my tongue to keep from speaking along with Sorcha while reading it! I kid you not.
Fantasy fans, romance fans, I implore you–get Daughter of the Forest off your TBR shelves already! It is simply, undeniably, brilliant.
Mara: Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
This is easily one of my favorite books of all time. I first discovered Mara in the 7th grade, and upon finishing the book I immediately flipped it back open to page one to read again. Recently, after reading The Spymaster’s Lady and hearing Ana talk about how she had not read any other spy type romances, I knew I had to bring Mara up in my next Dungeons post.
Mara is an Egyptian slave. She has been sold so many times that she does not know who her parents are, nor does she know where she came from. She is educated and can read and write in both Egyptian and Babylonian thanks to a former master, but now finds herself hungry, bored and rebellious under her current ham-headed (and heavy-handed) owner. She takes a temporary break from her daily work, and sneaks away into the marketplace at Thebes to steal some food and enjoy the day, consequences of a sure beating ahead of her be damned! This frivolous decision on a beautiful morning changes Mara’s life forever, as she attracts the attention of rival spy lords. Bought by an agent of the Queen Pharaoh Hatshepsut, Mara’s gift with language earns her a position as an interpreter between Hatshepsut’s half brother Thutmose and his unwanted Canaanite bride. Mara’s mission is simple–during her sessions with Thutmose, she must keep her eyes out for any means by which messages are being sent to and from the caged prince, for a rebellion is stirring in Egypt. Mara, who cares not for politics, is eager for her chance at freedom and for the challenge her new position as a spy promises her. She makes way to the royal city on a barge, but unknowingly is sharing her ride with the leader of the Thutmose rebellion: the handsome but very dangerous Lord Sheftu. Unfortunately for Mara, her antics in the marketplace were also observed by Sheftu, who enlists Mara as a spy for his camp, thinking that she is naught but a runaway slave (and blackmailing her with exposure and sure death awaiting her as a runaway).
You do see where this is going, dontcha?
Mara, clever creature that she is, decides to play both sides against the middle. However, the more time she spends with Sheftu, the harder it becomes for her to keep her emotions detached and play the double agent.
This book is exquisite. Ms. McGraw wrote it in the 1950s, and the fact that it (as a young adult novel no less!) is still in print today speaks for itself. It is epic without being overlong, painted against a rich tapestry of Egyptian history and vivid prose. Mara is a quick-witted, devious heroine worth loving, and the romance that blossoms between her and Sheftu still gives me the goosebumps. Not to mention the political intrigue and palpable danger in every chapter.
Highly, highly recommended.