Reviewed August 12, 2011.
Book One of the Sevenwaters Trilogy
TOR Fantasy, New York, 2000. 554 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2011: #1 Fantasy Fiction
A huge thank-you to my sister Marcy, who gave me this book. I began reading it on the first leg of my trip to ALA Annual Conference 2011, read the first two chapters, and actually somehow left it behind between flights. So as soon as I got home, I ordered a replacement. Now I've read the second book as a library copy, but I've decided to order both the second and third books to have for my own. I am absolutely sure I will want to reread them again some day.
Daughter of the Forest is incredibly well-written. This is one of those books I love, a fairy tale retelling, but it's done with a tremendous amount of loving detail, creating an intricate tapestry of a book. The story is told in old Ireland, in the time of the Druids, with Christianity just beginning to come. Sorcha and her six brothers are the children of Lord Colum, the powerful chieftain of Sevenwaters. Sorcha runs a little wild, the youngest of so many brothers. She has a bond with her brother Finbar, so they can speak without words.
Then her father and brothers capture and torture a Briton. Finbar, who is different, not so warlike, takes a bold step to help the Briton escape. The Briton is sheltered in the friar's house. Can Sorcha, learning skills as a healer, help him survive? Will he be even willing to survive?
But her time helping the Briton is interrupted when her father comes home -- with a new wife. This wife has a strange power over him. Sorcha and her brothers are uneasy.
And then the fairy tale I recognize begins. The evil stepmother turns all the brothers into swans. The only way Sorcha can restore them is to knit them all shirts out of nettles. But she must not utter even one sound until the work is done.
I never thought about it before, but there is definitely a novel in that tale! Juliet Marillier brings it to us with rich detail. There are some horrible moments, but you will be completely captivated by Sorcha's tale. She goes from Ireland to Britain. The Fair Folk get involved. And the romantic hero is one of the most wonderful men I have ever encountered in fiction. He's so loving, so careful to protect Sorcha.
Here's a taste of Juliet Marillier's rich prose, in the first chapter, when Finbar has declared he will not join his father's military campaigns:
Why do I remember this so well? Perhaps his displeasure with what we were becoming made Father take the choice he did, and so bring about a series of events more terrible than any of us could have imagined. Certainly, he used our well-being as one of his excuses for bringing her to Sevenwaters. That there was no logic in this was beside the point -- he must have known in his heart that Finbar and I were made of strong stuff, already shaped in mind and spirit, if not quite grown, and that expecting us to bend to another will was like trying to alter the course of the tide, or to stop the forest from growing. But he was influenced by forces he was unable to understand. My mother would have recognized them. I often wondered, later, how much she knew of our future. The Sight does not always show what a person wants to see, but maybe she had an idea as she bade her children farewell, what a strange and crooked path their feet would follow.
A truly magnificent tale.