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…
I’ve read several of Marillier’s novels but somehow had never gotten to this one, her debut, and perhaps the series she’s best known for. I’ve been meaning to read this for awhile, too, so I was excited to finally dive into it.
Daughter of the Forest is at once a sort of historical fiction but also a retelling of the Six Swans fairy tale collected in by the Brother’s Grim. It’s got all the elements of the story: the wicked stepmother who curses the brothers into swans, the lone sister set with the task of breaking the task by sewing the shirts of nettle, the utterly bewitched (and somewhat useless) father. Even the nature of the curse and the way it works itself out in the end is there. But it takes that story and turns it into a family saga, and an epic tale of perseverance.
Two of the things that Marillier excels at are great character arcs and the relationships between characters. Sorcha is close with her brothers, even those she doesn’t always agree with on certain topics, but they are a family and they love each other. I appreciated the way that kind of love is portrayed in the story. I like the way the curse changed from the original story as well, so that she could only see her brothers for one night every year. It always made their brief reunions so bittersweet, especially when they had such a short time to communicate and weren’t always at their best with each other during those times. It really made you long for the curse to be broken so they could go back to their easier days. I also loved the relationship between Sorcha and Red and how it grew over time, despite her not being able to communicate in a conventional way due to the curse.
The other thing that I really love about this story is that it made me feel so many things. It was a long journey and throughout I felt a full range of emotions. By the time the story was at its climax I was really on the edge of raw emotions, wanting things to work out and so afraid they wouldn’t (even though I know what happened in the original story).
I feel like it would be remiss of me not to note that this story has a brutal gang rape of a minor in it. If that’s the kind of thing that you want to avoid then you may want to steer clear of this one. I could have done without that–there are other ways to make people go through hard times, and frankly, wasn’t the curse enough? That being said, I did appreciate the author following up with the aftermath of such a traumatic event.
There are common threads that run through Marillier’s work, and Daughter of the Forest is no different in that regard. She writes of characters that go through such tough and traumatizing events. They come out of the other end with scars, but not devoid of hope. 4.5/5 stars.