Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2000 by Tor.
Lovely young Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by the brothers who love and protect her: Liam, the natural leader; Diarmid, with his passion for adventure; the twins, Cormack and Conor, each with a different calling; the young, compassionate Padriac…and her other heart, rebellious Finbar, grown old before his time by his gift of the Sight. Sorcha is the light in their lives, and in her young life she has known only peace and happiness. But that joy is destroyed when her father is bewitched by the woman who has won his hear and her brothers are bound by a spell that only Sorcha can lift. To reclaim the lives of her brothers, Sorcha leaves the only safe place she has ever known and embarks on a journey filled with pain, loss, and terror. When she is kidnapped by enemy forces and taken to a foreign land, it seems that there will be no way for Sorcha to break the spell that condemns all that she loves. But magic knows now boundaries, and Sorcha must choose between the life she has always known, promises made…and a love that comes only once. And in that choice, perhaps shattering her world.
Daughter of the Forest is a stunning retelling of “The Wild Swans” fairytale. Marillier beautifully combines the fairytale with a Celtic setting, blending history with fantasy seamlessly. While the novel starts off slowly, once the initial set-up to the fairytale begins, the book flies by as the reader is swept up into Sorcha’s journey.
And what a journey it is. Sorcha is a wonderful protagonist, quietly strong and steadfast in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I love female protagonists of this sort, so it helped me connect with Sorcha even more. Marillier has perfectly crafted the circumstances and the effects; everything Sorcha does is explainable and believable in light of the world and the plot and what happens to her is also so, even the terrible parts. Fair warning, there is quite a violent, difficult scene to read at the beginning of Sorcha’s quest to free her brothers. It’s not graphically detailed, but it’s not glossed over at all—so, in a way, it’s much more graphically detailed than you might expect. Sometimes authors use things like this as a device or as another obstacle the protagonist must climb, but I feel like Marillier included it more for worldbuilding’s sake, to depict just how cruel the world can be at times. Or perhaps it’s to show how deep Sorcha’s bond with Red became, or perhaps it’s both. In any case, it’s handled deftly by Marillier.
That leads me to the thing I adored most about this book, which was Sorcha and Red. I think I’ve mentioned before that I tend to love the “agonizing” types of romance more than most other types, and Daughter of the Forest is full of agonizing—from Red, from Sorcha, from the people around them who see what’s happening and feel powerless to do anything about it. The relationship is slowly and beautifully developed, to the point where I cried at a particular part of the book that is poignant and beautiful and made me not want to put the book down even though I had to go to bed. And the romance ends perfectly, too, in a wonderfully satisfying way—usually I feel disappointed at the end of a book, or at the moment the love interests get together. But not in this book. In this book, I felt nothing but satisfaction.
I thought I loved Marillier already from reading her previous books, like Shadowfell and Wildwood Dancing, but Daughter of the Forest made me adore her. It’s a fantastic fairy tale adaptation, but it’s also a fantastic story, filled with love, loss, sorrow, pain, hope, and all the other things that make a particularly good book stand out from the rest. There are some hard things to read in this book, but there are many more beautiful things, and, like Sorcha, the reader comes to the end with a remembrance of the pain but with the knowledge that things are, as much as they can be in that world, going towards “happily ever after.”
Recommended Age Range: 16+
Warnings: Violence, death, rape.
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale
“Listen to me, Sorcha. No matter where we are, or what we do, the seven of us will never be truly separate. We’ll always be the same for one another. But we are growing up; and grown up people do marry, and move away, and let other people into their lives. Even you will do that one day.”
“Me!” I was aghast.
“You must know that.” He moved closer and took my hand, and I noticed that his were large and rough, a man’s hands. He was seventeen now. “Father already plans a marriage for you, in a few years’ time, and doubtless then you will go away to live with your husband’s family. We will not all remain here.”
“Go away? I would never go away from Sevenwaters! This is home! I would die before I’d move away!”