Fairy Tale Friday: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

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.

Rating: 5/5

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!”

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Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier

Cybele’s Secret, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is the sequel to Wildwood Dancing.

For Paula, accompanying her merchant father on a trading voyage to Istanbul is a dream come true. They have come to this city of trade on a special mission to purchase a most rare artifact—a gift from the ancient goddess, Cybele, to her followers. It’s the only remnant of a lost, pagan cult. But no sooner have they arrived when it becomes clear they may be playing at a dangerous game. A colleague and friend of Paula’s father is found murdered. There are rumors of Cybele’s cult reviving within the very walls of Istanbul. And most telling of all, signs have begun to appear to Paula, urging her to unlock Cybele’s secret. Meanwhile, Paula doesn’t know who she can trust in Istanbul, and finds herself drawn to two very different men. As time begins to run out, Paula realizes they may all be tied up in the destiny of Cybele’s Gift, and she must solve the puzzle before unknown but deadly enemies catch up to her.

Rating: 3/5

Cybele’s Secret is not as strong or as beautiful as Wildwood Dancing, but I enjoyed it anyway, especially towards the end with the traverse through the cave solving riddles a la Indiana Jones. Paula is a great bookish, scholarly main character, and if the writing is a little stilted in places, that can easily be explained as Marillier capturing the character of Paula through the narration.

Cybele’s Secret is about as obvious as Wildwood Dancing was (so, very obvious), and I knew who the main villain was the second s/he appeared. Everything was just slightly too convenient and I waited about half of the book for the other shoe to drop until, finally, it did, just as I had predicted. The villain was also a little one-note and aloof, so that was a little disappointing, but at least by the time the villain was revealed I was too invested in the characters and the story to grumble much.

There’s also a love triangle, but to be honest, the third side of the triangle is so faint that it’s not really a love triangle at all. It’s more of a “there’s two men during Paula’s adventure that she can potentially hook up with so so we’ll call it a love triangle,” but Paula doesn’t waver between the two of them as with other love triangles. It’s very clear who Paula will end up marrying, and if the angst and heartache at the end is slightly contrived, the reunion between the two is still very sweet and touching.

I did prefer Wildwood Dancing, but Cybele’s Secret has its moments. The quests and riddles in the cave, the descriptions of Istanbul that make it come alive, and Paula’s sensible character all come together to make the book an enjoyable read, if one with an obvious villain and plot.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

A fragment caught my eye. I lifted it out with extreme care, for it was ancient and fragile. The script was ornate and regular. I guessed the language was Persian, for one or two such pieces had passed through Father’s hands over the years, and I recognized the style of decoration: tiny, vivid illustrations and elaborate hand-drawn borders full of scrolls and curlicues. The pictures were indeed strange. It was not clear whether the figures in them were of men, women, or animals. They reminded me vividly of the Other Kingdom, the fairy realm my sisters and I had visited every full moon through the years of my childhood. While my sisters were dancing, I had spent the better part of those nights in company with a group of most unusual scholars, and they had taught me to look beyond the obvious. Eithers these were images of just such a magical place, or they were heavy in symbolism. I could see a warrior with the head of a dog, a cat in a hooded cloak, a blindfolded women with a wolf, someone swinging on a rope…

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The Caller by Juliet Marillier

The Caller, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is the sequel to Raven Flight.

Just one year ago, Neryn had nothing but a canny skill she barely understood and a faint dream that the legendary rebel base of Shadowfell might be real. Now she is the rebels’ secret weapon, and their greatest hope for survival in the fast-approaching ambush of King Keldec at Summerfort. The fate of Alban itself is in her hands. But to be ready for the bloody battle that lies ahead, she must first seek out two more fey Guardians to receive their tutelage. Meanwhile, her beloved, Flint, has been pushed to his breaking point as a spy in the king’s court—and is arousing suspicion in all the wrong quarters. Confidence is stretching thinner by the day when word of another Caller reaches the rebels: a Caller at Keldec’s side with all of Neryn’s power and none of her benevolence or hard-earned control. As the days before the battle drop quickly away, Neryn must find a way to uncover—and exploit—her opponent’s weaknesses. At stake lie freedom for the people of Alban, a life free from hiding for the Good Folk—and a chance for Flint and Neryn to finally be together.

Rating: 4/5

The Caller is a satisfying finish to the story started in Shadowfell and continued in Raven Flight. Though the end is a little vague in explanation (how did all those soldiers get into the fort to fight?), it is suitably awesome and although I wished for Neryn to have a little more struggle, her accomplishment is warranted and reflective of her training and discipline.

My favorite part of the book was Neryn’s impulsive “I need to go infiltrate the king’s court” because it broke up the “travel to see Guardian, get trained by Guardian, rinse and repeat” formula that was starting to develop and I enjoyed the opportunity to see a side of Neryn that we saw in the beginning of Shadowfell before all the Caller-training started.

I do wish that the feelings of the fey from being called by Esten to being called by Neryn were a little more varied. I don’t know…I feel as if a group of people who had been controlled by a Caller for months would be resistant to another Caller, at least at first. Neryn didn’t get the opportunity to build up a lot of trust with that group, so their response to her call (especially after the group’s angry response to Flint’s “betrayal”) seemed a bit unrealistic, at least in my opinion. The Master of Shadows did say that Neryn called well, so maybe a bit of her nature seeped through, but I still thought it was a little too easy.

I enjoyed The Caller, although I thought the ending was parts cheesy, confusing or a little unrealistic in turns, but I loved the time Neryn spent in Keldec’s court and I still love her and Flint (and the ending, I thought, was particularly good with the two of them going away together). I also enjoyed the moments in the novel when we got to see Flint’s point of view. Marillier, though sleepy at times, has written a grand story here, told a bit more quietly than most but with its own charm and excitement.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“The news that came to you may not have mentioned a Caller. That is what I am. I’m seeking the White Lady in the hope of receiving some wisdom. I’m hoping she will teach me the better use of my gift.” I could hardly make it plainer than that.

The invisible presence said nothing; instead, a rippling sound came from the tiny beings. I interpreted it as mocking laughter.

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Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier

Raven Flight, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf. It is the sequel to Shadowfell.

After completing the long, weary journey to the rebel hiding ground at Shadowfell, Neryn is now a vital part of their plan to overthrow the tyrannical King Keldec. Every step she takes toward perfecting her skills as a powerful, one-in-a-generation caller gets them closer to their goal. But first she must seek out the disparate leaders of the Good Folk to complete her training—and the time she has left is wearing thin. Meanwhile, Neryn’s beloved, the double agent Flint, is summoned to the king’s court. There the king’s slipping confidence puts Flint in great danger. Yet his connection to Neryn is so strong that they reach each other in their dreams, sharing painful but precious glimpses into one another’s lives. Their love is regarded warily by their rebel allies, for placing any emotion above the cold logic of the cause puts the entire movement at risk. But their bond also reveals valuable information, for the tide of the war may soon be turning….

Rating: 4/5

Having gotten familiar with Marillier’s writing style in Shadowfell, I was better prepared for Raven Flight and I did enjoy Raven more than Shadowfell, if only because I didn’t find it as sleepy. The tone is still a little understated, I think, but it fits the atmosphere well enough, and there were several tense scenes that I thought were well delivered.

As much as I like Neryn, there were moments when I found her a little exasperating. The main problem I have with novels where the protagonists have problems with other people being killed is that it’s harped on all the time. Neryn feels guilty about every single person who crosses her path who ends up dying, and in some cases it’s not even her fault. And that’s fine, because being involved in human death is difficult and should cause thoughts like Neryn is having. But then she angsts over a fish that she helped a seal caught and that’s when it got a little ridiculous, in my opinion. The feeling of guilt over seeing an unconscious man getting swept out to a river where you know he’ll drown, that’s one thing. The equal feeling of guilt over nudging a fish out of a hiding place and seeing a seal catch and eat it is another. It’s a fish.

But other than my moments of annoyance at Neryn, I liked the book a lot. I really like the quiet stoicness of both Neryn and Flint, and I like the two of them together despite their age difference. And although she’s a character type I don’t usually enjoy, I also really liked Tali and her scenes.

I still think the plot and setting as a whole are a little formulaic, but Marillier is good enough that it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“If I can reach the Guardians and persuade them to teach me, surely I can learn to call only those of you who are strong enough to stand up in that battle.”

“Reach them, persuade them, learn a particularly tricky kind o’ magic, and be ready tae call humankind and Good Folk into a grand battle in a year and a half?” Woodrush’s brows went up. “’Tis nae small thing.”

“Neryn is no ordinary woman,” said Regan. “If you will help her, she can do it.”

Overall Review:

I liked Raven Flight better than Shadowfell, though Neryn annoyed me at times. I enjoyed the story and journey better, knowing the calm, sleepy-like pace that Marillier sets—and the tense moments of the Gathering were fantastic. And I still love Neryn/Flint!

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Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

Shadowfell, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf.

Its name is spoken only in whispers, if the people of Alban dare to speak it at all: Shadowfell. The training ground for rebels seeking to free their land from the grip of the tyrannical ring is so shrouded in mystery that most believe it to be a myth. But for Neryn, Shadowfell’s existence is her only hope. She is penniless, orphaned, and utterly alone—and concealing a treacherous magical power that will warrant her immediate enslavement should it be revealed. She finds hope of allies in the Good Folk, fey beings whom she must pretend she cannot see and who taunt her with chatter of prophecies and tests, and in a striking, mysterious stranger, who saves her from certain death but whose motives remain unclear. She knows she should not trust anyone with her plans, but something within her longs to confide in him. Will Neryn be forced to make the dangerous journey alone? She must reach Shadowfell, not only to avenge her family and salvage her own life, but to rescue Alban itself.

I liked Shadowfell, but I can’t determine if it was good or not. It was certainly interesting, and I loved loved loved Flint and Neryn and would read the next two books just for that relationship alone. But I did find myself skimming some of it, because Marillier has a sleepy sort of writing where things flow along smoothly and meld into each other until you’ve read three pages and wonder what you’ve just read. So the whole book is just some shadowy thing in my mind, punctuated by scenes that I really liked, such as all the ones with Flint and the battle at the end.

The world is the standard, high fantasy type, but I did like how Neryn’s travels were represented, how barren and rocky environments felt barren and rocky and how her own struggles were brought to the forefront as she travels towards Shadowfell. Maybe there’s just a little too much of sitting by fires and camping and waiting to be well, but I’m more a fan of the quiet, susceptible-to-the-elements-and-such protagonists than the outspoken, I-can-travel-through-anything-and-never-feel-it protagonists.

The plot is also fairly formulaic; Marillier is certainly not treading any new ground. But like I said, what she does have is interesting, for the most part (if at times a teensy bit boring), and even though her writing is a bit sleepy, there are still some very pretty moments. The Good Folk are done especially well, in my opinion. But I could tell while reading it that this certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

I shut my eyes and pressed my face against the rock wall. If I truly was a Caller, if such a gift existed, let it work for me now “Stanie Mon, Stanie Mon, wake frae sleep,” I whispered through chattering teeth. If this did not work, I would be facing a mind-scraper before sunset. I would be lost. “Stanie Mon, Stanie Mon, hide me deep.”

In an instant everything went dark. Stone was all around me, trapping me within its bulk. I could not move so much as my little finger. I was blind, deaf, paralyzed. I could not breathe. I managed a squeak of terror, and sensed a response, as if the heaviness that surrounded me relaxed a little. I sucked in an unsteady breath. Had I just worked a charm that would kill me?

Overall Review:

I liked Shadowfell; I thought the world was decent, the Good Folk interesting, and loved Flint and Neryn’s relationship. Yet I’m torn as to whether or not it was good, because the plot was formulaic, the writing was often sleepy, and for fantasy it’s pretty generic. It didn’t blow me away and nothing beyond Flint/Neryn stuck with me. So, yes, I liked it—but the book itself is average.

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Fairy Tale Friday: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf.

High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm. But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop. When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.

I grew to love Marillier’s writing through her book Shadowfell and its sequels (reviews coming to the blog at some point!), so I decided to try some of her other books—and I’m glad I did. Wildwood Dancing is an adaptation of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” with a little bit of “The Princess and the Frog” thrown in, although I would say that the book is more inspired by them than actually adapts them. It’s an enchanting book with a beautiful setting, an “other realm” that I actually really liked (I don’t usually like “fairy realms” in books for some reason), and a protagonist who, while maybe not incredibly assertive, was quietly strong and persevering.

Some readers, used to the type of strong female characters that fight, speak their opinions loudly, and eschew all forms of tradition, might see Jena as meek and quiet. But while she’s certainly quiet, I found Jena a refreshing breath of air. She does her best to thwart Cezare as she can, in the position she is in, without stepping out of the bounds of what that world requires. Maybe that makes her seem spineless, to some people, but not to me. I appreciate a protagonist who works within his/her role, rather than breaking out of it and working without.

A few aspects of the plot were a little obvious—I spent most of the book impatiently waiting for Jena to realize what I had already figured out—and most of it is predictable, although seeing as how it’s at least a semi-adaptation of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” it would be. But I enjoyed Wildwood Dancing despite the predictability, despite the grating repetition of Cezare’s machinations, and despite the plodding middle, and I enjoyed it because of Jena, the beauty of the world and the writing, and the quiet wonder and mystery that steeps throughout the entire book.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

The folk of the Other Kingdom had their own name for this expanse of shining water—at Full Moon, they called it the Bright Between. The lake waters spanned the distance between their world and ours. Once we set foot in their boats, we were caught in the magic of their realm. Time and distance were not what they seemed in the Other Kingdom. It was a long walk from Piscul Dracului to the Deadwash in our world—an expedition. Gogu and I had made that forbidden trip often, for the lake drew us despite ourselves. At Full Moon, the walk to Tӑul Ielelor was far shorter. At Full Moon, everything was different, everything was upside down and back to front. Doors opened that were closed on other days, and those whom the human world feared became friends. The Bright Between was a gateway: not a threat, but a promise.

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