by Juliet Marillier
A beautiful retelling of the Celtic "Swans" myth, Daughter of the Forest is a mixture of history and fantasy, myth and magic, legend and love... 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 no boundaries, and sorcha will have to choose between the live she has always known and a love that comes only once.
What can I say, I saved the best for last. Daughter of the Forest is my favorite fairy tale retelling of all time. (So far. Let me know your faves and try to prove me wrong!) I did a mini-review of this once before, but I want to expand on that now, and get a little gushy fangirly.
I read this for the first time after having just finished Wildwood Dancing (also by Marillier). It came highly recommended by a friend, so I was pretty gung-ho. But the first 30 pages almost made me put it down. It's not that they were awful, but there was so much info-dumping, and nothing to really grab me and make me read it.
And then that all changed. I lost copious amounts of sleep over this book both times I read it, because when it gets going, it gets going. I was so in it, and I cared so much about Sorcha and Red and the brothers/swans and what was going to happen. The pacing of the relationship is beyond beautiful, perfectly suited to tease you and keep you hungry for more while never losing the tension by drawing it out too much.
When I originally reviewed this, I mentioned some issues I had with the villain and his Scooby-Doo tendency to spill his guts. I had less of an issue with this on rereads, even though it is a pet peeve of mine when characters do this -- I love this so much that I look back on everything with rose-colored glasses on. But why, you ask? Where to begin...
Everything about this book feels fully realized, which is always impressive, and more so when you consider that this was a debut. The characters felt real, and Marillier did an incredibly good job of making each memorable and distinguishable. The 6 brothers spend most of the book off-stage or as swans, and yet I never had any trouble remembering who was who, what they liked, what type of Character (capital C) they had, etc. So much love and layering went into their creation, you can just feel it. So you can only imagine the creations Sorcha and Red became.
There's so much pain in this story, and pain in the telling, and Mariliier doesn't just wipe the slate clean in the end. I really respect that, it makes everything feel more real and authentic and human. There are bad things that happen - as there are in real life - and Marillier did a really good job of not flinching away from that, and in showing the healing process and allowing her characters to work through things, come to terms with things. For those of you who have read the book, I'm not just talking about what happens to Sorcha. Multiple characters in the book face some really difficult things, and Marilier shows real honesty in her writing when allows a good does of realism alongside the fantasty aspects. There's always the wonder, sometimes the certainty, on the reader's part that there are things that they characters may not be able to come back from. There are wounds that may never heal. I don't like a sugar-coated story, and Marillier did a very respectable job of showing the highs and lows.
And this brings me to perhaps the thing that makes this the book of awesomely epic proportions that it is: aside from the info-dumping in the beginning, and the Scooby Doo moment at the end (rough patches), Marillier is incredibly good at Show-Don't-Tell. Sorcha is a silent character (have I mentioned that I love a well-done silent character? Because I do.); everything is sort of filtered through her and her silence, and the pain and heaviness of it, and the shelter that it can provide. I think writing from the perspective of a character that couldn't just spill her guts allowed Marillier to hone her talents in writing a tale that shows a complete picture and lets the audience gather more than what is said. Or maybe she's just naturally skilled at this. Whatever the reason for it, this is one of the most present books I've ever read. I felt this book. I can't tell you how many times I got butterflies when reading this - not just because of the slowly-developing romance, but because something was about to happen. Even rereading this, I still got butterflies - I knew what was going to happen, for crying out loud, and it still made me have a physical reaction.
God, writing this is making me want to read it again. And I know when I do, it will be another all-nighter, because I'll just have to keep reading until I get to _________; and when I get there...well, maybe I should read until I get to ____________. But I promise to go to sleep after that. Well, maybe one more chapter...
Stick around - later today I review the 2nd book, Son of Shadows.