Review: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Daughter of the ForestDaughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (Sevenwaters #1)

Genre: FANTASY, ROMANCE

Publisher: Tor on April 1, 1999

Source: Bought

Rating StarRating StarRating StarRating StarRating Star

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…

updated icons-12 fpb_cute_icons-04 fpb_cute_icons-11

Trigger warning: this novel and review deals with sexual assault.

Sorcha was supposed to have been born a boy. By all rights she should have been the seventh son of a seventh son, but fate had other plans. With six older brothers to play with her, teach her, and protect her, Sorcha grows up to be both strong-willed and knowledgeable in many arts typically forbidden to women of her rank. While she is close to all of her brothers, she is particularly connected to Finbar, who shares her mysterious gifts. The two siblings can communicate without speech or touch, and Finbar seems to have some degree of prescience. But he doesn’t foresee their family’s downfall until it is much too late.

For when her father is seduced by the evil enchantress Oonagh, the peace and quiet magic of life at Sevenwaters is destroyed. Oonagh uses her dark magic against the siblings and Sorcha escapes only with the aid of the forest – and the Fae. Sorcha learns that her brothers have been transformed into swans, and the only way to free them is if she completes a truly Herculean task. The Fae tell her that to be reunited with her beloved brothers, Sorcha must bear unimaginable pain and suffering in complete silence. For if she speaks before the task is complete, her brothers will live as swans forever…

Daughter of the Forest has the kind of magic system where very little is explained in terms of abilities or spells, largely because magic itself is considered mysterious and at least partially beyond the scope of human understanding. Sorcha knows that she must listen to the Fae if she is to succeed, and trusts that the Lady of the Forest will do what she can to help her. But the Lady of the Forest also knows that to break the curse Sorcha must prove herself worthy, undergoing a trial of fire that few could survive.

It’s difficult to remember that Sorcha is only a young teen as these events unfold because she’s subjected to the worst horrors imaginable. There is one scene where Sorcha is raped that was simultaneously so awful and so well written that I literally felt sick to my stomach. Normally I can’t read books that include sexual assault, but Juliet Marillier writes about it sensitively and with remarkable compassion. She doesn’t shy away from portraying the shame and fear that Sorcha feels in the wake of this attack, and she doesn’t sweep it under the rug when Sorcha begins to fall in love. Sorcha’s feelings about men and sexual desire are understandably complex and conflicted, and they added a compelling realism and grit to what may have otherwise been an entirely otherworldly tale.

Sorcha’s strength is not only in her ability to persevere through tragedy, but in her desire to heal others regardless of their political, religious, or national affiliations. Since Daughter of the Forest is set during the Medieval period, there’s a lot of strife between the Britons and the Celts, and between the old ways and Christianity. A healer with a compassionate heart, Sorcha is loath to use her knowledge of herb lore and medicine against anyone…even those who she’s been raised to call her enemies. And for anyone who’s curious, a quick internet search showed that all the herbs Sorcha uses in her healing are actually known medicinal ingredients.

In her desire to help her brothers and heal those around her, Sorcha learns much about the conflict between her people and the Britons. And as she comes to know and care for them, she realizes that the two peoples are not as different as she once thought. One relationship in particular shows Sorcha that cultural barriers can be transcended, and it’s honestly one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read. I won’t spoil the pairing for anyone, but suffice it to say that Marillier writes a truly epic love story that completely swept me away.

While the romance plot does become a significant part of the story (I consider Daughter of the Forest a fantasy-romance), it never completely overtakes Sorcha’s quest. Sorcha fights for love and for family, proving that it’s not skill in battle or political strategy that makes someone a hero: it’s willingness to sacrifice themselves to see justice done and to help others.

Recommended for anyone who loves dark fairy tales, appreciates beautiful writing, and can handle mature themes.

Related Posts

  • BWB

    I love those little emoticons that you use. They’re brilliant! I’ve wanted to read this for a while and can see that I need to make it happen.

    • Thanks Claire!!! 😀
      Based on the feminist books that you seem to love, I think you’d really like this one! Sorcha is a very different protagonist but her strength of will is really awe-inspiring.

      • BWB

        Need. To. Get. It. *grabby hands*

      • BWB

        Yes. YESS. Added to TBR.

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I really want to read this. I’m going to read Dreamers Pool in a couple of weeks, but this one sounds incredible, so it’s going on the list!

    • YES LISA. Do it. You liked Dreamer’s Pool, right? This one is definitely more of a romance than Dreamer’s Pool (that book has a very minor romantic subplot) and I know you’re not super big on that, but it’s really beautifully done.

  • I don’t mind dark, but it really depends what kind, and I draw the line at sexual assault. I realize that it’s a reality, but I can’t stand watching it, and I refuse to read it, doubly so when the character is so young. I’m happy that you enjoyed it, not for me.

    Carmel @ Rabid Reads

    • Yeah, I know what you mean. I think everyone has their “RAGE” trigger for books, and usually sexual assault is one of mine. Marillier handled it very well so I really appreciated that, but I think you’ve made a good call by passing on this one. Maybe try her book Dreamer’s Pool, instead!

  • The rape scene was tough to read, but I thought Marillier handled it the best she could. It wasn’t thrown in for no reason, it wasn’t overly graphic, it was awful but Sorcha’s experience and recovery was treated with compassion. It had a huge effect on Sorcha and like you said made the story what it was.

    ~Mogsy

    • So tough. I felt ill afterwards. But I definitely agree that it wasn’t just thrown in there for shock value or something like that, it really was a huge part of the story. I get the sense that violence against women (be it sexual or otherwise) is a real sticking point for Marillier since it appears in quite a number of her books, but she does it well.

  • Jan

    This is one of the books I want to read soon. I’ve been wanting to read another of her books since I read Dreamer’s Pool.

    • DO IT! I unreservedly recommend Daughter of the Forest to everyone who liked Dreamer’s Pool. Dreamer’s Pool gives a good sense of how dark Marillier’s writing can be, so I think people who’ve read it are more prepared for some of the things that happen in Daughter of the Forest.

  • I am reading this right now. I saw you and Mogsy (and a couple of other people too, I think) reading it, and I was like, FINE. That’s it. And so far I’m loving it. I just started, so I’m only to the part where Sorcha is in that cave and dude and waking it, but I see good things 😉

    • YAY! I’m responding to this comment really late so I already know how you feel about this one…so all I will say is: I KNEW YOU’D LOVE IT! 😀

  • IT is so hard to find an author that can write admit sexual assault and do it in a way that we consider done well. I am twitching life crazy to read this one.

    Don’t you think when an author puts or an amazing book in a new series their already existing series books will see a big jump in readers and sales. She must be seeing this right now!

    • Completely agree! Marillier does it really well and as long as people know that it’s present before they begin reading, I have no problem recommending this book to EVERYONE.

      Yeah definitely! I know that I’ve been on a huge Marillier kick since Dreamer’s Pool came out…I’d never even read one of her books before that release!