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Retro Friday Review: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Anyone is welcome to join in at any time!
The time has come. I knew when I started Retro Fridays that at some point I would have to review Daughter of the Forest. Do you ever go through the reviews on your blog and realize you haven't reviewed one of your favorite books of all time? And the reason is simply that you read it before the blog was even a twinkle in your eye. You may have talked about it here, there, and everywhere. You may have heckled dear friends shamelessly until they broke down and read it. But you haven't actually reviewed it. And the other day I realized that was the case here. Despite the fact that I've read everything Juliet Marillier has written, I've only actually reviewed two of her books. And so while I feel like I've talked and talked about it, it's only in references here and there. Okay, sometimes impassioned exclamations. But you catch my drift. So I decided it was only right to go back to the beginning and tell you how and why and when my love for this book began. And it began, as so many wonderful things in my life have, on a plane to Italy. I needed a book to read on the flight over to visit my folks, and I had been eyeing this one in the bookstore for awhile. I knew it was a retelling of the Seven Swans fairy tale, which was a mark in its favor even though I was pretty unfamiliar with that particular tale at the time. It was a debut novel by an Australian author with a beautiful French name. And it just looked so lovely. So I snagged a copy and cracked it open after my beverage service, with a lovely long night ahead in which to lose myself in the writing. Which I promptly did somewhere in the middle of the first paragraph.
Three children lay on the rocks at the water's edge. A dark-haired little girl. Two boys, slightly older. This image is caught forever in my memory, like some fragile creature preserved in amber. Myself, my brothers. I remember the way the water rippled as I trailed my fingers across the shining surface.
Shivers of delight, my friends. That's what that opening sent down my spine then, and that's what I felt just now as I typed it. Published over a decade ago now, this book loses none of its magic over time. Rather it grows stronger and more captivating with each read.

The seventh child of a seventh son, Sorcha is the daughter who should have been a son--that most magical of all beings--a seventh son of a seventh son. Instead she is a girl. And with six older brothers and a mother long dead, she grows up wild and free at the heart of the forest of Sevenwaters. And while her father, Lord Colum, has been ever distant and forbidding, her brothers have always been there to watch out for her and to teach her. Especially Finbar. So close that they are often able to tell what the other is thinking or feeling, Sorcha knows something is wrong when Finbar goes suddenly distant and troubled shortly after her father's men haul in a stranger from foreign parts found trespassing on their land. It's all very cloak and dagger, but it quickly progresses to a nightmare, when Finbar defies his father and sneaks the prisoner out under cover of night. Sorcha's healing skills are immediately called upon to treat the wounds her father's men inflicted upon him. In the meantime, her father shocks them all by marrying again. His chosen bride, the Lady Oonagh, fills the boys and Sorcha with an almost irrational fear. But it's not till the prisoner she has worked so hard to help disappears, followed shortly by her brothers, that Sorcha comprehends the magnitude of her danger. For a spell has been cast on those she holds dear. Turned into swans, her brothers are gone, only to reappear briefly each Midsummer's Eve. Prompted by the Fair Folk themselves, Sorcha makes a terrible bargain, exchanging her voice and her home for a faraway land, a stranger's protection, and the slimmest of chances to restore her brothers and her fragile peace. 

A retelling of the Wild Swans fairy tale set in 9th century Ireland, this gorgeous historical fantasy shot right to the top of my comfort reads list the moment I closed the final page. Happily, in my experience, it has proved to be one of those books that binds people together through their shared love of its characters and their story. An example of a young woman triumphing over evil through love, sacrifice, and unfathomable determination, Daughter of the Forest is also a truly remarkable bit of storytelling. Sorcha is at the heart of it, with her love for her brothers, and the way she gives of herself, harnessing her considerable skills and will to bring them back from the brink of annihilation. What a daring feat of storytelling to strike your heroine literally silent for the majority of the book and still render her incredibly vibrant and active within the narrative. Everything comes together so perfectly in this book, as it is historical novel, fantasy epic, and flawless fairy tale retelling at once. And it is, of course, also a love story. How could it not be? Even now I find it difficult to express my feelings about this aspect of the story except to say that these two have one of the most tender, romantic, and equal relationships I've had the fortune to witness. The love story will lay you out flat, it's that outstanding. Here, a non-spoilery section taken from my very favorite scene in the book:
It was getting late. The beach was half in shadow, the sky darkening. I realized there would be no return to Harrowfield that night. He did not press me for my answer; he just stood there, watching the seals. waiting. He had done a lot of waiting. A scrap of parchment lay on the rocks behind him; the rising breeze threatened to snatch it away from the round stone that had held it there while the ink dried. There he had made his final meticulous markings that morning as he sat there in the sun; that morning that seemed, already, so long ago. But there were no tallies of cattle or crops on this page, only pictures, small delicate pictures in careful pen strokes. I had watched him at this task before, and marveled at how he could choose to work, and disregard the wonder of the place that surrounded him. But it seemed he had not needed to look, to know its beauty. For this sheet showed the open sky, and the smooth, shining surfaces of wet stones, and the curling lace of breakers. It showed the great seals with their knowing eyes, and the flight of the gulls against tiny scudding clouds. At the foot, very small, was the last image he had made. A young woman running, her hair blown out behind her like a dark, wild cloud, her gown whipped against her body by the breeze, her face alight with joy. Red reached across and picked up the parchment, slipping it out of sight between the boards and away into his pack. I thought, after all this time, I do not know this man. I don't know him at all.
And that is how she writes. That's the kind of breathtaking emotion Juliet Marillier can evoke in her characters and in her readers. Nothing could possibly erase my memory of this scene or my memory of reading it for the first time. Sorcha and Red. The wind on the waves. Her blue dress trailing in the sea. And so much unsaid between them. I think of it often, when I am in need of a quiet, perfect moment. The best part is, this scene is just one of many, including a climactic moment that had me literally losing my grip on the book and gasping aloud it is so intense. Those of you who've read it, you know the one I mean. Finest, finest kind.

And, if what I haven't said in this review is enough, here--perhaps the most accurate example of my love for this book--is my original copy as it looks now:
I know. It kind of makes me want to cry just looking at it. I tend to treat my books rather tenderly. And I'm pretty sure this is the most shocking state any of mine are in. But really what can you expect when it's been read and handed out and reread and handed out so many times that it's literally falling apart at the seams? Someone along the way kindly stuck some tape in there on the worst parts. I can't tell you how many times I've lingeringly run my finger over that lovely raised foil F on the cover. This is a book both well-read and well-loved. I hope a copy finds its way into your home and your heart someday. I hope it never leaves. 

Reading Order


Retro Friday Roundup
One Librarian's Book Reviews reviews Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling


  1. Suey told me I really needed to come read your blog because, unlike so many of us book bloggers who love a book but can't really explain why, you can. And you can do it beautifully. So here I am and, wow, you really can express yourself very well. You almost made me reconsider my opinion of this book...almost. ;) Sorry, and maybe it was a mood thing, but this book made me cry and not in a good way. See? I can't even explain myself. Beautiful review.

  2. Oh, I loved this book! The original trilogy is one I need to reread considering there are now new installments, but it was always one of my favorites. When I was a bookseller, I recommended Marillier to everyone! Lovely review!

  3. Oh my word, this is one of my favorite books of ALL TIME. One of my favorite authors, too. Juliet Marillier just has this way with her writing... she's magic, I tell you! Hmm... your review makes me want to go back and reread my own well-loved copy again! :) Thanks

  4. I haven't read the book yet but your review makes me want to do so immediately!

  5. Oh. My. This review takes my breath away. I'm SO glad you were able to review it now and do it so beautifully. I hope more pick it up because of it. A reread is definitely in order for me now.

  6. You could retitle this review, "And this is why Emily reads everything Angie recommends." Which reminds me, I've got to get on that Megan Whalen Turner series.

  7. My favorite book. IN THE WORLD. :')

  8. I can't believe you haven't written a review of this yet! Now I can't remember what you said (and where) that made me start this series... Either way, I need to read the third book now, so thanks for the lovely reminder.

  9. I can't tell you how many times I've searched your blog for a review of this to link to! Finally! It's here! :) Awesome! I hope to get to the rest of that series some day. They have been pushed to the bottom sadly. So nice to see you the other day, btw.

  10. You sold me on this series already, and I have been meaning to read this for AGESSSSS.....

  11. I've seen this book around for a long time now but for some reason I've never picked it up before. You just talked me into it, so thank you.

  12. Oh wow, such a lovely review for a beautiful book! I didn't even know that you haven't reviewed this one on your blog. I thought you did because you managed to convince me to read the book and now I'm a big fan of Sorcha and the rest of the Sevenwaters heroines. :) I have a feeling this review will convince others to read the book.

  13. I'm so glad you finally reviewed this! I have you to thank for introducing me to these books :) Here's the link to my review if you are interested:

  14. I have the green cover version and it is well on its way to being as well-loved-looking as yours! I remember getting it from the library when I was about 13,loving it, then being thrilled when my brother bought me the trio for my birthday! I haven't read Heir to and Seer of Sevenwaters yet...but I think I'll push them to the top of my pile now! Thank you for such a great review, it has reminded me why I love Juliet Marillier so much (oh, Faolan....)

  15. msaggie11:44 AM

    The scene by the seaside with the seals is also one of my favourites from this book. Like you, I think the books in the original trilogy are better than the subsequent sequels. Although I loved Son of the Shadows too, I wanted more HEA (as in "ever after") but Juliet Marillier did explain somewhere in her website why she took the story in that particular direction to move forward Liadan and Bran's romance. Child of the Prophecy certainly has the most complex heroine. Thanks for this lovely review of Daughter of the Forest, and I would strongly recommend all the Sevenwaters books to everyone!

  16. Jenny, welcome! Any friend of Suey's... but I am sorry this one wasn't a good reading experience for you. I've had some of those emotional ones and they can haunt you. Not to harp on the subject, but if you haven't read any of the sequels, you might really enjoy SON OF THE SHADOWS... :)

    Becky, ah, I bet you did. Marillier is a joy to bookpush.

    Litza, oh, me too. ME TOO.

    Sabrina, ooh, I think you would really love it. I really do.

    Holly, I think I'm due as well. It's been awhile and it's such a joy to reread.

    Emily, LOL. I've got DEMON KING on my nightstand now. Just sayin'...

    jen, I love hearing that.

    Melissa, I know. It's weird, isn't it? Apparently I've talked it up in every other venue possible.

    Suey, aww, I'm sorry. Now it's here should you need it. :) And it was lovely to see you, too!

    Charlotte, wait no longer. Seriously.

    Ryan, yay! My pleasure, believe me. Hope you like it.

    Chachic, I hope it does. Such a beautiful book deserves to continually find new readers.

    Joanna, oops! How did I miss yours? Adding now to the link list...

    Beth, what a good brother! I picked up the green cover version on a trip to England. Saw the trilogy in those editions in a Waterstones and couldn't leave the store without them. And, oh, Faolan is right. I <3 him so much.

    msaggie, you're so right. SON OF THE SHADOWS may be my favorite. It's so hard to say for sure. And Fainne is incredibly complex. I think it took a lot of guts as a writer to handle such a struggling heroine. That one gets better with each reread.

    Shelagh, there's nothing like being caught up in Sevenwaters is there? Thanks for the follow!

  17. I am pretty sure I borrowed a Marillier book on your recommendation before. I didn't get to read it then. Thanks for the reminder that I need to rerequest it!

  18. Great review! I`m reading this for sure!

  19. Marg, ooh. I think you will especially like this one. Hope it comes up again in your queue soon.

    Alexander, awesome. Let me know what you think!

  20. Angie, my copy of the hardback looks JUST like this! I had to go buy another copy (a trade paperback) just so I could keep reading it over the years! I'd also love to get an Ebook copy sometime. Beautiful review. Such an enchanting story. My favorite novel of all time.

    1. Does it really? That is so awesome. I've been debating whether or not to try to find another hardback or go with the trade paper. Decisions, decisions . . .

      I should probably get an ecopy as well. Just in case.


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