I decided I would find a more obscure banned/challenged book for the bingo game and came across Daughter of the Forest, which was challenged in a Missouri high school in 2015 for the rape scene that happens about a third of the way into the book. Since the rest of the story is filled with violent warfare, torture, imprisonment, and an attempted witch burning, I found it ironic that the most unwholesome plot point to the challengers was the rape and subsequent PTSD our main character experiences from the assault. What bothered me more was that this was challenged so recently. In light of current affairs, I felt this was an important book to bring out of the dark and into the light.
Based on the myths of “The Six Swans” and “The Children of Lir,” Daughter of the Forest follows Sorcha, the seventh child and only daughter of one of ninth-century Ireland’s most prominent war lords. With her mother dead, Sorcha grows up wild in the middle of the dense, mystical forest surrounding her father’s estate. She learns the art of healing as well as the many legends and mystical ways of the woods around her. She loves her home and her brothers, and her world is small and safe until the night her father’s men bring in a noble Briton spy, Simon. He’s taken and tortured and held for ransom until Sorcha’s brother, Finbar, hatches a plot to get the Briton to safety and away from their warmongering father.
Sorcha becomes Simon’s private nurse, hidden far away in the woods, and as she cares for him, shares his language and his history, she learns that the world is not the happy place she’s grown to believe. Her world turns even more upside down when her father brings home a new wife, the Lady Oonah, who bewitches her father and lays a curse on her brothers, turning them into swans, so that her own son can inherit the estate. With the assistance from the Fae of the Forest, Sorcha is given the means to break the curse and restore her brothers, but at great cost to herself, and she sacrifices everything to finish the task and bring her brothers back.
Marillier’s prose is poignant and lyrical, catching the tenor and style of oral Irish storytelling while never losing sight of her plot. The pacing is excellent, and Marillier covers a dense amount of ground in a short amount of time. Challenged book aside, she deals succinctly and realistically with the rape scene in question, as well as doing an excellent job in plotting and pacing the levels of shock, trauma, and PTSD associated with the assault throughout the rest of the story. Once it happens, the thread is always there, and we, along with Sorcha, can never forget that terrible day. Marillier is also incredibly good at sticking to the reality of being a woman in ninth-century Ireland/Briton. Sorcha knows she has no rights, no ability to fend for herself outside a man’s protection, though she strongly utilizes her own skills to do what she can. And Marillier never upholds her sacrifices on any pedestal. There is no heavy-handed lesson at the end about a woman’s sacrifice for those she loves. There is simply Sorcha’s choice, and how her choice manipulates the future.
All in all, this was a lovely book that I’m glad to have found, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in Irish myths and pre-medieval time periods.
Bingo Square: Fahrenheit 451