Do you love old myths and sprawling, inventive low fantasy epics? Did you really enjoy Circe and wished there was a whole genre of retellings? Well, I’ve got a book for you.
Plot: Sarcha is the seventh child and only daughter of the ruler of Sevenwaters. When her father, who has been mostly absent her entire life, brings home a new wife who happens to be an evil sorceress who tries to kill Sarcha and her 6 brothers to gain control of their land, Sarcha is given a task by the Lady of the Forest to save them. That task *sucks*. Also she’s 12.
There are a lot of fantasy novels out there that try to imbue their world with magic and fail, effectively just ending up using magic as shortcuts for things that in present times exist through technology. Weapons, ways of communicating across distances, etc. It is exceedingly rare for an author to successfully create a world that feels magical as distinct from how protagonists use it. Marillier does that with Daughter of the Forest. People do not wield magic so much as everything is magic, and that magic is mostly seen through the strong will of every part of nature and the power to impose that will on others. Respect for nature is essential to the characters’ survival because nature will get mad and get even if you don’t.
The other thing this book does exceptionally well is set out believable stakes. There is plenty of foreshadowing in the beginning that Sarcha is setting out on a classic hero’s journey which means things will, broadly speaking, work out, and yet there are so many moments in the story where I felt genuinely worried things were, in fact, not going to work out at all. That is so hard to do and a testament to Marillier’s immense skill as a writer. She also doesn’t let her characters shrug off the intensely difficult journey they go on. They prevail, but they are forever changed by the events.
This book will grab you and not let go, and it is not short so plan on it being a weekend read.
The original tale can be read here – https://worldfolklore.net/index.php/2020/08/05/the-six-swans/. Three cheers for fair use!
As always, content warnings:
- There is a very graphic scene of sexual assault and it is referenced throughout the book because it is obviously something that changes a person and how they interact with the world. There are also graphic threats of sexual violence.
- There is an off the page violent death of a dog with an on the page description of what the dog looks like subsequently. Another dog is very rudely frightened and I didn’t like that either.
- There is a lot of dismissive talk of people that engage in self harm.