Tag Archives: Son of the Shadows

Sevenwaters Trilogy, by Juliet Marillier (22., 23., 24.)

13 Apr

Daughter of the Forest

I have always wanted to write mass-market romance novels—for which I am completely unsuited—and in my twenties along with loving David Foster Wallace and Denis Johnson and Haruki Murakami, I used to have a serious drugstore-romance habit. These books would pile up around my sofa and be shoved under when anyone came over, soft, splayed bricks printed on cheap paper with bright porn-y covers showing hearts, wedding rings and sexy illustrations of men with long hair and exposed chests. They were ridiculous—so ridiculous!—but sometimes well executed, and I am still jealous of any writer who can build a simple, clean formula and breathe some life into her characters. I was always uncomfortable with the reductive gender roles, the limited and conventional sexuality, the materialism, and the sexy rape, and I am can’t really look around it anymore to enjoy mass-market romance, but this is sad because no book makes me happier than a great romance, and even more so, a great fantasy romance.

And I am now screaming with joy because Juliet Marillier is the best fantasy-romance writer I’ve discovered since Jacqueline Carey (whose Kushiel’s Dart series is a masterpiece of fantasy-adventure-romance that’s also kinky, queer and has a great approach to sexuality). Marillier is more mainstream—if anyone who identifies as a druid and lives in New Zealand can be called mainstream—but she has a mystical early Irish setting, Gaelic names, fairies, druids, myths, sorceresses. And in the first book of the Sevenwaters Trilogy, Daughter of the Forest, a big shaved-red-headed British hero comes along to attack his hereditary enemies and instead falls for an Irish girl who has been cursed. Joy.

Daughter of the Forest, which is Marillier’s first novel, is based on The Six Swans, a Grimm’s fairy tale where six brothers are turned into swans by their evil stepmother. In order to turn them human again, their sister has to spin six shirts out of stinging nettles, during which period she can not speak or communicate her story. While she is trying to accomplish this, she meets and falls in love with a man, but she can’t explain herself to him, and so of course drama ensues.

Marillier makes the fairy tale her own, placing the action in an early Ireland and creating impassioned, romantic characters who are all operating at the kind of high emotional pitch to make a book like this work. I knew I was going to be thrilled when the child Sorcha (sister-girl soon to be spinning nettles) helps one of her brothers rescue a tortured captive from their father’s dungeon and then has to spend a season in a cave nursing the boy back to health and trust. A romantic interlude in a cave! A damaged man who cannot trust! No romance novel is complete without these features, and the boy, Simon, isn’t even the eventual love interest but will play a role in events to come.

Son of the Shadows, Juliet Marillier

The second book, Son of the Shadows, continues the story into the next generation and is almost even better. In this one the male lead is a nameless tattooed bandit leading a band of mercenaries on a rampage through the Irish countryside. His men kidnap our heroine Liadan for her healing abilities, and though the bandit leader at first hates her and doesn’t want her along, he soon grows to respect her courage and sass. I’m sure we can all see where this is going. Mad love in the ruins of some cairn-thing, influenced by the spirits of the Old Gods.

Still, these are romance novels, if really good ones, and by halfway through the third volume, Child of the Prophecy, I’d had enough of sexually predatory male villains and people keeping secrets from their loved ones that, if only they’d just speak up would remove all necessity for the plot. Still, Marillier creates great characters, writes at a luscious and beautiful fever-pitch and mostly makes the flaws of the genre easy to overlook.