Goodreads: Daughter of the Forest
Series: Sevenwaters #1
Published: April 1, 1999
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…
Daughter of the Forest has a unique voice that will captivate the right audience. The story follows teenager Sorcha, who must save her six brothers from a curse set on them by their wicked stepmother. To do so, she must make six shirts from a painfully thorny plant and refuse to speak until the spell is broken. Marillier draws on Irish culture and history for even the tone of the novel, creating a quiet, mystical atmosphere that focuses on the relationships of her characters.
The quiet tone really sets the pace for most of the novel, and the plot begins slowly. Personally, I was most invested in the story when it was practically over. There is something to be said for a fantastic finale—but there is also something to be said for getting readers hooked from the beginning and keeping them there. It does not help that a number of plot events are cliché, and not always in the “well, this is a fairy tale retelling so certain cliché things must happen” way. Basically, if anything can happen to thwart Sorcha’s quest, it does, and it is often predictable.
I also found the motivation for the entire plot somewhat unsatisfactory. Sorcha’s brothers are cursed by their evil stepmother, who happens to be one of the Fair Folk. No explanation is given for her doing so, besides that she is evil. I at least would have appreciated some non-answer about how evil fairies must exist to balance the good in the world. However, readers are not given even that. I left the book with the sense that Lady Oonagh is evil just because she is, which raises some questions about whether she has free will (at least in my mind). And she curses Sorcha’s family just because she can? How pointless.
These complaints aside, however, I did enjoy reading Daughter of the Forest. The integration of Celtic religion and history is interesting in its own right, but Marillier’s decision to weave in the story of “The Six Swans” somehow manages to highlight the culture. This story is actually both entertaining and educational.
The romance, which I think will be the main draw for many readers, is also very compelling. The beginning of it could use a little more grounding, although, ironically, this is not entirely clear until the end of the book, where the love interest describes his own feelings basically as instalove. Yet from that first moment, his relationship with Sorcha quietly grows and blooms, and readers will love how strong he is, how gentle when necessary, and how competent at his work. Also, who doesn’t enjoy a long speech by the love interest detailing all his romantic feelings?
Daughter of the Forest is an enjoyable fantasy, if not my favorite. It has a unique voice and focuses on relationships more than magic and swords. Perfect for lovers of Celtic mythology and druidism and for fans of fairy tale retellings.
Content Note: There is a rape scene in this book. It does affect Sorcha psychologically, but I hesitate to say it added enough to the plot to be warranted. Basically the same story could have occurred without the rape (though the love interest does give Sorcha’s fear of men as a reason he was not more straightforward about his romantic intentions, which leads to some specific plot events).