Forgive me, I am so behind!
Here we come, dear friends, to my absolute favorite book that I’ve ever read. I’ve read it more times than I can count (if I had to guess, I’d say seven, but I’m not sure). It is a book in which every word is infused with magic, mysticism, and beauty.
I stumbled upon Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier quite by accident, when I tried to check out the second book in the series from my high school library. I was informed that this was the second book, and would be better able to understand the story if I began at the beginning (what an unusual idea!). I therefore went to the store and bought the book, and am so glad that I read these in order. Though the other two in this trilogy are both wonderfully written books with great story lines, this novel will always be first in my heart.
It is a lavish retelling of a myth in which a young girl must save her brothers from a curse which has transformed them all into swans. Sorcha is raised by her brothers, her mother being dead and her father distant, in an enchanted stretch of forest in ninth century Ireland. The love she bears her family and her homeland is put to the test when her father’s new wife, the evil sorceress calling herself Lady Oonagh, turns her brothers into creatures of the wild, with no memory of their former human lives. Sorcha is visited by the Lady of the Forest, who is queen of the faeries, and is set the three-part task which is the only way to save the brothers she loves so dearly. First, she must weave six shirts–one for each brother–from a fibrous, spiny plant which with each touch wounds her hands with its spines and its poison. Second, she must never tell anyone any part of her story–neither what happened to her brothers, nor why she weaves the shirts. Finally, through all this, she must not utter a sound. Not a laugh, not a cry, not a word, nor any other sound that can be made by the human mouth. Foolishly she believes that if she remains hidden and works hard at her task, she can finish in half a year, but she is waylaid by events she cannot possibly imagine, both wonderful and terrible. She must leave her forest and venture into the heart of her peoples’ enemies, but finds protection there in the form of Red, a British lord with fierce self-control and a gentle spirit. Red shelters her from the suspicions of his own people, the evil intentions of his uncle, and the influence of Lady Oonagh. Sorcha, in the last moments of her trial, must choose between the brothers she loves more than anything, or the love she finds in the last place she thought possible.
So, for those who don’t know me that well, here’s a brief overview of the things that I love which play prominently in this novel:
3. An extremely strong heroine
4. Romance that doesn’t involve sex!
And now, a more in-depth description. First, the novel is steeped in Irish mysticism and folklore. Taking its entire premise from a fairy tale, the characters are also of the old pagan faith of medieval Ireland.Therefore, faeries and magic play a significant part in their lives, and nature possesses spirits with feelings and intentions. Without these elements, the story would in no way be as good as it is, and Marillier’s expertise in this mythology and religion is evident in every word. The language is thoughtful, the characters introspective, and the word choice is sublime. It is an absolutely beautifully imagined book from start to finish.
Sorcha is a gentle spirit, but has a firm backbone which carries her through her trials. Raised by a troupe of boys, she is what would today be called a tomboy–does not care about the shape or material of her gown, so long as it covers her, and rarely wears shoes. She sports alongside her brothers, and rather than learning to sew and run a household, as ladies at the time were expected to do, she learns instead the arts of gardening and herbal healing. Though she is a lord’s daughter, she spends her days tending to the sick in their settlement. She is humble and sweet, but when threatened, she is strong. When something bad happens, she picks herself up and moves on, doing what needs to be done. She rarely shows emotional or physical weakness to anyone, and is ashamed of herself when she does. And through all the obstacles, she remains true to her task, and puts her brothers lives before her own happiness.To say that she is my favorite character in any book I’ve ever read is to do inadequate justice to my feelings towards her. I feel that I know her inside and out, and cherish her as a friend.
The romance between her and Red is sweet and slow. In fact, Sorcha does not even realize that she is in love until after they have parted. Yet the reader can see it in every action he takes for her. He does everything he possibly can in his significant power to protect her from the ill his people wish upon her. He forbids anyone to bar her from completing her task, whether he is present in his house or travelling abroad. And when he must leave, he makes a startling and permanent choice in order to give her the protection he cannot physically offer her while he is gone. He saves her from certain death at least twice. He curses the men who have abused her and made her afraid of him. He watches her when she thinks he isn’t looking, and sees the beauty in her ruined hands when no one else can. Instead of the witch of Erin that his people see, he sees a girl who torments herself for some noble yet unknown purpose. He sees to her soul, and recognizes the strength and beauty there, though outwardly she is plain and scrawny. And he speaks to her as he does to no other, opens his heart to her and allows her to see his vulnerabilities. And the best part? There is no need for sex between them until the appropriate time. They learn other things about each other before they move on to that part, which in my personal beliefs is as it should be. Before he knows her physically, he learns and loves her heart and soul. This is why it is, in my most humble opinion, the greatest and sweetest love story I have ever had the joy and privilege of reading.
Well, I think that’s a long enough blog post. There is no way for me to adequately convey my true feelings about the novel. Suffice it to say that I adore it, and recommend it to anyone and everyone. In fact, read the whole series, because they’re all wonderful!