Tuesday, 27 January 2015

My love for this book is possibly stronger than the love I bear for some of my closest friends. You may laugh indulgently and think I'm joking but I'm as serious as a judge undergoing a series of heart attacks. It would probably be a Sophie's Choice type situation if I had to choose between this book and some of my favorite people. As for those for whom I couldn't give a shit about, well, they'd better pray their lives are never on the line against Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest.

You know that fairy tale where a girl's brothers are turned into swans, and only by the sheer dint of her willpower and sacrifice, she rescues them from an evil sorceress? Pretty great story, right? Why it hasn't been turned into an awful CGI-extravaganza with terrible A-list actors (the ultimate fate of every beloved fairy tale) is a mystery to me.

Well, Juliet Marillier takes that classic tale and blows it completely out of the water (go home, Grimms!), with the story of Sorcha and her brothers of the powerful Sevenwaters clan. When the prerequisite evil stepmother turns her brothers into swans, Sorcha discovers that there is a way to free them: she must weave six shirts from sharp thorns and keep absolutely silent until she slips these punishing shirts over her brothers' necks.

Through it all, through horrific trials of abuse, being spirited to the land of her enemies, and increasingly violent prejudice, Sorcha manages to hold onto her memories for her brothers in an astounding tale of one young girl's incredible capacity for fortitude and love.

How is it that the entire world falls away when you've got a Marillier book in your hands? Her stories are always about magic in some form or another, but the experience of reading her books and how it takes hold of you is where the real magic lies. I picked it up in the daylight and when I looked up from it, the sky was dark and everyone was asleep.

Not a lot of the books I've loved aged as well as I did (what is this thing you call 'modesty' and how can it possibly improve on that which is already perfect???), but how, how, HOW does this book get better every single time I read it? I've memorized the story from having read this book to shreds periodically since I was a wee high school nerdling, but reading it as an adult nerdling still blew me over with every word. In fact, knowing what comes next sometimes heightened the emotions of every beautifully written word.

Because as of this current reread (January 2015), Daughter of the Forest left me an absolute sobbing mess in at least five separate chapters, as much for the small, quiet moments as for the violent, heartbreaking ones (SpoilerA trigger warning is required if you're sensitive to the subject of rape, but I believe Marillier treats it with careful delicacy and deep understanding).

Towards the end? Forget it. I had to squint to read through my blurred vision borne both of physical exhaustion and tears. Every now and then I had to stop and declaim my love for this book in hoarse tones, probably sounding only a little bit like a crazy person.

I love every single character who comes to life in the magical Marillier hours (except for the reprehensible Richard of Northwoods, whom, I have to say in order to retain some amount of objectivity, occasionally comes off as comically villainous, an effect I'm sure Marillier never intended). My tear ducts leapt at every chance to weep with them, traitorous things they are.

I love Sorcha because she's a different kind of heroine than the ones that commonly spring up nowadays. She's the first, and one of the best, of Marillier's unique brand of heroines. She's neither headstrong nor particularly powerful--in fact I could probably take her down, and I have occasionally trouble negotiating my way out of a particularly stubborn blanket--but her strength lies deeper than any outward show. Sorcha is gentle and quiet--even without the whole curse thing hanging over her head. She might not charm everyone around her, but her selflessness and generosity earn her a more resilient brand of loyalty from those who care to see beyond her strange appearance and her hideously scarred hands.

And Red could only exist in a Marillier book, because this guy is the king of gentle romantic heroes. All other gentle romantic heroes nod their heads in humble good-guy acknowledgment of his mild-mannered superiority. Red is chemically composed of 90% marriage material (the other 10% is ginger).

Not every happy ending is earned, and even Sorcha's happy ending--attained after so many years of suffering--has overtones of sorrow and foreboding. I like that, because it echoes how all your problems don't always resolve so neatly. No one escaped entirely without scars. The Sevenwaters family experienced a real and far-reaching tragedy, and to bundle it all away with a neat happy ending would have betrayed the gravitas Marillier's writing has endowed upon the story.

The minute I turned the final yellowed page and read the last word, I shut the book and smooched it like an old friend with whom I respect no physical boundaries, which it might as well be. Son of the Shadows has always been my favorite of the Sevenwaters series (once I called it trilogy and was happily proven to be incorrect), but Daughter of the Forest edges it out of the spot every time I read it.


Post a Comment