I liked a lot of things about Juliet Marillier’s *Daughter of the Forest*: the first person narration of Sorcha, the bildungsroman plot, the subtle but convincing romance narrative, the retelling of Grimm’s *Six Swans* (a story I couldn’t recall the end to and so was allowed the mystery of the climax) and the magic of nature/women that suffuses character and plot.
I don’t read an awful lot of fantasy and so my read of this one may be hampered by this limitation. I did, however, find myself slightly annoyed that by all appearances and actions Sorcha – and her brothers – are flawless characters/heroes. Without exception each of them possesses unique powers, admirable strengths and characteristics and can do no wrong – even when doing very, very, wrong. A little character complexity never killed a story.
I was also annoyed that the central problem of the narrative – that Sorcha’s six brothers have been turned into swans and she must sew them shirts from nettle flowers without speaking a word to anyone – is introduced with the most illogical and sparse of explanations. Almost without introduction a witch – Oonagh – arrives and marries their father. Then just as hastily a spell is cast – how? why? with what means? – and the brothers are swans. I fully appreciate that magic operates in the narrative – and I’m fine with that – but without meeting Oonagh in a substantive way and understanding her motivations the spell reads as a far too convenient way for the problem of swan-brothers to take place.
What I *did* love with the slow and unpredictable introduction of the romance with Red (though in a similar vein to my complaints about Oonagh I found Simon’s revelation of love to be completely without precedent or foreshadow). I believed their romance, I wanted them to find and love one another, I wanted them to be happy. I was quite content with the conclusion to the novel that allowed the ‘happily ever after’ with the tiny qualifiers that lead to the next book in the series, but *not* as is often the case with fantasy, the cliff-hanger ending that compels an immediate read of the next book in the series.
I do have some questions about the “strong female character” here. For all her courage and bravery in making the shirts, all of Sorcha’s decisions are in response to the commands of a patriarchal figure. If not her father or brothers than the “queen” of the forest who acts in the same capacity by commanding Sorcha down a particular path that disregards her desires or aspirations. Complicating this structure are the few scenes when the brothers, with extreme lack-luster, offer to remain as swans so she doesn’t have to endure such torment (torment that extends to a very problematic rape scene). And her response – that of course she will endure the torment because she loves them – is unsatisfactory because this reader was never convinced it was a genuine choice.
So yes – great pleasure in reading this book – I could scarce put it down (thanks E. for the recommendation!), but in my enjoyment questions about the politics and plotting of an otherwise captivating tale.