An immersive escape into the ancient world and tales; a seamless mix of the Celtic tongue, romance, and the old tales re-imagined. Beautiful.
I picked up ‘Daughter of the Forest’ somewhat blind. At that point I hadn’t read (or heard of) The Tragic Tale of the Children of Lir and so I had no idea what to expect.
‘A magnificent saga set in the Celtic twilight of 10th century Ireland, when myth was law and magic was a power of nature, brilliantly brought to life: the legendary story of an evil stepmother opposed by a seventh child.’
This is one of those blurbs that does everything right; establishes place, motive, antagonist, intrigue…and most importantly, that one little world which is so important to my dissertation ‘Celtic’. So this is the reason the Marillier’s novel went straight on my TBR, and I’m so glad I got round to it so quickly.
There was the chance, like any novel, that the narrative wouldn’t live up to the initial feeling the blurb casts over you, especially with a novel as long as this one. There were moments within the first 150 pages that I wondered whether the exposition and build to the inciting incident was too long, however, I’m glad I persevered because the book was as much a journey for the reader as Sorcha (the protagonist)! I cannot conclude whether the ranging narrative should be classed as a negative or not. It is perhaps the consistency and authenticity of Marillier’s voice which is the novel’s saving grace.
Three children lay on the rocks at the water’s edge. A dark-haired little girl. Two boys, slightly older. This image is caught forever in my memory, like some fragile creature preserved in amber. Myself, my brothers. I remember the way the water ripples as I trailed my fingers across the shining surface.
From the beginning moments of the novel, the narrator hooks you within the mind of Sorcha. Her response to the natural world along with her visceral description keeps you engaged and transports you to the Irish forest in which the novel is initially set. Her voice is continually retrospective and so the reader experiences Sorcha’s tale from the mouth of her older self; perhaps as though we are her children sat round her feet listening. Just as the folktales were first shared.
The sense of a quest in Sorcha’s tale was very strong, another quality which sides the novel closely with folktale tradition. We see a genuine and believable hero’s journey (as well as character arc) from the inciting incident (the curse) the calling, the change of world, the build to the climax in which the hero comes close to death, and Sorcha’s return home with the elixir. The difficult and onerous stages of Sorcha’s quest is at the heart of the novel; it makes her character journey believable, while simultaneously making the novel long and ranging. This, I believe, is a necessary evil as any reduction of the novel’s length will (likely) result in a damage to the tale’s authenticity.
In folktales and fairytales (not just limited to Celtic) there are various essential tropes and archetypes. These can be found in abundance within the pages of the book, including a curse, impossible tasks, the number 7, transformation, an evil stepmother…the list goes on.
With that being said, there is a contemporary feel to the novel which sets it slightly aside from the old Celtic tales. Without delving deeper into the novel’s exoskeleton it is hard to say exactly what factors contribute to this, however, I get the sense that Marillier is adhering to the old tales’s structure as much as she is challenging them.
One example of this which deserves further research is the reader’s attachment to the protagonist. Normally the hero acts as a passive entity, the reader witnessing their actions but feeling no connection with them. This is because in folktales, the hero’s thoughts and feeling are often nonexistent; we do not feel their pain, only their motivation. Sorcha is different. We feel her love, strength, fear, jealousy, sadness and happiness from the opening pages. We experience the world through her eyes rather than passively through the third person as you often would in the old ballads and tales. This makes Sorcha, and the novel unique, contemporary, yet it carries traces of the old making it authentic.
I held my breath, watching her, and when at length she spread her great wings and rose to flight I sensed an end to things, a moving on and parting that would not be halted by any burning of magical herbs, by any intervention of human or spirit world.
The sense of magic and wonder is palpable throughout, the fair folk constantly in the background, the presence can be sensed yet we very rarely see them. This all adds to the sense of wonder:
And if the Fair Folk watched us, planning the next chapter in their long tale, we heard from them not a whisper, as we rode home to Sevenwaters.
For me, the last lines of the novel perfectly encapsulates the tone and style of a folktale, while also leaving it open for the next book, making it feel like a contemporary fantasy novel. The ending, though the perfect closure for Sorcha’s story, has left me eager to find out what the second book has to offer!
Copyright: Laura Davis © 2018, all rights reserved.