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Daughter of the Forest    by Juliet Marillier order for
Daughter of the Forest
by Juliet Marillier
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In a very impressive debut, Marillier gives us a superb re-telling of the legend of the girl who labors long and painfully to return her six brothers to human form after they have been turned into swans by an evil sorceress. Sorcha, the heroine of the tale, grows up the 'daughter of the forest' at the Irish tuath of Sevenwaters, 'named for the seven streams that flowed down the hillsides into the great, tree-circled lake'. Sorcha is the youngest of seven children, with six protective elder brothers. Her father, Lord Colum, has grown distant from them since her mother's death at Sorcha's birth, and is preoccupied with politics and an old feud against the Britons over the ownership of sacred islands.

The children grew up in a place full of magic, by 'a gate to that other world, the realm of spirits and dreams and the Fair Folk', with a birch tree that held their mother's spirit. The brothers are all different with one destined for a spiritual life, another an inventor, a warrior, a leader, and so on. Closest to Sorcha is Finbar, who sees clearly and can foresee the future, to his own cost. Finbar and Sorcha, together, rescue a young, captive Briton, after he has been cruelly tortured by their father and brothers. Sorcha applies her healing skills to his broken body and spirit, but is called away and does not know his fate.

Then Lord Colum brings home a new wife, the lady Oonagh, whose presence is felt by 'the cold wind that whipped tree branches into prostrate surrender as we passed, from the churning turbulence of the lake waters, from the scream of a gull harried on its flight by needles of frozen sleet', and the legend plays itself out. The author does a masterful job with the details and imbeds the whole in a political conflict amongst the Britons and between British and the Irish lords. The Fair Folk and the Lady of the Forest direct events, and send Sorcha to a fateful meeting with the Briton Hugh, known as 'Red', to a journey across the ocean and a long, painful sojourn amongst the enemies of her people.

Once you open this book, you'll find it hard to put down. The style reminded me somewhat of Marion Zimmer Bradley's marvellous Mists of Avalon. Like that story, Daughter of the Forest is a magical tale of historical romance, but it also speaks of the ties that bind a close-knit group of siblings. This is a must read for lovers of great fantasy.

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