Juliet Marillier,
Daughter of the Forest
(Tor, 2000)

Daughter of the Forest is a first novel from Australian author Juliet Marillier. The first part of a trilogy, it is a retelling of the fairy tale of the six brothers turned into swans and the youngest sister who must save them.

Marillier chooses as her setting Ireland in the late Celtic age. The Christians and Vikings have both made their presence known; the druids have retreated to secret forests and caves. Britain is still a jumble of small kingdoms, before it becomes "England." Sevenwaters, the holding of Lord Colum, is isolated in a forest valley. Guarded by the fey folk of the forest, Sevenwaters has prospered, despite Lord Colum's fierce war-like ways.

Colum has seven children, six sons and a daughter. Their mother, Niamh, died in childbirth with her youngest child, and so Sorcha has no memories of her mother. Sorcha, despite her youth, is a competent herbalist and healer. She is joined by mystical bonds to her brothers, especially Finbar and Conor.

When Colum returns from one of his excursions with the Lady Oonagh and declares his intent to wed her, the children are less than pleased. They can sense, even if their father cannot, that Lady Oonagh is, at the very least, not to be trusted. Slowly, she begins to insinuate herself into life at Sevenwaters, and as she does so, things begin to go wrong.

Early one morning, Sorcha and her brothers journey into the woods to summon the Lady of the Forest, to beg for her help in getting rid of Oonagh, but they do not reckon on their stepmother's powers of sorcery. The brothers are all turned into swans as Sorcha flees into the forest.

Meeting the Lady at last, she learns what she must do to free her brothers and at what cost to herself. But she undertakes the task, little dreaming the true suffering that awaits her, or how far from home that task will take her.

Marillier has chosen her setting well; it is somehow more believable that in the wild, mist-shrouded Celtic lands, a stepmother could turn six children into swans. She handles deftly the difference between the Celtic Sevenwaters and the "civilized" Harrowfield, where Sorcha eventually ends up.

Even if you know the story of the six swans, Daughter of the Forest will keep you turning pages until there are no more, and leave you anxiously awaiting the next installment in the Sevenwaters Trilogy.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]

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