Juliet Marillier,
Son of the Shadows
(Tor, 2001)

After discovering that Daughter of the Forest, Juliet Marillier's debut novel based on the "Seven Swans" fairy tale, was the first of a trilogy, I was extremely curious about how Marillier would continue the saga of the brothers and sister of Sevenwaters, going beyond the framework of the original fairy tale. Son of the Shadows went a long way towards satisfying my curiosity, while leaving enough unanswered questions to whet my appetite for the concluding volume, Child of the Prophecy.

I was impressed with many aspects of Daughter of the Forest -- the evocatively detailed background of mythic Ireland, the depth of the characters, the clear, graceful prose. Son of the Shadows left me even more pleased, and demonstrated Marillier's artistic growth. Although the books do form a sequence, both Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows can be enjoyed as stand-alone works, which appealed to me as I sometimes weary of novels that end on cliffhangers without any resolution.

At the beginning of the novel, quiet, solemn Liadan, youngest daughter of Sorcha of Sevenwaters (the heroine of Daughter of the Forest) wants nothing more than to remain forever at her beloved home, assisting her mother in her work as a healer. Although her father and uncles are involving in ongoing skirmishes with the English Northwoods family, attempting to regain some coastal islands that family tradition and prophecy declare sacred to the magic of all Ireland, Liadan's life at Sevenwaters is peaceful until her 16th year. That year, her inituition tells her that her mother is suffering from a fatal disease, and hasn't long to live.

Liadan has always idealized her family, but when her father and uncles respond with uncharacteristic harshness to her beautiful sister Niamh's romance with a druidic acolyte by sending her away to marry a tribal chieftain, Liadan feels the injustice of their decision deeply. And Eamonn, a neighboring lord, has been unsettling her with his constant proposals of marriage.

When she is kidnapped by a notorious band of outlaws for her skills as a healer, her peaceful, well-ordered life is given its final blow. She finds a strange sort of home among them and begins to form a bond with their leader, the Painted Man, a complex man tormented by odd nightmares. Meanwhile, her druidic powers have been growing, and the Tuatha De Danaan, the Fair Folk who reside in the forest of Sevenwaters, have been instructing her in what they say is her destined part to play in the family prophecy. She must choose between following their instructions and creating her own pattern, and she will test herself to the limit in a desperate attempt to save all those she loves from an unexpected danger from within.

Although this book had an involved and suspenseful plot, what made it most compelling was the narrative of Liadan's coming of age -- her development from a shy girl to a confident, powerful woman. Her distinctive voice made the story linger in my memory, but the background and the supporting characters gave it richness and depth. From Finbar, Liadan's one-winged uncle, stranded between two worlds but gifted in mystic insight, to Gull, the laconic African who serves as the Painted Man's lieutentant, they prove essential to the tapestry of the narrative. And of course, Bran himself, the Painted Man, is a worthy counterpoint to Liadan, experiencing his own coming of age as he encounters the "shadows" of the title. Even relatively minor characters, such as Evan, the outlaw Liadan was kidnapped to save, or Ciaran, the ambivalent apprentice druid, seem to come fully alive during their few moments on the scene. In short, Son of the Shadows is more than a continuation of the story begun in Daughter of the Forest; it is a fine work in its own right, brought to life by a gifted storyteller.

[ by Erin Bush ]
Rambles: 6 July 2002

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