Guess what I did over the weekend? I started ACTUALLY WRITING on one of my novels again. It felt so good, and I’m so happy to be working on a long-term fiction project again. Cobbling together lots of smaller projects during my writing time makes me feel a little discombobulated!
I also finished Juliet Marillier’s wonderful Daughter of the Forest over the weekend, which is a retelling of “The Six Swans.” Absolutely gorgeous.
This book reminded me of why I used to love fantasy so much.*
Reading this, I felt totally immersed in Marillier’s world, which she accomplishes by choosing just the right details about her settings and characters to convey. All of Sorcha’s six older brothers are realistically drawn and distinct from one another; it seems it would be all too easy for them to dissolve in a jumble of names, but I never had trouble remembering which character traits belonged to which brother, despite the fact that the brothers are “absent” for much of the book. The love and devotion Sorcha felt for her family serves as the lifeblood of this story, but it is also more than that, expanding to explore issues of prejudice, recovery from abuse, devotion, and love. And even though Sorcha is mute for most of the book, I was impressed by the way Marillier was still able to convey her engagement with those around her, as well as the way her mute status invited the types of dialogue that would not have been possible if she were speaking. For example, characters told her more than they would have told someone who could repeat their words, and she often communicated with only the most urgent or basic component of what she needed to convey.
This story enriches the source material of “The Six Swans” fairy tale with a deftly drawn world including cultural tension, family loyalty, and the clash and interweaving of pagan and Christian beliefs. It stays close enough to the original to satisfy most fairy tale fans, while also creating a complete enough world to draw in fantasy lovers who are unfamiliar with or not interested in the original tale.
The ending is bittersweet in the best way, with, in my opinion, just the right amount of loose ends remaining. I heard so many good things about this book between the time it was published over 15 years ago and when I finally picked it up, and I was delighted to find that all of them were true.
* I still love fantasy, but my reading tastes have expanded so much that I don’t read as much of it as I used to when it was my primary genre.