Monthly Marillier: “Foxmask”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Foxmask” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor Fantasy, November 2005

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Norseman Eyvind, a fierce and loyal Wolfskin, came to a new land on top of the world to find his destiny. With his priestess bride Nessa he saved the land and weathered the treachery that was caused by Eyvind’s blood-sworn friend Somerled. After much pain and sorrow the two lovers have managed to create a society where the Norse warriors and the gentle folks of the Orkney Isles live and thrive in contentment at last. A decade and more has passed since the devastating events of the creation of the settlement and Eyvind and Nessa have watched their children grow and thrive in peace.

But not all on the islands are content or at peace. Thorvald, the young son of Margaret, widow of the slain king and Eyvind’s war leader, has always felt apart and at odds with all he knows. He learns upon his coming to manhood that he is not his father’s son but that of the love that Margaret bore for the hated Somerled and that Somerled was not killed for his treachery but sent on a boat, adrift with little more than a knife and skein of water, doomed to the god’s will. Thorvald is determined to find a boat and cast off to the West in a desperate bid to find a father he never knew…and to find out if he is made of the same stuff as the henious traitor.

The tragedy of this scheme would be horrific enough…if it were not for the fact that Creidhe, the winsome daughter of Eyvind and Nessa has loved Thorvald since birth and unbeknownst to him conspires to go along on this most perilous of quests.

What happens to them on their journey of discovery will ultimately change the lives of all they know and love…and will doom (or redeem) an entire people.

Review: It seems that I have distinct favorites and less-preferred books in all of Marillier’s duologies and trilogies. There’s no rhyme and reason to it either. Sometimes the first book is my favorite (“Wildwood Dancing”), sometimes the second (“Son of Shadows”), and sometimes even the third (“Flame of Sevenwaters.) So, too, I much prefer “Foxmask” to “Wolfskin.” I hadn’t even re-read “Wolfskin” until I read it again for this series. This book, on the other hand, is quite worn down from multiple re-reads.

A new generation has been born, and life is quiet, homely and comfortable for Creidhe, the daughter of Nessa and Eyvind. Thorvald, the secret son of the banished Somerland, is less content. When he sets out on a perilous journey to discover the truth of his heritage, Nessa secretly joins him, convinced that her dear friend and secret love will need her help. What they discover will change the course of not only their own futures, but that of so many more. In islands shrouded in clouds and mystery, will they discover the truth before it is too late?

I do love this book, and I will freely admit that’s mostly because of how much I love the romance at the heart of the story. Sadly, that doesn’t show up until about halfway through the book, but in the end, it’s well worth the wait. I’ll also admit to the fact that many of my re-reads involve me skipping right to this halfway point. That being the case, it was great to approach this re-read from the beginning of the book. I forgot just how much quality character work goes into the first half of the story and into slowly building up the mysteries and moral challenges that will later pay off in the end of the book.

Creidhe is your fairly typical Marillier heroine: quiet, loves the home and family, but filled with an iron will and inner strength. Luckily, she’s not a healer or a seer, two of the types of characters we’re most likely to see from this author. Instead, she’s a skilled weaver and creates a majestic embroidered tapestry that details her life. As a embroiderer myself, I’ve always love this trait about this character. It’s a really interesting look at this form of art as a storytelling mechanism.

This book is also unique for just how much I dislike Thorvald, the other POV character. Usually when Marillier uses multiple POVs I do end up having a favorite. But that’s just a preference between two character who are each fine on their own. Here? I pretty much spend most of the book wanting to punch Thorvald in his self-centered, whiny face. I even want to punch Creidhe at times for tolerating the amount of nonsense she does from him. There are a few moments in the book where Creidhe and their friend Sam both tear into Thorvald and, while I skip large chunks of his chapters in my casual re-reads, I always read these scenes for the pure joy of watching him get taken to task for being such a jerk. I will give credit to Marillier, though, for writing such a unique character. Very rarely does she write POV character who are anywhere near as flawed as Thorvald is. His journey is interesting enough, but you do have to tolerate a lot from him to get to the eventual pay-off.

I really, really liked the magical elements in this story. There were a good number of twists and turns that were both unexpected and heart breaking. Again and again are heroes must face impossible choices where it seems no one will win, but, in true Marillier fashion, everything is resolved by the end. I don’t want to spoil it by talking about certain characters, but the love interest is probably one of my favorites in all of Marillier’s work. And there are a few other characters that show up later who I also really, really enjoyed.

This is an excellent example of Marillier at her best. Both Creidhe and Thorvald read as very distinct characters from one another, their voices and perspectives so different throughout the story. Her lyrical style of writing perfectly fits the mysterious and magical locations that make up the landscape of the story. And, of course, the romance is beautiful, tragic, and heart-warming.

Rating 9: One of my favorites for sure, perfectly combining many of the elements I most love about Marillier’s work.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Foxmask” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Paranormal & Fantasy Romances and Best Romance in Traditional Fantasy.

Find “Foxmask” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Monthly Marillier: “Wolfskin”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Wolfskin” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2004

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Eyvind can think of no more glorious future than becoming a Wolfskin, a warrior devoted to the service of the mighty war god Thor. His closest friend, Somerled, a strange and lonely boy, has his own very different ambitions – yet a childhood oath, sworn in blood, binds these two in lifelong loyalty. Meanwhile, far away across the water, on the Light Isles, the king’s niece Nessa is beginning to learn the ways of the mysteries – though neither the young priestess nor her people can realize what lies ahead for them.

Eyvind and Somerled seem set to follow very different paths: one becoming a fearless servant of the Warfather, the other a scholarly courtier. Then a voyage of discovery, led by Somerled’s brother Ulf, brings the two friends together again in accompanying a group of settlers to some beautiful islands rumoured to lie across the western sea. However, their good spirits are dampened by a tragedy on board, which Eyvind begins to suspect may not have been an accident.

Ulf’s new settlement begins in harmony with the native islanders, led by King Engus. But one day, on a trip to a holy place of the Folk, a brutal murder occurs and that peace is shattered. It is now that Eyvind begins to feel the restraining ties of his boyhood oath…and to realize what sort of future Somerled had in mind for himself all those years ago.

Review: There really is no rhyme or reason to the order in which I’m picking the books I read for this series. The “Sevenwaters” series was an obvious starting point, but I’ve been jumping around ever since. However, I do remember that this book was the first of her books that I encountered where she used multiple POVs. All of the “Sevenwaters” books, her “Wildwood” YA duology, and a few of the other stand-alone she has are all told from a single, female perspective. So it was kind of a shock to start this one and find more than one narrator. More so that we were ultimately getting both the man and woman’s perspective from the eventual romantic pairing.

Eyvind and Nessa grow up in very different worlds with very different futures. Eyvind trains to be one of the legendary Wolfskin warriors who go out into the world and fight great battles. His reserved friend Somerland also has plans for his future, but they begin to look less and less familiar to Eyvind as they grow. For her part, Nessa leads a quiet life learning the ways of a wise woman, hoping to continue forward on the bright path set before her small community. But the seasons turn suddenly, and both Eyvind and Nessa soon learn that both of the futures they had set before themselves perhaps were not the ones they were meant to find. Soon, each must learn for themselves the great truths to be found in love, loyalty, and friendship.

First off, I really like the cover for this book. It’s sequel, “Foxmask,” has an equally beautiful cover. Both perfectly fit the overall tone and mythic quality of the stories held within. Marillier is also known as a huge dog lover, so it’s only fitting that few canines also great the cover.

Like I said before, this was the first of Marillier’s books that I encountered that featured dual narrators. And, for the most part, I enjoyed it here. Perhaps due to my expectations going in, that it would again be a single, female POV, I did find myself connecting a bit more to Nessa’s character. However, I will also add that in the long, long list of Marillier’s heroines, Nessa is not one of my favorites. Instead, she falls in similar company with Sibeal and Paula, heroines who were fine for the most part, but not particularly unique or likely to stand out in my memory.

I did like the magic that accompanied Nessa’s storyline. While we’ve seen seers plenty before, Nessa’s magic had some unique aspects to it. I enjoyed the connection to the selkie and the legends that surround magical water creatures. The tools she goes on to use as the story begins to wind down were interesting in their history and implementation.

Eyvind was of a bit more interest, perhaps simply because of the novelty of a male POV. But his story also involved a lot more change and a more established arc that covered the entirety of the book. Yes, some parts of it were highly predictable. And yes, those predictable twists and turns did make the early Eyvind a bit hard to tolerate in his naivety and trusting nature. But in some ways this same trusting nature helped draw a stark contrast between him and his friend Somerled. In some ways, I enjoyed the exploration and downfall of this friendship than I did the romantic relationship between Nessa and Eyvind.

Overall, while this isn’t on my list of favorite Marillier works, it does stand well enough on its own. I enjoy the setting, featuring Vikings and northern European myths and legends. Readers who enjoy multiple POV stories might even appreciate this one more than others. I’ve simply always preferred one narrator, so I’m a tough sell on this type of story. That said, it’s still a worthy entry and a solid recommendation for readers who enjoy mythic fantasy stories.

Rating 7: Not a favorite of mine, but a nice change of pace from the Irish setting and magic system.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wolfskin” is on these Goodreads lists: The Best of Mythic Fiction and Vikings.

Find “Wolfskin” at your library using WorldCat!

Monthly Marillier: “Cybele’s Secret”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Cybele’s Secret” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 2008

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: For Paula, accompanying her merchant father on a trading voyage to Istanbul is a dream come true. They have come to this city of trade on a special mission to purchase a most rare artifact—a gift from the ancient goddess, Cybele, to her followers. It’s the only remnant of a lost, pagan cult.

But no sooner have they arrived when it becomes clear they may be playing at a dangerous game. A colleague and friend of Paula’s father is found murdered. There are rumors of Cybele’s cult reviving within the very walls of Istanbul. And most telling of all, signs have begun to appear to Paula, urging her to unlock Cybele’s secret.

Meanwhile, Paula doesn’t know who she can trust in Istanbul, and finds herself drawn to two very different men. As time begins to run out, Paula realizes they may all be tied up in the destiny of Cybele’s Gift, and she must solve the puzzle before unknown but deadly enemies catch up to her. . . .

Review: “Wild wood Dancing” definitely reads as a stand-alone, so I remember being surprised when I saw a second book coming out in this series. But given that it’s a story of five sisters, the continuing stories are easy to see. I wasn’t surprised, however, to see that this book focused on Paula. She was the other “sensible” sister of the five and seemed like the natural choice for Marillier, an author who tends towards rather similar heroines in the first place. I can’t lie, I might have been more intrigued with one of the other sisters, more outside her usual realm, but alas. And sadly, this is another of my lesser favorite works by this author.

Everyone had always assumed Jena would be the one to accompany their father in his travels and help with his trade business. But after she marries, the role falls on bookish Paula who journeys with her father to Istanbul, a city full of culture and learning. What began as a simple business trip, however, quickly becomes something more, with powerful cults being rumored to be active once again and a rare artifact at the center of it all. Confident in her own reasoning and logic, Paula begins to unravel the puzzle before her. But things only become more and more complicated, with strange signs and symbols and two men vying for her attention. Can Paula solve this mystery before her time is up?

Anyone who knows me can probably guess what one of my problems was with this book right from the description, both mine and the official summary above. Yep, love triangle. From my memory, this is really the only Marillier book that has a love triangle at its heart, and that’s probably one of the reasons she’s a favorite author of mine. Instead of wasting time between two love interests (time split between two often plays to the detriment of both), Marillier often sets up her end-game couple early on and spends the rest of the book slowly developing it. I remember my friend, Emily, read “Daughter of the Forest” and was unhappy that Sorcha didn’t end up with Simon. But from my read, that idea had never even entered my head, so strong of a love interest was Red once he arrived.

So, yes, here we see a true love triangle, with Paula drawn to both of these men in different ways. While it still felt fairly obvious which one she was going to choose, that fact just made it more of a challenge to read Paula’s ongoing struggles in the love department. On top of that, neither love interest was particularly compelling on his own. It’s bad enough when one romantic interest isn’t that great. But when you have two and a large part of your heroine’s arc is debating between the two and neither seem very great? Not good.

I also didn’t love Paula as a character. In a bit of backward thinking, the fact that she felt more “perfect” than Jena before her almost made her, too, less interesting. It can be argued that the challenges that Paula faces here are much more dangerous and difficult than what Jena had to deal with in her story. But Paula rarely faltered, other than perhaps a bit of over-reliance on her own smarts. What has become a bit of a routine complaint with these books, Paula is almost too perfect.

I did like the magical elements involved in the story. The last third, in particular, really dives into some interesting aspects of fantasy. There are also a few cameo appearances of characters from the first book, but sadly, not Jena. I also really enjoyed the setting of Istanbul. Marillier’s books are almost exclusively set in Ireland or Scandinavia, so Istanbul is a far cry from those settings. Her lyrical, detailed language really played well to describing the colorful, vibrant life of this ancient city.

So, this is one of my less favorite books in the series. It seems like every trilogy/duology of her comes with one book that is a huge favorite and another that is more of a let-down. While I’ve re-read “Wildwood Dancing” many, many times, this was the first re-read I’ve ever done of this book and I’m kind of reminded why. Fans of Paula from the first book would probably like this, and, in general, it’s still a strong book on its own in the subgenre of fairytale fantasy. Just not one of Marillier’s best works.

Rating 7: A love triangle and overly-perfect heroine brought down a book that did excel in the world-building arena, at least.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cybele’s Secret” is on these Goodreads lists: Hidden Gems of the Young Adult Genre and Aussie YA Paranormal and Fantasy.

Find “Cybele’s Secret” at your library using WorldCat!

Monthly Marillier: “Wildwood Dancing”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Wildwood Dancing” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Alfred A. Knopf, January 2007

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.

But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.

Review: Obviously, I love fairytale re-tellings. But as the genre goes, there are definitely more popular fairytales than others to receive this treatment. For example, there are a million and one stories reimagining “Beauty and the Beast” or “Cinderella.” And just this summer, we’re seeing three separate books coming out retelling variations of “Little Red Riding Hood.” But two of my favorite fairytales, “The Seven Swans” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” definitely fall in the “less likely” category for stories to be rewritten. Luckily for me, one of my favorite authors has written my favorite versions of both of these stories. I’ve already covered “Daughter of the Forest,” so now it’s time for Marillier’s take on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”

To others, Jena’s home may seem strange and even possibly dangerous. But she’s always loved the ramshackle castle and the mysterious woods that surround it. Wandering the wilds with her beloved frog, Gogu, Jena know that magic exists in this place. Every full moon, she and her four sisters travel in secret to the land of the fairies where they spend a night dancing and enjoying the revels of that strange world. But when Jena’s father becomes sick and leaves the management of the household to Jena herself, the magic that once made up her life seems to begin to turn dark. With threats looming in both the world of the fairies and in her own, very human world, Jena desperately tries to find the strength within to hold on tight to those she loves.

There are many things to like about this book. For one thing, it’s one of the first YA fantasy stories I read by Marillier. As such, the tone of the story and the trials her characters face are different than her adult books. While the story still has darker moments, overall, the tone of the story is light and bright. The wonders of the full moon balls were probably some of the best scenes of the book, perfectly capturing the magic of these visits with small details about the music, ballgowns, and strange attendees who made up these affairs. It is easy for readers to immediately come down on Jena’s view of this magical world, both the joys it can present but also the dangers that lurk beneath the surface.

I also really liked the side characters in this book. All of Jena’s sister felt distinct and had their own moments and mini arcs/stakes at play throughout the story. I would at turns find myself rooting for each of them and then, conversely, massively rolling my eyes at some of their nonsense. Tati, for example, the eldest sister who falls in love with a young man from the fairy world, is always a struggle for me. “Dying for love” is just not something I can really get behind, especially not in the circumstances given here where Tati’s lack of will to live, essentially, is not only dooming herself but leaving her sisters alone to cope with the very real, very present challenges before them.

I also really enjoyed the various relationships highlighted in this story. Obviously, there’s quite a lot of attention given to sisterhood, espeically as Jena sees her role in regards to her sisters, learning lessons about the difference between loving someone enough to let them make their own way and holding on too tightly. But there’s also a lot of attention given to friendship, that between Jena and her frog, Gogu, as well as the increasingly tense relationship between Jena and her cousin, Cezar. There we see how the choices we make not only change ourselves, but they change the relationships we have with people as well. The romance was also very sweet and original in this story, taking a winding path and drastically veering away from the traditional fairytale’s version.

Jena is also an excellent main character. And part of what makes her excellent is how very frustrating I often found her to be. If there’s on criticism that I’ve leveled the most against Marillier’s books up to this point, it’s that her main characters are a bit too perfect. That is definitely not the case here. Jena is presented as a highly capable young woman, but this same high level of ability is also her greatest weakness throughout the book. Again and again, we see Jena fail to trust those around her to help her deal with the challenges before her. Instead, she attempts to manage things (and people!) that aren’t her responsibility or things she has no right to direct. There are a couple of choices and moments that are very tough to read, as Jena so clearly ignores the common sense and warnings that the reader is picking up on. However, all of this is also very intentionally written in and included in Jena’s overall arch of self-discovery and growth.

This is one of my favorite Marillier books to go back and re-read. I’ve included it in lists in the past as a comfort read type of book, and that it remains. The story is fast-moving, the magic is beautiful and unique, and I love the friendships and romance at the heart of the story.

Rating 8: The best version of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” that I have yet to find.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wildwood Dancing” is on these Goodreads lists: Books about Faery and 12 Dancing Princesses Retellings.

Find “Wildwood Dancing” at your library using WorldCat!

Monthly Marillier: “Flame of Sevenwaters”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Flame of Sevenwaters” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Roc Hardcover, November 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Maeve, daughter of Lord Sean of Sevenwaters, was badly burned as a child and carries the legacy of that fire in her crippled hands. After ten years she’s returning home, a courageous, forthright woman. But while her body’s scars have healed, her spirit remains fragile, fearing the shadows of her past.
 
Sevenwaters is in turmoil. The fey prince Mac Dara is desperate to see his only son, married to Maeve’s sister, return to the Otherworld. To force Lord Sean’s hand, Mac Dara has caused a party of innocent travelers on the Sevenwaters border to vanish—only to allow their murdered bodies to be found one by one.
 
When Maeve finds a body in a remote part of the woods, she and her brother, Finbar, embark on a journey that could bring about the end of Mac Dara’s reign—or lead to a hideous death. If she is successful, Maeve may open the door to a future she has not dared to believe possible…

Review: After the disappointment that was “Seer of Sevenwaters,” I remember wondering if Marillier should just leave well enough alone and not return again to this series. It was just a dud for me that it even took me a bit to want to pick this one up for the first time when it came out. But thank goodness I did! Not only did Marillier come back strong with this third book in the trilogy, but I think it ended up being my favorite of the three! So I was excited to get to read it again for this re-read, and, not surprisingly, I enjoyed it just as much this second time around.

Though a daughter of Sevenwaters, Maeve has grown up across the sea in the household of her Aunt Liadan and her husband, Bran. There, she learned how to adjust to her new life after suffering terrible burns as a child. With limited mobility, Maeve has found a special connection to the animals around her, especially a magnificent stallion. Eventually, she is called back to Sevenwaters, but she find the house in a state of unrest. The Fae world has crept ever closer, playing dangerous games with travelers through the forest. Soon enough, Maeve, who would like nothing more than to tend to her horse and the two stray dogs she finds in the woods, finds herself getting pulled into a feud that will test her as she’s never been tested before.

There are a few things that made this book stand-out in the last trio in Marillier’s “Sevenwaters” series. First of all, the main character felt refreshingly unique and held her own as an individual among the other leading ladies in this series (some of whom can begin to feel repetitive, with an emphasis on women who enjoy homily tasks but are strong of spirit to the shock of those around them). Maeve’s journey in this book is only the last bit of a path she’s been travelling since before the book starts, and that fact is very felt by the reader. Maeve’s narration focuses a lot on the limitations of the injuries she suffered in a house fire when she was a child. These, of course, include the loss of dexterity in her hands, but also a fear of being pitied by those around her and a lack of trust in her own ability to care for the creatures she loves (her beloved dog was lost in the same fire that burnt her). So much of this book is covering not only the strides that Maeve has already taken to accept and move forward through her struggles, but we also see her confronting her own walls that she has put up to her ongoing recovery. It’s a compelling and new storyline for a heroine in this series.

I also really enjoyed the focus on the animals in Maeve’s life. First, her relationship with the beautiful, but high strung, horse that she travels home to accompany. And secondly with the two dogs that she adopts while living there. The dogs, in particular, are a special relationship and particularly challenging to depict given the layers of feelings that were being worked out on Maeve’s side through these animals. Throughout much of the book, these various animals are the biggest relationships in Maeve’s life and stand in for any other human side characters. So it speaks to Marillier’s strength as a writer that each of the three (horse and two dogs) felt like a fully fleshed out character in its own right.

I also really liked how this book wrapped up the over-arching conflict of this second trilogy. It even did so in a manner that wrapped a few loose ends from the original trilogy, as well. The magical elements were also a bit more creepy in this book, lending a stronger sense of fear and danger to the Otherworld that Maeve eventually has to travel through. Some of the mysteries were, perhaps, a bit easy to spot, but that didn’t make the reveals any less satisfying in the end.

Overall, this was probably either my favorite in the last trilogy or, perhaps, tied with the first one. But it was such a massive improvement on the previous book that I think it often feels like the best in a straight read-through of the trilogy. It’s perhaps the lightest on the romance of the three, but the romantic story that it does have is sweet and works well within the framework of what this story is trying to accomplish. That is, it’s greater focus on Maeve’s own personal journey through reclaiming her life. Fans of the “Sevenwaters” series will surely enjoy this conclusion.

Rating 8: A lovely story of finding your own personal strength with a focus on the beautiful bound to be found between people and their animals.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flame of Sevenwaters” is on these Goodreads lists: Powerful Female Protagonists and Ancient Ireland: Celtic Mythology and Historical Fiction

Find “Flame of Sevenwaters” at your library using WorldCat!

Monthly Marillier: “Seer of Sevenwaters”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Seer of Sevenwaters” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Roc Hardcover, December 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The young seer Sibeal is visiting an island of elite warriors, prior to making her final pledge as a druid. It’s there she finds Felix, a survivor of a Viking shipwreck, who’s lost his memory. The scholarly Felix and Sibeal form a natural bond. He could even be her soul mate, but Sibeal’s vocation is her true calling, and her heart must answer.

As Felix fully regains his memory, Sibeal has a runic divination showing her that Felix must go on a perilous mission-and that she will join him. The rough waters and the sea creatures they will face are no match for Sibeal’s own inner turmoil. She must choose between the two things that tug at her soul-her spirituality and a chance at love…

Review: Unlike the first Sevenwaters trilogy which jumps generations with each book, the second trilogy remains focused on one generation: the daughters of Sean and Aisling. We’ve met, or heard reference to, them all before either in “Child of the Prophesy” or the previous book, so there’s an element of familiarity and expectation on each’s story from the start. Clodagh was a fantastic first pick for this new set of books, and it seemed only natural that Sibeal, her reserved, mystical younger sister would be the next choice. Unfortunately, for as much as I liked Sibeal’s character in “Heir to Sevenwaters,” her story has been one of my less favorite Marillier books, and so it remained with this re-read.

Even without the power of a seer, Sibeal believes she knows what will come of her life. She is soon to take her final vows to become a druid and join her brethren in the services they provide, that of wisdom, story-telling, and powerful, magical insight into the world around them. But this clear, straight path takes a sudden turn when Sibeal discovers a young man washed up on the shore with no memory of who he is. Suddenly, her life becomes much less clear and mysteries appear around every corner. For his part, Felix knows next to nothing about himself, with only dire hints at his own past and what paths he had been trodding before meeting Sibeal. Together, each must take on a perilous journey not only of self-discovery but to unlock wonders in the very world itself.

I really liked what we got from Sibeal in “Heir to Sevenwaters.” She didn’t have much page time, but she was a refreshing breath of fresh air in the midst of a family who was all treating Clodagh fairly poorly. Sibeal, alone, believed Clodagh and provided what support she could in the journey set out before her sister. Alas, as a main character, Sibeal wasn’t nearly as compelling. For one thing, her voice and perspective are not as distinct and unique as I had hoped. In too many ways, she seems similar to the other female protagonists we’ve seen in these stories and lacks the spark needed to make her stand out from the pack.

What’s worse, for the first time in this series, the narrative is split between Sibeal’s chapters and Felix’s, the romantic interest. And his are even worse than hers. Not only does the bare fact that splitting the narrative this way lesson the page time we have to get to know Sibeal as a character (perhaps this extended page count would have allowed for more development for her), but Felix himself brings next to nothing to the story. Amnesia stories are tough in this way, and Marillier falls into the same trap that many authors do with this type of arch: there’s just not enough to build upon when your character doesn’t know himself or his history. Beyond that, Felix’s chapters feel almost too similar to Sibeal’s. I’m not saying that there is a “male” and “female” way of thinking/speaking, but I definitely don’t want my two main characters to sound almost indistinguishable.

I also didn’t enjoy the overall story in this one as much as I have in Marillier’s previous Sevenwaters books. The mystery itself was fairly obvious, with numerous clues laid down well in advance of any characters piecing them together. It also all felt disconnected from the rest of the Sevenwaters story. In many ways, I feel like you could almost lift this book out of the series and no one would miss it.

Marillier’s writing remains strong, but with weaker characters and a weaker story overall, some of her tried and true go-toes become a bit more obvious as well. Some of her turns of phrase feel a bit tired and over-used, even. I did enjoy reading the final act of the story, where I felt like the pace picked up a bit more and my interested was piqued somewhat. But overall, it wasn’t enough to justify the rest of the story.

I remember being very disappointed when I read this book and wondering whether it might not be for the best that Marillier just hang up the Sevenwaters series altogether. Luckily (spoilers!), I did enjoy the last book in this series quite a bit, so that helped me recover from this reading experience. Luckily there are very few duds in her work, but this is definitely one of them.

Rating 6: The weakest Sevenwaters book of the lot with two main character, neither of whom are particularly interesting.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Seer of Sevenwaters” is on these Goodreads lists: Hidden Gems: YA-Fantasy Novels and Best Reconciliation Romance Books.

Find “Seer of Sevenwaters” at your library using WorldCat!

Monthly Marillier: “Heir to Sevenwaters”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Heir to Sevenwaters” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Roc, November 2008

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The chieftains of Sevenwaters have long been custodians of a vast and mysterious forest. Human and Otherworld dwellers have existed there side by side, sharing a wary trust. Until the spring when Lady Aisling of Sevenwaters finds herself expecting another child? A new heir to Sevenwaters. Then the family’s joy turns to despair when the baby is taken from his room and something…unnatural is left in his place. To reclaim her newborn brother, Clodagh must enter the shadowy Otherworld and confront the powerful prince who rules there.

Review: Marillier wrote several other books between her first three “Sevenwaters” entries and this, the first of a second set of three. I’ll get to many of those books later, but I thought it might be nice to review all of the “Sevenwaters” books straight out in order. Reading this the first time, I remember being concerned that Marillier was returning to a world and story that had largely felt contained and completed in the first trilogy. But this was a strong outing for the second set and started this next trilogy out on the right foot.

Set during the same generation as Fainne from “Child of the Prophesy,” this second trilogy shifts its focus to the Lord of Sevenwaters, Sean’s, children. The well-ordered life of Sevenwaters is disrupted in the best way with the birth of the first boy in the family, Finbar. But this joyous arrival is soon cut short when Finbar is stolen away. Only Clodagh recognizes that something magical is afoot, seeing the sticks-and-stones baby that was left behind as a living, breathing magical infant and not simply the cruel, inanimate doll the others all see. She sets out on a dangerous mission to exchange this magical creature for the return of her baby brother. With her travels Cathal, a young man with his own mysteries and a distinctly rude take on Clodagh and her life, but who has his own connections to the Fae world and could help her rescue baby Finbar before his loss tears Clodagh’s family and world apart.

There’s a lot to love about this return to the Sevenwaters world. But there were also elements of this story that began to frustrate me in their similarity to hiccups I had with the previous books. But we’ll start with the pros, as always!

Marillier’s writing and creativity with the magical elements of the story are as strong as ever. She has a beautiful way of painting scenes on the page that feel just as real as they do magical and whimsical. In this story, Clodagh and the reader travel into the wonderous world of the Fae themselves, and here Marillier’s masterful portrayal of magic with an underlying sense of danger was on point. As beautiful and mystical as this world and its beings are, it is also clear that it is a distinctly inhuman place and the rules and dangers are not of the sort that are immediately clear or rational to a human mind.

I particularly loved description of the Fae infant that is left behind in Finbar’s place. The bond that grows between this baby and Clodagh was beautiful and heart-breaking. Frankly, I was almost more invested in this relationship than I was in the building romance between Clodagh and Cathal. But man, reading this book as a mother now made some elements of it very difficult to get through. There was more ugly crying than I care to admit.

I also enjoyed Clodagh as a main character. However, she was also very similar to some of the leading ladies we’ve seen in the past, particularly Liadan. They are both described as very domestic and happiest at home. But when faced with challenges and the obstinance of their families, each chooses to make their own choices and way in the world. So while I like Clodagh, just as I liked Liadan before her, I wish there had been a bit more variety to her characterization that would make her stand out as distinct in her own right.

I also struggled to connect to Cathal. While there are several interesting reveals to his character later in the story, and the eventual romance is very sweet, he comes across as a bit too rude and harsh in the beginning. I enjoy a good enemies-to-lovers romance as much as the next person, but it’s a delicate balance to strike, and I think Cathal veered a bit too far in the rude direction initially (and for too long) to fully recover in my opinion as the story went on.

The book also takes quite a while to really get going. This is also a standard feature of Marillier’s works and something that only bothers me now and then. I think if the main character and tertiary characters are strong enough, I don’t notice the slow starts. But this one had weaker characters in Clodagh and Cathal, so I felt myself beginning to become impatient that we get this show on the road. This wasn’t helped by my incredible frustration with the entire Sevenwaters clan other than Clodagh herself.

In “Son of Shadows,” we see the Sevenwaters family’s awful treatment of Niamh. The explanations that come later don’t do much to rectify this treatment of a beloved daughter. And then here, again, we see Clodagh, a young woman who, to this point, had been completely trusted and relied upon, suddenly dismissed as crazy and irrational when she draws attention to the Fae characteristics at play in Finbar’s disappearance. She’s spoken to quite badly at points. It’s pretty shocking treatment towards a young woman who’s given no prior indications to being prone to flights of fancy. And shocking to have it come from a family who has more experience with magical beings and enchantments than most could say. Something is definitely wrong with this family and its treatment of supposedly “beloved” daughters.

Overall, however, I enjoyed this return to Sevenwaters. The magical elements, in particular, felt unique and interesting. The main character is endearing, if familiar, and her bond with the Fae baby is quite lovely. Fans of Marillier’s work and the previous Sevenwaters trilogy are sure to like this book.

Rating 8: A return to a familiar world brings some new magical elements, but also a few familiar tropes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Heir to Sevenwaters” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Australian Fantasy Reads and The Best Books about Elves or Faeries.

Find “Heir to Sevenwaters” at your library using WorldCat!

Monthly Marillier: “Child of the Prophecy”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Child of the Prophecy” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor, June 2003

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Magic is fading… and the ways of Man are driving the Old Ones to the West, beyond the ken of humankind. The ancient groves are being destroyed, and if nothing is done, Ireland will lose its essential mystic core.

The prophecies of long ago have foretold a way to prevent this horror, and it is the Sevenwaters clan that the Spirits of Eire look to for salvation. They are a family bound into the lifeblood of the land, and their promise to preserve the magic has been the cause of great joy to them… as well as great sorrow.

It is up to Fainne, daughter of Niamh, the lost sister of Sevenwaters, to solve the riddles of power. She is the shy child of a reclusive sorcerer, and her way is hard, for her father is the son of the wicked sorceress Oonagh, who has emerged from the shadows and seeks to destroy all that Sevenwaters has striven for. Oonagh will use her granddaughter Fainne most cruelly to accomplish her ends, and stops at nothing to see her will done.

Will Fainne be strong enough to battle this evil and save those she has come to love?

Review: Several years after the events in “Son of the Shadows,” we meet Fainne, the daughter of Niamh, Liadan’s lost sister. Growing up in practical isolation, and with the loss of her mother early in life and a reclusive father, Faine’s life has been one of quiet and seclusion. In many ways, Faine feels that she and her father aren’t simply hiding from his cruel, sorceress mother, Oonagh, but they are hiding from their own dark potential. But when the currents shift and Faine is forced out into the world and finds herself in her mother’s ancestral home of Sevenwaters, Faine must begin to make choices about her own future. Will she follow in her grandmother’s footsteps? Or will she choose a new way like her aunt and maternal grandmother before her?

By the time I got to this book, I’d actually read a few of Marillier’s other works. This was probably for the best as this is one of my less favorite of her books. It’s kind of surprising, because overall, I think her Sevenwaters series has been one of her biggest draws to her fantasy readership. But for me, something felt off about this book almost from the start. However, let’s talk about the things I liked, first off.

Marillier’s writing is almost freakish in its consistency. If you read a lot of her books, you’ll soon be able to immediately recognize her unique style of lyrical prose and straightforward storytelling. There’s a sense of wonder and comfort in much of her work, even as she touches on some dark topics. Every word feels delicate and intentional. There’s no denying the craftmanship of her work, and that was all on display here, especially when working with a character like Faine who is very different than the leading ladies who came before her.

I also liked seeing some familiar faces again. I, of course, really enjoyed Liadan and Bran’s story, so it was great seeing them again. It was also interesting to see side characters who had grown into roles they had just begun in “Son of the Shadows.” Sean, for example, has now been leader of Sevenwaters for over a decade. We also see Aisling, his wife, in her role as the lady of Sevenwaters. And, most jarring but also best of all, we get to see a grown Johnny balancing his role as heir to Sevenwaters and presumed fulfiller of the much-debated prophesy that has sat at the heart of the story from the start.

The problem with all of this, however, is that these side characters, both the very familiar, like Liadan and Bran, and the less so, like Johnny, are more intriguing than Faine. Much of Marillier’s work lives and dies on the strength of her characters. Most of her books are slow on the action and heavy on the introspection. So that main character has a lot of heavy lifting to do. And unfortunately, Faine just isn’t up to it. To some extent, I appreciate the challenges that Faine represents. Liadan and Sorcha were almost perfect women, so it’s refreshing to see Marillier tackling a heroine who faces challenges both physical and emotional. Faine walks with a limp, and due to her reclusive lifestyle, she struggles to form connections and maintain relationships. These parts of her character I thought were very well-drawn, and it was interesting watching her learn to piece together human interactions with people who are family in name only to her.

Unfortunately, her naivety turns into almost willful stupidity at points. Her concern of the darkness within her drives her actions past the point of reason. It’s hard to be sympathetic at points when events around her and those who would seek to use her are less than subtle. She does some pretty bad stuff for some pretty weak reasons. And much of her motivation seems weak and more told to the reader than shown in any way that would make it truly threatening feeling.

I also really disliked the romance. It’s not that it was bad, and the hero had his charming, appealing moments. But in comparison to the deep, well-drawn relationships that came in the books before, this one just feels shallow and uninteresting in comparison. I never felt any real chemistry between these characters, and there was very little tension in the proceedings. Some dramatic events happen towards the end, but even then, what should have been heavy hits felt fairly removed for me. I just didn’t care that much.

Of the original trilogy, this book is the weakest by far. It had a really interesting premise, featuring a character who has grown up more on the fringes of Sevenwaters and its stretching legacy, but several aspects of the book just felt a bit off. Faine wasn’t nearly as compelling as Sorcha and Liadan. And the romance felt stilted and thin. It’s still worth reading, however, if you’re a fan of the series as some pretty significant events occur and many of the mysteries laid down in the first two books are resolved. Events that occur here will also be referred to loosely in the second trilogy in the series.

Rating 6: Underwhelming after the flashes of mastery that were the first two books in the trilogy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Child of the Prophecy” is on these Goodreads lists: Great Celtic Fiction and Myth and Folktale Retellings.

Find “Child of the Prophecy” at your library using WorldCat!

Monthly Marillier: “Son of the Shadows”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books.

Book: “Son of the Shadows” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor, June 2002

Where Did I Get this Book: own it

Book Description: After years of comparative peace, darkness has fallen upon Ulster. Trouble is brewing and even those in the heart of the forest are not safe. Niamh, elder daughter of Sorcha, is required to make a strategic marriage, while her sister Liadan, who has the gift of Sight and her mother’s talent for healing, finds herself drawn into the shadowy world of the Painted Man and his warrior band. There Liadan begins a journey that is to transform her life.

Review: The second book in Marillier’s trilogy is really where the author gets to stretch her wings. The first story, while definitely fleshed out and expanded upon, is still essentially a fairy-tale retelling of the “Sevan Swans” so much of the bones were already in place. Without that framework, “Son of the Shadows” is really the book that lays the foundation for the rest of the series. It’s also probably one of my favorite books of Marillier’s.

The next generation is coming into their own. Niamh, the beautiful and wild-hearted eldest. Sean, the chieftain-in-training son. And Liadan, the unexpected second daughter, a young woman very similar to her mother, Sorcha, but who operates outside the Fair Folks’ plans. When their quiet life at Sevenwaters is interrupted by a series of misfortunes, Liadan begins to see hints of a darker force working around them. But while all fingers are pointed at a dangerous mercenary, the Painted Man, and his band of skilled fighters, Liadan suspects otherwise after spending time in their company and forming an unexpected bon with their leader.

In some ways, in this second book Marilliar simply switches the roles of her hero and heroine. Where Sorcha was the damaged character and Red the patient, steady force who drew her in, Liadan and Bran play opposite roles. By the nature of her curse, Sorcha was by necessity a quiet character. Here, Liadan is much more of a force. She has a similar quiet strength, but she’s also snappy, stubborn, and powerful in ways that make her a fascinating character to follow. Bran, of course, has his own strengths, but the mystery of his past, a wrong that makes him slow to trust and suspicious of women, affects him deeply. Much of their relationship is defined by Liadan’s sheer force of will to love Bran despite his best efforts. It’s a very different romance than the sweet, steady love story that played out in the first book. Here there are a lot more sparks, both of the good and bad variety.

I also really liked the secondary characters we get here. Red and Sorcha, of course, play a role, but Marillier does a good job keeping their page time limited so that they don’t overpower the new story she is trying to tell. We also see some familiar faces in Connor and Liam, but there, too, their roles are smaller. Sean, Liadan’s twin brother, plays an important role as the future leader of Sevenwaters, and we begin to see how he will differ from the generation that came before him. We also meet Eamonn, the son of the leader who betrayed Sevenwaters in the previous book. He plays an unexpected role here, adding a sense of building tension throughout the story.

I will give the book one ding here, with these secondary characters. Marillier falls prey to the writing trap where her characters could clear up much by simply communicating. There’s a lot of unnecessary secrecy and no good explanation is ever given. And the secrecy isn’t just a tiny side plot, it has big, important impacts on the story itself, which ultimately undermines those plot points.

The writing and world-building is a beautiful and complex as ever. Again, given the nature of Sorcha’s curse, much of the first book is dependent on the author’s ability to flesh out the world and characters without a talkative leading lady. Here, since Liadan not only can speak but is an opinionated character, we see a new strength of Marillier’s writing in the compelling dialogue. But it’s in the book’s quieter, sadder moments that her writing really shines, and there are several instances (some of them pretty unexpected!) that always make me cry.

One last, small criticim of the story has to be some of the smaller tales woven throughout. Storytelling is often featured in Marillier’s work and there is often a particular tale within the story itself that holds particular importance to a character’s arc. We have that here, too. But there were also several other stories, and while they also connected to characters and actions, they sometimes felt too long and that they were throwing off the balance of the actual story being told. I think a few of them could have been cut or reduced to help with the overall pacing of the book.

But, while I did rate this book one point down from the first, it’s still one of my favorites and maybe even preferred to that one. I really like Liadan as a leading character, and her romance with Bran is very swoon-worthy. It’s a solid sequel to the first and does a lot of the heavy-lifting for paving the way for future books.

Rating 9: Freed of the trappings of a fairytale retelling, we begin to see what Marillier is really capable of.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Son of the Shadows” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Heroine in a Fantasy Book and Fantasy Romance.

Find “Son of the Shadows” at your library using WorldCat!