About the Book

Title: Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters #1)
Published: 1999
Series: Sevenwaters
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Cover Story: Let It Be Known: It’s A Fantasy!
BFF Charm: Platinum
Talky Talk: Masterclass
Bonus Factor: Retellings, History & Folklore, Healers
Anti-Bonus Factor: Rape
Relationship Status: Swans Mate For Life

Content Warning: Mildly graphic depiction of rape and the death of a pet.

Cover Story: Let It Be Known: It’s A Fantasy!

With a book like this there are loads of different cover options, but I’m partial to this one because it’s the one I was introduced to when my college coworker put her much-loved, well-worn paperback into my hands. It was being held together by purple duct tape she’d read it so many times. (In fact, I feel like this book is at least 60% responsible for cementing what is now a decades-long friendship.) I love the timeless feel with the muted tones and the expression on the girl’s face and the fancy F (even if it feels out of place with the rest of the title). The rest of the series also has similar covers showing off their strong heroines, which I very much appreciate.

The Deal:

Sorcha is the only daughter and seventh child of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters, a seventh son. Her mother died giving birth to her, and so her father spends most of his time away protecting his lands. Sorcha spends a happy childhood in the company of her six brothers running free in the wilds of the beautiful and magical forest surrounding Sevenwaters, a place where the Fair Folk are protected. As she reaches her thirteenth birthday, Sorcha’s father realizes that a lack of parental oversight has given some of his children the WILD idea they can pursue their own desires – Padriac has a knack with animals, Finbar has a true Seer’s sight and a passion for fairness, and Sorcha herself has little interest in being a fine lady one day.

When Lord Colum brings home a mysterious and entrancing new wife, Lady Oonagh, it’s clear to many that her influence over her husband and the household isn’t natural. The siblings’ plan to thwart her will culminates in a tragic curse: six brothers doomed to spend their lives as swans unless their sister can free them with shirts of nettles woven by her hands and her silence.

Sorcha is determined to save her family, but fate may have other plans…

BFF Charm: Platinum

BFF platinum charm

My girl Sorcha is a quiet badass. She has a preternatural ability as a healer since she was young, borne of a love of learning about plants and their medicinal properties from the Christian hermit, Father Brian, and her long hours spent outdoors. She loves her family and her ancestral home fiercely and recognizes the privileges she’s received not only as the daughter of a lord but from being taught to read and write in a time when most don’t. Throughout the novel we watch her grow up, sharing in her joys and her suffering, as she loses everything and fights to regain it, and I can’t help but give her a BFF charm after everything we’ve shared.

Swoonworthy Scale: 8

Books like this one may be what shaped my love of slow-burn, star-crossed love stories, because we don’t even meet Sorcha’s love interest until many pages into our story, and they’re literal enemies (he’s a Briton, she’s from Erin) turned reluctant allies turned friends who have no business being together based on many, many factors. Not the least of which that Sorcha literally cannot talk to him or explain (even in pantomime) why she destroys her hands laboring away making shirts out of nettle plant lest she doom her brothers to eternity as swans. Yet he protects her all the same. Like, can you just picture the longing looks and the clenching fists and tortured glances?? The speech at the end – it makes me weep with happiness every time.

Talky Talk: Masterclass

This book has been on my “want to review” list for the site for literally years. When I first started writing for FYA and realized we didn’t have a review of anything by this masterclass of medieval fantasy writing, I felt like I HAD to pay homage to one of my personal classics. And yet I’ve put it off, and even after recently rereading this book and falling in love with it again, I hesitated. Sometimes it’s hard to put into words why you love the things you love, to open up to comments of possible disagreement, or to have to sit and think critically about why you love something (and to ask: should you?). But to deprive some reader out there who hasn’t heard about this series, well, that would be selfish of me.

Immediately, I preface that this style of novel isn’t for everyone, and I think you’ll know quickly whether or not that holds true for you. It’s a sprawling novel in terms of scope and plot. There is much to learn about the family of Sevenwaters, and to truly understand what Sorcha stands to lose you have to understand why her brothers and her lineage mean so much not just to her, but to the lands they live in and the people (human and not) they protect.

Marillier’s writing style is deceptively simple: she transports you to this lush land with plenty of descriptions that never feel overwrought or unnecessary;  she clues you in just enough to the history of Erin and the various real-life invaders and weaves it with folklore to give you a strong sense of time and place without making it dry. And then she populates her rich setting with characters that feel at once archetypal and yet real, where no one is truly good or evil, and people can be complicated and still loveable. While this is a romance and a fantasy and you are reasonably assured a mostly happy ending, there are still real stakes and some bittersweetness in the writing.

This book is almost 600 pages—there’s so much more happening I couldn’t even describe in The Deal—yet I could’ve stayed in its world for so much longer (and I did, in the subsequent sequels featuring future generations and contemporaries of Sorcha). If you like generational sagas, the uncanniness of the Fair Folk, and a writing style that feels fantastical and ageless, then do yourself a favor and start the Sevenwaters series.

Bonus Factor: Retellings

Sorcha’s story is a variant of the Brothers Grimm tale of The Six Swans. Having read the Grimm version, Marillier’s story definitely takes on a life of its own as she weaves in so much more texture and history to the bare bones of the fairy tale.

Bonus Factor: History & Folklore

And speaking of history, Marillier’s story is set in a medieval Celtic world where paganism and belief in magic is being pushed out by the Christian values that the various invaders bring with them. Real places in Ireland are named, but because it’s set hundreds of years ago it all feels very mystical and long-forgotten, like I’m reading of a fairy-tale land. True magic lies in respecting nature and staying cautious around the uncanny. Stray off paths and you could be lost forever, and never take from the land without giving your thanks. There’s also druids and magical gifts like Seeing that aren’t always so much a gift as a curse.

Bonus Factor: Healers

The spout of a teapot and a cup of herbs and such.

There’s always something so fascinating about pre-modern medicine and the ability to use what feel like “everyday” herbs/plants to help and heal.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Rape

Clenched fist pounding into a table

As I mentioned in the Content Warning, there is a depiction of rape that is told in loose detail (more than just “it happens”) that is definitely upsetting (as it always is). We know mainstream media does love to include a rape scene (or two or three) as shorthand for all sorts of things (misogyny, character “growth”, etc.) and that books, even those written by women and romance novels in particular, are no exception to this trap. Lately, any time it is included in a story I consume I feel the need to ask myself, was this scene needed? Does it serve some narrative purpose? While that line is personal and different for everyone, all I can say is, for me, I do think the subject and the healing needed after is treated with care.

Relationship Status: Swans Mate For Life

The world of Sevenwaters has had a hold on me for nigh on twenty years, and I don’t see our love affair ending any time soon.

Literary Matchmaking

Wild Magic (The Immortals #1)

While the writing tones are very different, Wild Magic (or anything really) by Tamora Pierce gives me the same “I am going to a magical place” feeling whenever I crack open the cover.

Spinning Silver

Naomi Novik also knows how to spin a timeless and beautiful yarn in her Rumpelstiltskin retelling, Spinning Silver.

Nettle & Bone

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher is a recent read for me but had the same instant classic fantasy vibe with a lighter feel.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased my own copy of this book. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Daughter of the Forest is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.