Review: The Sevenwaters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier

In response to my review of the Hunger Games Trilogy, there were several recommendations for continued reading. “If you liked this, you will love…”

Already having a considerably long “to be read” list, it generally takes me ages to get around to a recommended book, and I often forget about it before I get a chance to read it. But when my aunt Esther recommended I try the Sevenwaters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier, and her recommendation was quickly seconded by her daughter, I was intrigued. Esther has recommended many books to me over the years (including one of my top 5 favourites, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Prodigal Summer) and I think it is safe to say her taste is as close to mine as anyone else I know.

 

Hardcover: 384 pages

Publisher: Tor Books (April 18 2000)

ISBN-10: 031284879X

ISBN-13: 978-0312848798

 

 

Book One is Daughter of the Forest – a name that sounded very familiar, and with good reason. There was a copy on the bookshelf in my spare room. One of many books sent my way by helpful family and friends many years ago, when I was home sick or hospitalized. There are still a few kicking around that for one reason or another, I hadn’t read, yet wasn’t ready to clear off the shelf. I know each will have its day.

Daughter of the Forest is an eerily familiar tale, based loosely on the story of The Six Swans (Grimm’s Fairy Tales, also retold by Hans Christian Andersen and others). I do love the weaving of traditional stories into new works, and this was done so well I almost didn’t realize I had read the tale before.

Sorcha, youngest child and only daughter of the Sevenwaters family, watches her brothers be turned into swans by their evil stepmother, and is cursed herself. She must live in complete silence, while she spins and weaves six shirts from stinging nettles in order to break the curse on her brothers.  Add to this a long-standing family feud fought in both Ireland and Britain, and you’ve got a fantastic fantasy novel. The bond between the siblings, and their devotion to one another as they endure one hardship after another was heartbreaking.

 

Hardcover: 462 pages

Publisher: Tor Books (May 1 2001)

ISBN-10: 0312848803

ISBN-13: 978-0312848804

 

 

Book Two, Son of the Shadows, takes place a generation later, as Sorcha’s daughters continue to shape the family’s destiny. Eldest daughter Niamh is sent away to a strategic marriage with an important but cruel ally, and cannot forgive her family for the choice they made for her. Meanwhile, younger daughter Liadan is kidnapped by the gang of her family’s enemy, The Painted Man, and in the process learns about the darker consequences of the choices her parents made 20 years earlier.

 

Hardcover: 528 pages

Publisher: Tor Books (Mar 5 2002)

ISBN-10: 0312848811

ISBN-13: 978-0312848811

 

 

In the final* novel, Child of the Prophecy, Liadan’s son is identified as the man the Sevenwaters family has been waiting for. The one who will finally win back the sacred lands the family was entrusted to guard. War is only months away, and with the Child of the Prophecy on their side, Sevenwaters cannot lose. What they don’t know, is that after fleeing her marriage many years ago, Niamh also had a daughter, and her daughter has an important role to play before the saga is over.

I am of two minds about fantasy novels. I love a good one, and can disappear for days at a time when one has caught my attention. But there is just so much bad fantasy out there, that I have a hard time identifying myself as a fan of the genre, which inevitably leads to people listing book after book that I didn’t like enough to get past the first few chapters (or worse, the back cover). Recommendations from trusted sources are necessary for this genre! Thank you Esther & Allison, I thoroughly enjoyed the Sevenwaters books, and look forward to more.

* While originally written as a trilogy, two more books have been added: Seer of Sevenwaters, and Heir of Sevenwaters. I will be checking these out soon, and hope they are as good as the earlier stories.


Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Publisher: Faber and Faber (Mar 3 2005)
Pages: 272
ISBN-10: 0571224113
ISBN-13: 978-0571224111

Never Let Me Go is set in England in the late 1990s and is narrated by Kathy. Kathy has been working as a carer for more than 11 years, an unusually long time, but her term will be ending soon.

Kathy looks after organ donors, and her patients do exceptionally well, for repeat donors. Yes, repeat donors. The first clue that there is something odd about the book comes early on, when you realize Kathy’s patients are only allowed to stop donating when they ‘complete,’ which the reader soon begins to realize means ‘die.’

Because of her success as a carer, Kathy has been allowed to choose some of the patients she cares for and has chosen to work with old friends Tommy and Ruth. This leads to stories from her days at Hailsham. Hailsham at first appears a prestigious boarding school, but again it becomes apparent things aren’t normal here either. None of the students seem to have parents. Teachers are referred to as ‘guardians.’ Students know almost nothing about the outside world.

As Kathy reminisces about her days as a student and deals with the present, it becomes chillingly clear what status she, Tommy and Ruth hold in society and exactly what kind of school Hailsham was.

I had heard this book was a bit slow, but I was gripped from the first few paragraphs. I do have a but of a love affair with dystopian fiction, so it was perhaps a given that I would enjoy the book, but I didn’t expect to love it the way I did. A fantastic story. Well told. If I gave stars, this would get five of them.

When I finished the novel I rushed out to rent the new film, staring Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightly and Andrew Garfield. Also very good, but lacks a lot of the back story. Read the novel first.


Review: The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre

Publisher: Random House Canada; First Edition edition (July 28 2009)

Winner: 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize

ISBN-10: 0307357066

ISBN-13: 978-0307357069

Father Duncan MacAskill has a reputation. Used by the local bishop as a clean-up man, he becomes known to fellow priests as the “Exorcist.” Like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction, it is Father Duncan’s job to clean up the mess – only this time it’s other priests who are doing the crimes, and more often than not, their crime is the sexual abuse of children.

When law enforcement and the press start asking questions about a priest Duncan once worked with, the Bishop gets nervous. Duncan is assigned to a parish in the Cape Breton community of Creignish, where he is told to lay low.  Easier said than done, considering Duncan grew up in a neighbouring community and is now being pulled into his old life, and forced to deal with old demons.

And what better demon to taunt a priest than a woman. Or two. For a lonely woman in a remote Cape Breton town, not even the priest is off-limits. Not surprisingly, Father Duncan turns to drink.

In an attempt to distract himself, Duncan takes an interest in a troubled young boy, 18-year old Danny MacKay, and discovers that the boy once spent time with an errant priest Duncan had sent to Port Hood to get him out of the way. Faced with isolation, temptation, and the knowledge that his actions may have put his new young friend in danger, Duncan begins to doubt his actions, his vocation and his faith.

Now, my take on this story is strongly coloured by the fact that I also grew up in a neighbouring community, and was closely involved with the church at the time. To really enjoy a book, you have to be able to relate to the characters. This went much further. It was like reading a book where I knew the characters. This could have been me, my family, my siblings or my friends. It was at times rather chilling.

In Father Duncan, MacIntyre has created an unlikely hero. A priest who covers up the sins of others, who drinks to excess, and struggles with his own vow of celibacy. Yet it is precisely because of his flaws that you believe in him. On numerous occasions he almost falls into the clichéd fallen-holy-man role, but always holds on. Sometimes just barely.

That said, while our hero may be a priest, the book is not kind to the church, as can be seen in this short excerpt of a conversation between Father Duncan and the Bishop:

“‘Don’t use that word in this house,’ [the Bishop] shouted.

“‘What word?’

“‘Victim, for God’s sake. Don’t make me sick. … They’ll get over it. … We can’t let a bunch of misfits and complainers undermine the Sacraments.’”

Lovely. And yet we’ve all seen the story played out in the news.

MacIntyre is a well-known investigative reporter. At times it felt like this book was a way to write about the things we all knew about the church’s sex abuse scandal, but could not prove. The conversations that could never be recorded. The bits that would never make it to television. At times the plot felt a bit contrived or formulaic (the alcoholic father, troubled youth, everyone a potential victim) yet the strength of the characters and the underlying themes of regret and redemption carry the story through the minor glitches.

If you haven’t figured it out already, I loved this book, and highly recommend it.