Summer of YA – Part 4

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

With all the fuss involving my non-existent dsl connection and ATT tech support, I completely forgot to post my response to Wildwood Dancing. A fault that I will not rectify 🙂

After reading Daughter of the Forest, I became hooked on Marillier’s works. Her prose and lore is wonderfully original and absorbing, and Wildwood Dancing does not disappoint in this regard.

Based on a number of fairy tales and legends, most notably the Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Frog Prince, and the Romanian legend of the Night People, Wildwood Dancing plays on the traditional coming-of-age theme, so prevalent in young adult novels, while establishing a lore of its own.

Five sisters, Tati, Jena, Paula, Iulia, and Stela are left in the care of their aunt and uncle when their merchant father’s failing health forces him to seek a more temperate clime for the winter. Jena, the cleverest, is left in charge of the estate and family business, but soon finds her position challenged by her cousin Cezar, who thinks it unseemly that Jena and her sisters are granted such freedom and encouraged in their educational endeavors. It doesn’t help that Cezar also abhors all mention of magic, while the girls revel in secret moonlight gatherings with the local faerie court. Adding to the tension, Jena suspects that there is more to Cezar’s attention than mere cousinly concern. Life at Piscu Dracului soon becomes complicated when the past comes back to haunt Cezar and the possibility of a future marked by their cousin’s domineering presence puts the girls’ safety at odds with their beliefs and desires. With her faithful frog, Gogu, in tow, Jena sets out to make things right, even if it means facing the unseen dangers of the forest and its magical denizen. Magic, love, and courage make this a must read fairy tale.

Wildwood Dancing is a slim volume that leaves you wanting more and wondering what Marillier more could have done if the novel had been written for an adult audience. Jena and her sisters are highly individual and, though the action focuses on Jena and Tati, none of the girls become lost in the background. Each of the sisters could have a story of their own, given their unique traits and wants. The threat of Cezar’s bitterness and fear-induced hatred of all things related to the Other Kingdom threatens each girl in her own way, and adds to the sense of desperation and isolation felt by the girls as they are cut off from society as a result of their cousin’s effort to control their lives.

Several subplots are combined to produce a story that is more than its parts. This is not merely a retelling of a single fairy tale, but an entirely new one. The elements of the Frog Prince are no more significant than those of the vampire legend, each supports and develops the plot as a whole. The novel also plays on the notion that desire can have a profound effect on life, no matter how off-handedly a wish might be made. Much of the relationship between Jena and Cezar [and Gogu] is based on a single moment when she and her cousin[s] were asked to request their heart’s desire. While the power of choice is linked to magic in the novel, the consequences of envy, anger, and desire are intensely human.

Wildwood Dancing is an incredibly thought-provoking novel that touches on issues of choice, self, feminism, magic, and more, and I feel this is a highly inadequate representation of it. Seriously, my summary does not even scratch the surface. As a young adult novel, it remains young in its treatment of these issues, but does not disappoint for all that. It’s just the sort of strong girl fairy tale that I love.

According to my searching, there is a sequel that I will soon be seeking.

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Heart’s Blood

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

Set during the time of the Norman invasion of Ireland, Heart’s Blood is an intricate blend of historical fantasy and ghost story. Trained as a scribe, Caitrin is a skilled and learned woman, but all this changes when she is subjected to the cruelty of her distant relatives after her father’s death. On the brink of losing all sense of self, Caitrin realizes that she must escape or forever become a victim. Running as far as she can, Caitrin is ill-prepared for the demands of traveling across Ireland on her own, but is spurred by her desire to find herself once again overrules any fear she might feel in doing so.

Reaching the fortified settlement of Whistling Tor, Caitrin is stunned to find herself an object of curiosity–no one ever goes to the Tor; it’s cursed. Uncertain what to believe when told tales of uncanny folk in the forest surrounding the chieftain’s keep, Caitrin is nevertheless drawn to the Tor and seeks a position translating and transcribing Latin for the chieftain of the Tor, Anluan, who never leaves his keep and is said to be monstrously disfigured.

When Caitrin reaches the keep, she finds that all is not quite as it seems, but neither is the Tor the place of horrors that she was warned against. Suddenly, Caitrin finds herself enmeshed in battle to save the heart of Whistling Tor and restore it to the holding it once was, if only she can get its chieftain to see things in a different light…

I will start by saying that I LOVED this book. I’ve read a few books that I’ve enjoyed recently, but I have not been truly engrossed by any of them (a few I went so far as to give up on after a few chapters). This is part of the reason my posts have been so short…

Heart’s Blood grabbed me from the very first. Not only was I intrigued by the mystery, I was drawn in by Marillier’s prose and ability to give me a bit of the chills when describing the circumstances surrounding the inhabitants of Whistling Tor. Caitrin is a real and believable heroine and Anluan a troubled but worthy hero. I don’t want too much away about the curse, but the ghostly, uncanny folk that live at Whistling Tor are just as intriguing as the heroes. This novel is rich with characterization and that is one of the elements that I most crave when I read fiction, something that I haven’t quite gotten recently. Reading this book felt like becoming part of something strange but wonderful.

a prophecy is a prophecy

prophecyI finished reading Child of the Prophecy, the final installment in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters trilogy, yesterday afternoon.

The trilogy follows three generations of the Sevenwaters’s clan, starting with a curse laid on the children of Colum of Sevenwaters by the Lady Oognah, a sorceress descended from a faerie cast out from among the Fair Folk.

Granddaughter to Sorcha and niece to Liadan, Fainne is raised os the shores of Kerry by her father Ciaran, a sorcerer and former druid, and son to the Lady Oognah and Lord Colum. Raised in near isolation, Fainne’s one true friend is the tinker’s son, Darragh, a boy with an uncanny ability to tame wild creatures. Fainne lives in relative peace with her father, accustomed to the solitude that marks their life, until the Lady Oognah seeks her out to complete her long-sought vengeance on the people of Sevenwaters. Fainne finds that her grandmother possesses a kind of cruelty that she never anticipated. Forced to act against her better judgment, Fainne must overcome the sorceress’ malice before she too is consumed by it.

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While I did not enjoy Child of the Prophecy as much as Daughter of the Forest or Son of the Shadows, the experience would have felt incomplete without Fainne’s story. The prophecy that is such an integral part of the trilogy is explained in a satisfying manner, but some of the plot lines seemed too easily resolved (like the matter between Eamonn and Fainne; it builds, disappears for half the book, and is tied together in the final pages).

The Lady Oognah also comes across as one of those classic evil witch types who cackle and wreak havoc, but there is not much depth to her actions. She’s evil, but it seems like her evil has no real motive; the explanation given for her desire to seek vengeance is weak and only made weaker by her continued inability to do more than manipulate her granddaughter into acting on her behalf. She serves her purpose as the witch who curses the children of Sevenwaters in Daughter of the Forest, but she didn’t really work for me as a character in this book.