Title: Heir to Sevenwaters
Author: Juliet Marillier
Stand alone or series: Book 4 in the Sevenwaters series, but can be read as a stand alone novel.
Why did I read this book: I nearly died of a happy heart attack when I received this novel in the mail from the publisher. I absolutely loved Daughter of the Forest (Book 1 of the original Sevenwaters trilogy), and was salivating over this new book.
Summary: (from Amazon.com)
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.
There are very few books that I have read this year that have left me dreading each turn of the page–not out of fear or distaste with the writing, but out of a passion to keep reading the book. Out of the knowledge that once the last page turns, that inevitable ache of loneliness will settle in–because the book is just that damn good.
Such is Heir to Sevenwaters.
The family of Sevenwaters has held a pact with the Fair Folk that live in its forests for many, many years. The humans at Sevenwaters vow to protect the forest from disbelievers and outsiders that would push the Fair Folk from their homes, and in turn the Fair Folk provide their own protection and aid for the family.
This new tale follows Clodagh, the middle daughter to Lord Sean of Sevenwaters and his wife Aisling. On the eve of her twin sister Deirdre’s marriage to the Southern Chieftan Illann, Clodagh finds herself at the center of all the excitement and activity at Sevenwaters. Her mother, Aisling is an older woman but near then end of her difficult pregnancy; Lady Aisling has her hopes and dreams set on the new babe she carries, for she has only borne Sean daughters and it has always been her greatest desire to bear him a son. Lord Sean, worried for his wife’s health relies on Clodagh to make sure that the household is running smoothly, and on his wise daughter’s advice and soothing presence–especially in this time of strain with the new marriage alliance to the south. Clodagh, though not exceptionally beautiful or powerful like her other sisters, is an empathetic character who manages to soothe the tensions at Sevenwaters with ease, while aptly dealing with the myriad crises of planning a wedding and caring for her sisters and guests. Johnny, child of the prophecy and the promised heir of Sevenwaters as cousin to the daughters, and his men of Inis Eala ride to Sevenwaters to join the celebration–one of Clodagh’s sweethearts, a chieftan’s son named Aidan, among them. When Clodagh runs into Aidan in the forest surrounding her home, she is warmed by his presense but taken off guard by the rudeness of the friend with him–another one of Johnny’s men, named Cathal. Over the course of the men’s stay, Cathal continues to try to separate his best friend from Clodagh, going out of his way to be harsh and cold towards her as well as suspiciously disappearing and stirring up all sorts of mistrust and trouble.
After Deirdre and her new husband leave, Lady Aisling gives birth to her child–a beautiful, healthy baby boy, named Finbar. The family is overjoyed, especially as it seems Aisling’s health is strong. One night, however, that all changes as Clodagh sits watch over her baby brother but is momentarily distracted when the enigmatic Cathal comes to speak with her, to say goodbye and surprises her with a tender kiss. When he leaves, Clodagh discovers that her newborn brother has been taken, replaced with a changeling baby made of sticks and moss and pebbles, and only Clodagh can see that the changeling child is alive and not a cruel mannequin of a baby. The household is in uproar as Lord Sean spurns his careless daughter, Aisling starts to fade away with the disappearance of her new son, and no one believes in Clodagh’s insistence that the child is alive and that the fair folk must be behind the disappearance. Political distrust and accusations begin to fly, and Clodagh realizes that brother’s abduction is part of some larger scheme, and she–and Cathal, as she later realizes–must journey to the Otherworld to save her brother, and keep her world from falling apart.
Angie of Angieville recently wrote a review for this novel, where she said there was something Ms. Marillier’s world of Sevenwaters has some kind of magical hold over her–and I have to wholeheartedly agree. Ms. Marillier’s beautiful, flowing style ensnares from the very first sentence, weaving a spell of sorts over the reader. The world she has created with Sevenwaters–both the human world and the Otherworld–are flawless. She manages not only to capture the tone of fighting clans in medieval Ireland, but she also deftly crafts the mystical realm of the Fair Folk, and examines how closely both worlds blur and intertwine. For those readers who have visited Sevenwaters before, Ms. Marillier is back in top form, and you are familiar with the bewitching spell this setting holds…and for those readers who have not yet discovered this realm, you are in for a rare treat.
While the plot of this story, involving Clodagh, her family, and the mysterious Cathal with his own troubled past is engrossing and wholly captivating, it is the strength of Ms. Marillier’s characters that makes Heir to Sevenwaters so effective. Clodagh is a young woman whose greatest strength is her adeptness at managing a household, as her supposed defining quality is that she will make a wonderful wife someday soon. Unlike her other sisters, Clodagh has no special talents, she is neither a seer nor a druid, not a warrior or magical in any sense. But, what Clodagh has is a heart so full of compassion, one cannot help but empathize with her character. She unveils her inner strength, her deep-seeded courage, and her belief in unconditional love as the story progresses. And, she accomplishes all this by drawing upon herself and her faith in doing the right thing. Even for Becan, the changeling boy placed in her brother’s crib, she shows the utmost care and love towards–and later, this is even more pronounced with Cathal. Cathal himself is a beautiful, textured character–initially abrasive and rude, but increasingly vulnerable as his outer layers are broken down by Clodagh’s unfaltering belief in him. As Cathal’s story is slowly revealed, I found myself yearning for both characters, rooting for them every step of the way on their perilous journey through Otherworld, against the palpable danger of the one who has lured them there with Finbar’s life.
To say more of the plot or certain other characters would give away the story, which I have no desire to do–rest assured that the threat facing Clodagh and Cathal is formidable indeed.
This is a beautiful tale of family, courage, and–most importantly of all–love. I finished this book and was urged to flip back to the beginning just to read it again. I can only hope that Ms. Marillier plans on revisiting Sevenwaters again. And hopefully very, very soon.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Juliet Marillier’s prose is beautiful, as lush and enchanting as the forest of Sevenwaters itself. Here is an example (again transcribed in Angie’s review)
I ordered myself to be calm. I would be ready, no matter what. I would do this even if years and years had passed. I had the green glass ring, I had the necklace, I had the egg stone and I had Fiacha. And I had a plan, a plan that frightened me half out of my wits, but then the very notion of confronting Mac Dara would be enough to make most young women turn tail and flee, I thought. Perhaps, to survive in a place like this, a person had to be half mad; as mad as a man who would sacrifice his future to save a friend; as mad as a woman who could love a child made of sticks and stones.
Additional Thoughts: I have read the Sevenwaters books, but have yet to try Juliet Marillier’s other titles. Any other fans of her work, any recommendations? I’ve been eyeing the Bridei Chronicles and her young adult novels and would definitely appreciate any advice!
Verdict: There aren’t enough good things I can say for this book. I loved it. LOVED it. In a sea of ho-hum books that are entertaining and yet tend to all sound very much the same, Heir to Sevenwaters reminded me what it feels like to be truly moved by a story, and why I fell in love with reading in the first place.
I highly recommend this and all the Sevenwaters books to any fans of a well-written, emotional fantasy, and also to fans of romance.
Heir to Sevenwaters easily makes my Top 10 books of 2008; it is one of the finest books I have had the pleausre to read this year.
Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection
Reading Next: Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead