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Son of the Shadows
Juliet Marillier
Tor Books, 462 pages

Son of the Shadows
Juliet Marillier
Juliet Marillier was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, and puts her lifelong passion for Celtic folklore and music down to her Scottish and Irish immigrant ancestry. She now lives on the outskirts of Perth, Western Australia, and divides her time between working for a large government agency and writing fantasy fiction. She's also the author of Daughter of the Forest, first in the Sevenwaters trilogy.

Juliet Marillier Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Interview with Juliet Marillier

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

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Australian author Juliet Marillier continues her popular Sevenwaters trilogy in this second volume.

Sorcha (who in the first installment, Daughter of the Forest, courageously undid the evil enchantment that turned her six brothers into swans), has returned home to Erin with her husband, Briton Hugh of Harrowfield. Together they've become stewards of Sorcha's ancestral estate of Sevenwaters, with its magical forest and strong ties to the old, druidic faith. They've been blessed with happiness, prosperity, and three children: beautiful, willful Niamh; strong, capable Sean; and Sean's twin, Liadan, who follows in her mother's footsteps as a healer, and also has her mother's gift of Sight.

But this time of peace can't last. There's a fated relationship between Sevenwaters and the capricious Fair Folk, with whose mysterious, far-reaching schemes Sevenwaters and its people are inextricably entwined; and the old evil that ensnared Sorcha and her brothers isn't gone, but only waiting. Now all those forces are stirring to life again. Niamh succumbs to a forbidden passion, and is disastrously banished into a loveless marriage. Death and misfortune force Sean to take up the leadership of Sevenwaters before he is ready. And Liadan is kidnapped by a band of dangerous mercenaries, and falls impossibly in love with their leader, a bitter, angry man with a painful secret in his past. The son they conceive may be the hero of a prophecy that has long overshadowed Sevenwaters -- or so the Fair Folk claim. But Liadan also hears the voices of other, older powers, which tell her that she is somehow outside the pattern that binds her family, and that the choices she makes may change everything.

Daughter of the Forest was an impressive debut, an involving, vividly-imagined tale of sacrifice and devotion, only slightly flawed by an over-the-top villain. Many of the same strengths are apparent in Son of the Shadows. Marillier is adept at creating sympathetic characters, and her depiction of the complex ties of family, which bring great joy but can also generate great pain and misunderstanding, is nuanced and sensitive. She's an imaginative writer, with an acute sense of the fearfully inhuman wonder of supernatural forces; there are moments of power in Son of the Shadows, most notably in the latter portion of the book, where Liadan goes to the rescue of Bran, her mercenary.

Unfortunately, despite these strong points, and some interesting new elements (those older powers, from which Sorcha's family may be descended; and a somewhat different view of the Fair Folk, who in the previous novel were shown to be capricious and callous, but now also appear, possibly, to be misguided), Son of the Shadows has a distinct middle-of-the-trilogy feel. The story, while reasonably self-contained, is often too transparently a vehicle to manipulate themes and characters into position for the final volume. Also, possibly because there's no legend this time to give shape to the narrative, the plot tends to meander, especially in the middle section, which deals with important and tragic events but doesn't, somehow, carry much tension (it's here, too, that the sense of plot manipulation is strongest). And even within the book's romance format, the love story between Liadan and Bran is problematic -- with Bran's serious personal problems, it doesn't seem likely that he would fall in love with Liadan so quickly; and the romantic glossing-over, late in the book, of Liadan's initial moral concerns about Bran's employment (basically, killing for hire without conscience or compunction) feels like a cop-out.

I can't help wondering whether this book was a victim of the common editorial policy of purchasing a trilogy from a first-time author on the basis of an initial volume, and then insisting that the subsequent books be produced to tight deadlines, allowing too little time for polishing and rewriting. If so, it's a shame, for Marillier is a talented writer, and capable (as she proved in Daughter of the Forest) of doing much better. Still, flaws and all, it's a readable installment, and generates enough questions about what's to come for Sevenwaters that even disappointed readers may be willing to follow the story into the final volume.

Copyright © 2001 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.


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