Seer of Sevenwaters: Lovely writing, haunting magic, sweet romance

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsJuliet Marillier Sevenwaters trilogy Seer of SevenwatersSeer of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

Quiet, intuitive Sibeal has always known she was destined to become a druid. Just when she is on the verge of completing her training, however, her mentor Ciaran bids her spend a summer on Inis Eala, where two of her sisters live and where her cousin Johnny runs a warriors’ school. When a Viking ship is wrecked on Inis Eala’s shores, the resulting events change Sibeal’s life and the lives of everyone on Inis Eala.

There are three survivors of the wreck of Freyja: Knut, a sturdy Norseman who quickly wins friends on the island; Svala, Knut’s wife, who does not speak and behaves most strangely; and Felix, a young scholar with amnesia, whose elusive memories harbor a deadly secret. Sibeal helps nurse Felix back to health and finds herself drawn to him, and for the first time in her life she questions her spiritual vocation.

One can always depend upon a Juliet Marillier book to provide lovely writing, haunting magic, and a sweet, slow-building romance. Longtime fans will also enjoy the reappearance of characters from earlier in the Sevenwaters series; at this point some of them feel almost like members of the reader’s own family! Marillier makes great use of recurring motifs, both from earlier in Seer of Sevenwaters (e.g. someone being tied up on the ship) and from previous books in the series (Svala, a mute foreigner adrift in a strange land, can’t help but remind one of Daughter of the Forest’s Sorcha — except this time we see the character from the outside, and her secret is a different one).

Roughly the second half of Seer of Sevenwaters is taken up with a dangerous quest. As the need for the quest becomes apparent, Marillier shows us the conflict within the characters of Inis Eala. The central characters are wonderfully honorable people, and it’s that very honor that causes the conflict; they want to do “the right thing,” but what does that mean when there seem to be two “right things?” The men are torn between the necessity of the quest and their desire to stay home and protect their wives and children. The women want to keep their men safely at home, but at the same time, they want their husbands to be the kind of men who will face danger for a good cause. Sibeal knows she too must undertake the journey, and that a difficult choice lies ahead for her as well. The eventual resolution of the adventure is beautiful and in keeping with Celtic mythology. The resolution of Sibeal’s dilemma works well too.

After finishing Seer of Sevenwaters, I wanted to jog my memory about a few plot points from the original Sevenwaters trilogy, and thumbed back through two of those books. What struck me then was how much less grim Seer of Sevenwaters is. I remembered the beauty and magic of the first three books, but what I had forgotten was how many misfortunes are heaped upon those first three heroines (and other innocents) and how much they suffer before they eventually triumph. While bad things do happen in Seer of Sevenwaters, there is more of a pervasive sense of hope throughout the story. I’m not sure if this reflects a change in me or a change in Marillier’s writing — or if it’s intentional, meant to show that the actions of Sorcha, Liadan, and Fainne gave Sibeal’s generation a better world to live in.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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  1. I’ve read the first two books in the series (Heir to Sevenwaters & Son of the Shadows) and haven’t moved onto the rest, though I keep meaning to. This is one of those rare series that has romance in it and doesn’t make me want to throw up. The romance also ensures that I have to be in the right mood to read this stuff or I’ll hate it. Anyway, I really adore anything Celtic and I have a huge soft spot for mythology/folklore. I love how Marillier sort of blended the two and created something new out of it. I also really like her writing style. And, of course your review got me all excited about this series again so I might have to do some re-reading and (this time) continue on with it.

    I recently read her book “The Dark Mirror.” It doesn’t seem like many have heard of it (though I might not be paying attention). It’s worth a look, if this kind of book appeals to you, though I don’t think it’s as good as the two books I listed above.

  2. I almost always love her books. And I almost always have to read the last couple of chapters with a box of Kleenex handy, because I tend to end up blubbering. LOL.

    I’ve read the first three Sevenwaters books (the third is the grimmest) and now the fifth one, but missed the fourth. I ought to go back and check it out. I’ve been meaning to give Dark Mirror a try for a while, thanks for the reminder!

    The stand-alone she wrote last year, Heart’s Blood, was also excellent. But definitely pretty heavy on the romance.

  3. I had an audiobook of The Dark Mirror and then realized it was abridged!!! So I never listened to it.

  4. I’m in the middle of reading this novel! Marillier is one of my all-time favorite fantasy authors. I’m already intrigued at the perspective from Sibeal- a druid. This is one aspect of the Sevenwater trilogy that I always wished I had gotten a chance to experience.

    Also, I agree that this book already seems much lighter than others. Daughter of the Forest is really painful to re-read- there is so much hardship and so many trials.

    Great thoughts, thanks!

  5. Yeah, I think in large part it’s lighter just because there are now so many established “good” characters, and so many happy families. There’s just a lot less room for someone like Lady Oonagh to get claws in. The new generation of characters have had familial love all their lives and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

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