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.