A retelling of the fairy tale The Six Swans (alternatively known as The Twelve Brothers or other titles), Daughter of the Forest follows Sorcha and her six brothers. As close-knit as siblings can be, their lives are infused with a deep undercurrent of magic, and the small oddities of their childhood seem natural as anything. But things soon change when an enchantress enters their lives, and Sorcha’s brothers are transformed into swans. To break the curse, Sorcha must undertake a seemingly impossible task…and stay silent the entire time. make one noise, and all her work will be for nothing; the curse shall remain…
I really didn’t know what to expect from this one. A pretty hefty fantasy book set in an old historical setting, the world politics itself can be enough of an undertaking. Combine that with the clear fact that our protagonist can’t speak for the majority of this book…and I have to admit, I was wondering how the events would happen without the typical means of communication in place. Especially with the ancient setting adding more dangers and prejudices than we would have to navigate. But my goodness, did this book surprise me. I adore fantasy worlds that tie in political plot lines, and with the added elements of folklore and magic, this was a world I wanted to know all about.
Admittedly, this book was slow going. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the sheer length of the chapters was enough to demotivate. And with Sorcha’s task being long and tedious, its hard not to feel like the middle of the book set a walking pace – which again, would have been fine, had the beginning and ending not felt rushed in comparison. Still, I found the last third of the book captured my attention without me even realising, and before I knew it I had become invested in Sorcha’s story, more than I anticipated. I appreciated the time it took to build up the world, tying together the nature, folklore and politics, without there being a heavy reliance on one over the others.
Now I will say, this book needs a huge trigger warning for r*pe. It’s sudden, it’s shocking, and it’s graphic. It really is awful to read. It took me entirely off guard, and while I don’t require trigger warnings for what I read, it did leave me feeling a tad shaken. That being said, what was done with that scene afterwards…I actually really appreciated. In so many historical fantasy books, r*pe is treated as a thing that just happens – deal with it. It might not be condoned, but it’s not explicitly criticised enough either. It’s simply brushed passed and accepted as the fate of most women. That’s not the case in this book though. This book actually shows you the after-effect of such a trauma. It shows how the mindset is altered, how overwhelming it can be and how hard it is for someone to escape that event. And what’s more, it’s not just the immediate scene that brings up the trauma. This book spans over years, and consistently brings up reminders of how that event shaped the character’s mindset for years to come. It shows how she doesn’t feel comfortable with human contact, or always assumes the worst when it comes to meeting men. Or how she simply cannot comprehend how that action can be seen as one of love, rather than harm. Small reminders are dotted throughout, naturally and explicitly, reminding you that this was not ok, and here’s why. Now I have seen reviews of people arguing against this – and it’s true, there is a comment made about how “she isn’t the only woman to have suffered such abuse”, or something to that effect. But while this comment is made, I can’t help but feel like the consistent portrayal of trauma works as an effective counterattack to that mindset. It definitely could’ve been evened out more, as there is a sex scene that’s touched upon, but nowhere near as graphic as the r*pe scene. But I personally haven’t read r*pe trauma written so evidently in a historical fantasy book, and really appreciated seeing it written on the page for once. The neglect of proper representation in current fantasy books is unnerving, and it bothers me how often it’s simply used for shock factor or to make a female character go through some traumatic event for “character development”. At least here, you know everything that comes with it.
So, that historical world I keep mentioning? As you might expect, it’s wiiiiildly patriarchal. Suffocatingly so. And yet, most – if not all – of the women in this book we’re just…incredible, in their own ways. All were complicated, clever, defiant. They knew their lot in this world and navigated it as best they could. And all of them had their moment of defiance against the patriarchy, or their moment of standing up in solidarity to what’s right. Tiny moments, but moments all the same. And seeing the world through Sorcha’s eyes, the strength of these women were highlighted all the more, Sorcha’s inner monologue presenting how her own opinions adapt based on their actions. And while the cast of women characters were seemingly overwhelmed by the men, it really is the women I remember most, no matter how short a page time they had. And again, it surprised me, because it would have been so easy to just…forget about women, in this patriarchal world. Why write them if they won’t be heard? I mean, the book is literally about a girl who can’t talk. It would have been so easy to hide behind the “women are oppressed” excuse. But no. Every woman in this book acts as a solid pinpoint – they’re there, and they will be heard. Not necessarily in the loud, outgoing, daredevil ways you might expect. But in their own ways – whichever ways they can. And it works. It really does.
As you can probably tell, I have so, SO many thoughts on this book. It does have it’s problems – those I listed above, and more. The beginning threat in the book, for instance, just vanishes. Mentioned again once or twice, but literally not seen again. Or how everything is left pretty open-ended or simply unexplained, hopefully to be explained in a later book. And it did take me at least half of the book to begin feeling convinced I’d even enjoy it. But all at once, without even noticing, I fell in love with the story. The folkloric elements – both the Grimms’ retelling and the Irish folklore inspirations – were fascinating to read about, and I don’t think it’s any secret I adore magic tied with nature. Nature is the very crux of this book, and lord are you not allowed to forget that. It felt authentic, and I could picture everything about this world vividly. And then I sped through the ending, my attention caught by it all, and all at once, it was done. I had so many thoughts – too many thoughts. And this…this review is a (bad) attempt at organising them slightly.
Other random notes of things I liked before I leave you with this giant review:
- Sorcha mentions getting her period, and how bloomin’ inconvenient they are. Too right gal, too right
- Sorcha is explicitly a vegetarian, and that of course makes her life harder throughout and yet she sticks to it. I don’t often hear of people’s dietary requirements in fantasy books? It was just another tiny detail that made her seem more realistic
- Her six brothers all have distinct personalities, and don’t just blur into one being as you might expect
- Nature magic for the win
And with that, I’ll end this huge babble here. But I could go on. In fact, I DO go on, in my reading vlog for this book (below). But for now, I’ll just leave it with the final statement of – this book needs a comeback. A classic fantasy novel with…well, all of the above, I think so so many people would enjoy reading this one.
Rated 4.5/5 stars
This book was our May Myth-Take book of the month. Myth-Take is a book club hosted by myself and Charlotte @ Bookmarks and Vlogging, focusing on fantasy books that retell myths, fairy tales and folklore. To find out more, visit my Project Announcement Video, my Myth-Take Playlist or the Twitter account!
Reading Vlog for Daughter of the Forest:
Until next time,