Message From The Author
The Enchanted Debut of a Celtic Romance Author
by Lorraine Freeney
When you imagine a brave heroine who undergoes tremendous ordeals for a greater good, with little regard for her own welfare, what kind of person comes to mind? Someone like Ripley from the Alien movies, perhapsa muscular, independent woman capable of standing up to any man (or tentacled beast). Someone worldly, battle-worn and strong.
Not a sheltered young girl barely in her teens.
But thats exactly what Sorcha, heroine of Juliet Marilliers debut fantasy novel, DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST, is when her adventure begins. Shes the daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters, a powerful Irish chieftain. All her life, shes been loved and cherished, with six strong older brothers to protect her. Sorchas mother died shortly after she was born, but aside from this terrible loss, her life has been blessed. She wants for little, her days are spent playing with her brothers and indulging her interest in the healing artslearning the properties of the many herbs and plants that grow in the forest surrounding her home.
Then her father marries a beautiful, strange woman named Lady Oonagh, and Sorchas life is changed forever. Lady Oonagh possesses a disturbing ability to control the people and events around her, and its clear that Sorcha and her six brothers are interfering with her plans. When the seven children gather together by a lake, trying to summon the legendary, benevolent Lady of the Forest to help them in their struggle against their stepmother, Lady Oonagh appears and casts a spell, transforming the brothers into swans. Only Sorcha escapes. At last the Lady of the Forest does appear, and tells Sorcha that she can counteract the spell and save her brothers, but at a terrible cost to herself. Sorcha must weave six shirtsone for each brotherfrom starwort, a spiny, barbed plant that tears and blisters the skin. For the many years it takes to complete the shirts, she cannot speak a word, not even to cry out in pain. Lady Oonagh will be searching for her, so Sorcha must hide in the forest, fending for herself, hungry, friendless
And you thought killing aliens was tough.
Of course, thats only the beginning of Sorchas adventure, and as her story unfolds, were transported into a world rich with magic and legend, full of heroicand a few decidedly nastycharacters. This first installment of the Sevenwaters trilogy is lush, poetic and, in contrast to more straightforward fantasy novels, surprisingly romantic. As Sorcha grows to womanhood, hiding in the forest, trying to complete her seemingly impossible task, she meets and is taken captive by a Briton, Red (aka Lord Hugh of Harrowfield). Red is seeking his brother Simon, who was captured by men under the command of Sorchas father. Hugh is certain that Sorcha knows something about Simon, and wont let her go until she reveals whatever she knows. As time passes, an unlikely love grows, but one that seems doomed. Sorcha cannot utter a word while she completes the six shirts and even when the spell is broken, it will be revealed that she is Hughs enemy. Meanwhile, evil is lurking all around, in the form ofwell, youll have to read the book to find out!
If it seems odd that the author of a book so steeped in Irish history would have grown up on the other side of the world, theres an explanation. Juliet was born in Dunedin, a university town in the south of New Zealand with a rich Celtic history.
Physically, it is very like parts of Ireland and Scotlandgreen forests, lovely still bays, the town itself surrounded by gentle hills, she says. It was settled by Scottish and Irish immigrants and preserves this culture faithfully. I grew up surrounded by Celtic music, stories and languagemy parents were both musiciansand I have retained a life-long love of this tradition and an affinity with it, which I think must go back to my own Irish and Scottish forebears.
Although she has been writing in one form or another since she was about five (I used to write fantasy stories for my classmates), its only in recent years that Juliet has devoted herself to storytelling full time.
I was educated at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and I have a Bachelor of Arts in languages and an honors degree in music. I have worked in the music field as a performer, teacher and choral conductor, at the same time raising four children (now aged 17 to 28). My current day job is in a government agency in Western Australia. Im now happily single and living on my own with my dogs and cat, although I tend to have one
or other of my children sharing the house with me at any given time. It is only since my divorce in 1992 that I have really had the time and energy to do what I always wanted to do, which is writing fantasy fiction. I live in a place called the Swan Valley which is about an hours drive from Perth. Its a good place for a writer, very quiet and surrounded by bushland and farmland.
It must indeed be conducive to the creative process, as Juliet has already finished the Sevenwaters trilogy and started working on a new series. The Sevenwaters saga is an intriguing mix of folklore and history,
set in a time and place when mysticism and magic (which Juliet refers to as the Otherworld) formed a real part of daily life, and the Druidsa sort of religious upper class who worshiped natural deitieswere a powerful force. DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST includes fascinating insight into that period when Christianity was just beginning to encroach on the Druidic lifestyle. The plot itself is strongly influenced by an old fairy tale, as Juliet explains.
The story is called The Six Swans and it is a Germanic tale, one of those collected by the Grimm brothers. I have set it in Ireland because I think the swan imagery and the remote forest setting lend themselves to that. Irish folktales and myths did have quite an influence on European stories from the 13th century onwards, when they started to be written down by Christian monks (and often changed quite a bit in the telling!) so it is not too far-fetched to imagine this story taking place somewhere in Ireland. I have loved the tale since I was a child.
What especially appeals to her about it? The mystery and beauty of the swan image, and the forest setting which reminds me of home. It is a very romantic story. But the best thing about the story is that it has a very strong young woman as its central charactershe is the true hero of the tale. This is not particularly usual in the European folk tradition.
Coincidentally, readers may notice another book reviewed in this issue that also draws from the story of The Six Swans. Kate Holmes Leisure title, THE WILD SWANS, is a humorous and lighthearted retelling of the legend. Juliets story is more similar in tone and subject to the Grimm Brothers story, and also reflects elements of a famous Irish legend, the Children of Lir. In that tale, four children are turned to swans by their stepmother Aoife, who is jealous of their fathers affection for them. The children remain as swans for 900 years, enchanting listeners with their beautiful, sad songs, before the curse is lifted. They are transformed briefly back into human form, and die. (If theres a lesson in all these myths, its that stepmothers are to be avoided at all costs!) In the Irish myth, Lir hunts Aoife down to seek revenge for what she did to his children. Personally, Im hoping that Juliet exacts a similar fate on the evil Lady Oonagh, but understandably, Juliet doesnt want to give too much away. However, readers who are reluctant to part company with the loyal, brave Sorcha will be happy to know that she will return in book two,
SON OF THE SHADOWS.
There is a jump of about 18 years between books, so the young characters of one become the older characters of the next, explains Juliet. Each book has a different female narrator. The series traces what happens to the families at Sevenwaters and Harrowfield and the influence of the Otherworld folk in their lives, as well as more worldly themes of struggles for power and land.
Has Juliet considered adapting some of the myths from Australian or New Zealand culture?
There are some wonderful Australian Aboriginal stories, and also a rich body of Maori folklore from New Zealand. The latter was also a strong influence on me. At present I would not feel comfortable about writing a story based on either. The dreaming stories of the Aboriginal people represent a living spirituality and one has to be quite careful about borrowing thatits easy to offend people without realizing what you are doing. Having said that, I am fascinated by the similarities between some aspects of Aboriginal belief and the Druid wayboth put a very strong emphasis on the relationship between humans and the land, and the importance of being guardians rather than owners of land and ocean.
Juliets next series, which shes currently researching in Ireland and Orkney, will again combine myth and folklore with history. But it wont necessarily be based on one particular fairy tale or folk tale. I am fascinated by the thought of what such experiences would do to real human beings and how their interactions with the beings of the Otherworld would change them.
Meanwhile, modern readers can interact with the Otherworld in the safety of their own homesthrough Juliets beautiful, imaginative prose.
Look for SON OF THE SHADOWS next year. Write to Juliet c/o Tor Books, 175 Fifth Ave., 14th Flr., New York, NY 10010.
Excerpt from DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST
Margery plaited my hair down my back, weaving lavender ribbons into it. This was good practice for the wedding, she explained.
There, she said. Look in the mirror. You do justice to my handiwork, girl. Youll have to stop hiding yourself.
I had no particular wish to see myself, having been quite put off mirrors by the lady Oonagh. But I looked, thinking to see the pale little runt of the womens talk. Instead, there was a small, slender strangeror perhaps not quite that, for the person that looked gravely back at me had something of the fey, faraway look of my brother Finbar, and a quirky arch of the brows that I had seen on Diarmids face, andwell, I was Lord Colums daughter all right. But changed. They were right, I had grown, and I was a woman now. The soft gown touched the body and clung here and there, and fell in graceful folds to my ankles. Small and slight I would always be, but this gown showed the round swell of my breasts, white above its low neckline. I was no longer the wild little creature that had run free with her brothers in the forest. My face was still too thin, but the wide green eyes and small straight nose and curving lips were not those of a child. I had the pale skin of my people, and already wisps of dark hair escaped the neat plait to curl around brow and temple.
It suits you, said Margery, pleased with her handiwork. I smiled again and kissed her on the cheek, and made a convincing pretense of showing how pleased I was. And I was, truly; I valued her gift for its beauty and the love that was in it. I just didnt want to wear it. Not yet. Not for Reds wedding, anyway.
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