The holidays have always been a busy period, with this one made even busier by three weddings. It was a good thing that I was still able to read a few books here and there, and that includes Juliet Marillier's Heir to Sevenwaters.
I am new to Ms Marillier's world but I was hooked enough to keep on wanting to read more about it. Heir is not the first book of a series; it is actually a stand-alone fourth to an existing trilogy set in ancient Ireland and Britain. Ms Marillier explores Celtic myths and legends, a world that I had a fair interest in when I was in high school (I think it was listening to all that Enya). Reading it reminded me a bit of Pamela Dean's Tam Lin and Ellen Kushner's Thomas the Rhymer, and I wish there were more stand-alone fantasy novels like this one. I certainly didn't feel that I had missed much even if I hadn't read the previous trilogy.
In Heir to Sevenwaters, Clodagh, third of a brave and powerful chieftain's six daughters, seems content to run her father's household and learn other wifely tasks. But when her mother gives birth to a long-awaited son, it doesn't take long for her proper life to turn upside down. The baby is taken and replaced with a changeling that nobody else but Clodagh believes is alive, so she takes it upon herself to travel to the Otherworld and exchange this baby for her brother. What she doesn't know is that things are never quite what they seem, and there is more at stake in her quest than what she first believes.
Although at times I found the language uneven (sometimes the dialogue felt very contemporary to me, and in one particular instance I was surprised to read the word 'backup' uttered by a dark prince of the Tuatha De) and others I questioned certain ways an issue was handled, it was not enough to spoil my reading experience. I thought that Ms Marillier really captured the rawness and depth of Clodagh's emotions, especially the ones for the changeling. The story pivots around the relationship between Clodagh and the warrior Cathal, who accompanies her on her search, but out of all the themes tackled in the story (love, courage, filial devotion), it is her surrogate motherhood to the changeling that has moved me most of all, how real and how painful each moment felt to me. I enjoyed going through the adventure with Clodagh's eyes, a strong heroine who does not have to wield a sword or slay enemies to fulfill her quest. There is much promise in Sevenwaters and I will definitely be back to rediscover it.