Friday, May 18, 2012

Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier

Continuing the legacy started with Sorcha, the resilient heroine of Daughter of the Forest, Juliet Marillier returns us to the enchanted land of Sevenwaters with this spellbinding second installment, Son of the Shadows, a historical fantasy novel with elements of a war epic, as well as a stirring love story set in the midst of warfare between Irish and British chieftains.

The heroine of this novel is Sorcha’s youngest daughter Liadan, who grows up in Sevenwaters with her sister Niamh and twin brother Sean, and has inherited her mother’s skills in the healing arts, as well as the family gift of the ability to see the future. When her family’s allies return from the battlefield, they bring with them stories of a murderous band of mercenaries and their ruthless leader known as the Painted Man. These stories come true for Liadan when, while riding through the forest, she’s kidnapped by these outlaws and made to use her healing abilities to save the life of their injured blacksmith. Over time, Liadan bonds with the men and begins to question her loyalties, all while falling in love with the Painted Man, and eventually finds herself in the midst of fulfilling an ancient prophecy that will drastically alter the fate of Sevenwaters.

Celtic mythology and folklore have a strong presence within the novel, such as the legends of the ancient races of the Túatha Dé Danann (the Fair Folk) and the Fomhóire (the Old Ones); both of whom guide Liadan throughout her odyssey of both mind and body. Also included are the ancient seasonal festivals, such as Samhaim, Imbolc and Beltaine, which—though Marillier’s extensive research—play their part in creating a fully realized cultural backdrop of the story at hand.

Similar to its predecessor, Son of the Shadows also touches upon the gender politics of ninth-century Ireland, such as the marriage market and the expectations placed on a wife to serve her husband. In particular, the tragic plight of Liadan’s sister Niamh—namely, her marriage to an abusive chieftain, arranged for the sake of military alliance—serves to poignantly represent the treatment of women as livestock during that era; a haunting subplot that leaves its mark on the reader’s consciousness, and provides some foreshadowing for the next installment of the Sevenwaters saga.

Once again, Marillier succeeds in concocting a thoroughly rewarding read with her skilled blend of history, fantasy and romance, and her fans should not be disappointed with Son of the Shadows. Chances are they will eagerly pick up the next book in the series soon after finishing this one.

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