Thursday, December 15, 2011
EAST is the tale of Rose, who sacrifices her freedom to save her sister, grows to care for the cursed white bear who is her “captor,” unwittingly betrays him, then goes beyond the ends of the earth to make things right. It’s a classic folktale that never fails to move me, but Edith Pattou’s retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” went above and beyond, astounding me with its magical rendering of a traditional story and simple literary elements.
EAST is not extraordinarily sophisticated in writing style: narration alters between several different voices, and none of them particularly stand out as individual examples of great literariness. However, the magic of EAST lies in how these common elements—straightforward prose, a retelling—fit together. The multiple narrators adds a unique rhythm and scope to the story that makes the whole so much more than the sum of its parts.
Edith Pattou sets EAST in historical Europe, and the story traverses lands, cultures, seas, and languages for an astonishing and engrossing read. This is the second retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and I’m astonished at the different directions in which each author took this folktale. I’m no history buff, but I was mesmerized by Edith Pattou’s description of the various people that Rose meets on her journey, by the variety of people and cultures that existed over great distances at the same time.
Words fail me when I try to describe an extraordinary book; indeed, there is no part of this book that was not amazing, and thus there is no part that I can describe well. There is a reason I still see this book in bookstores: it has the rare lasting power that only the most accomplished of fantasy reads possess.
Cover discussion: It's quite unique and memorable. A loving artistic rendering of a lovely book.
Graphia / May 1, 2005 / Paperback (reprint) / 528pp. / $8.95
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Tags: fantasy, retelling, family, sorcery, Ireland
Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of a seventh son who is constantly at tensions with his neighbors over land. Sorcha spends most of her days playing and being loved by her six older brothers, but when an evil sorceress bewitches her father and puts her brothers under a terrible spell, only Sorcha can break it—though it might be the death of her.
I was one of those kids (I’m sure you’ve known a few of us) who read our Complete Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales cover to cover until the book was in tatters. Among the hundreds of extraordinary—and, admittedly, some not-so-extraordinary—tales, however, the one about the girl who must endure great travails to free her six older brothers who have been turned into swans has always been one of my favorites, because it’s just so emotional, and the girl is so admirable. Happily, Juliet Marillier keeps my favorite aspects of the original fairy tale, and dresses it up in an astounding world of Irish historical culture and intricate political relationships.
Unlike other retellings that may push aside the original for the sake of setting, DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST stays true to the tale at its core. Sorcha endures almost unimaginable sufferings in her quest to free her brothers, gets unwillingly pulled into social politics, and is wrongly accused of things that were not her intention. She is a strong protagonist not because she’s very active, but simply because she endures. The first 150 pages or so feel a little slow, but once the book moves into the frameworks of the original tale, I couldn’t put it down.
This is a book I would’ve loved to death back when I first started reading fantasy in middle school, alongside lifetime favorites like Robin McKinley and other admirable fantasies by authors like Garth Nix. As it is, DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST is still an incredible book, full of the richness of my favorite kind of high fantasy. I’m glad I chose this one as my first Marillier book, and look forward to reading her other books in the future.
Tor Books / Feb. 18, 2002 / Mass market paperback (reprint) / 560pp. / $7.99