With the passing of New Year’s and the subsequent resolution to get going with this blog, I decided what better way to start than with a review of some Australian fantasy? Seer of Sevenwaters is the 5th book* in Marillier’s Sevenwaters series that traces the Sevenwaters family and its interaction with the magical forces of Erin (Ireland). Unlike her previous books, which were a more distinctive blend of fantasy fairy tale and gentle historical romance, Seer falls decidedly into the latter catogary.
I first read Marillier years back, borrowing Daughter of The Forest out from my local library, interested in the premise of a story based upon the fairy story ‘Seven Swans’ but set in Ireland and grounded in historical reality. Those who read my livejournal blog will know that the original Sevenwaters trilogy is in my top five fantasy reads of all time. I was quite surprised this year to discover that Marillier had written two new Sevenwaters books: Heir to Sevenwaters which traces a journey into the faery to recover a stolen baby brother and Seer of Sevenwaters; about druidic acolyte Sibeal.
In Seer, Sibeal travels to Inis Eala to stay with her cousin Johnny before taking her final druidic vows. However, a violent ship wreck brings mystery and terror to the quiet island, resulting in a dangerous quest that Sibeal must complete in order to prove her worth and her resolve. But Felix, one of the ship wrecked crew, has a secret, and her time with him could change her life forever. Will Sibeal have the courage and the strength to pass this unexpected test?
I am still not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, and much like Heir of Sevenwaters before it, this book is incredibly well written and I like all of the characters involved. The first person narration allows you to know and love Sibeal and Felix. However, having read the original trilogy, I have come to expect more from these books than just that. Personally, I am of the opinion that Marillier should have stopped with Book Three of Sevenwaters and started a new series. Those first three books were just so perfect in every way. I think Daughter of the Forest may well be the best first novel I have ever had the pleasure to read. After that, maybe it was impossible for Marillier to keep up that high standard.
I liked that the original trilogy was about the machinations of the evil Lady Oonagh and her attempts to destroy the family of Sevenwaters because of their inner strength, druidic abilities and affinity with not just the Faerie Folk, but also The Old Ones in Liadan’s case, and something older yet again with Fainne. Both Heir of Sevenwaters and Seer of Sevenwaters focus on new Fey villains, this time, in the guise of Feary King Mac Dara. To be honest, I didn’t really like this shift. After the threat of Oonagh, I just felt that the Sevenwaters arc was successfully completed.
In Seer, the suspense is slow as an aura of menace is allowed to build at the enemity between Knut and Felix and the strange behaviour of Knut’s wife Svala. The story itself, is far less fantastical than any other Sevenwaters story however, and felt like a historical romance, more than anything else. I enjoyed this but I can see why epic fantasy lovers may become bored reading. Having said this, there was a very excellent section towards the end of the book involving a sea serpent that would have made an excellent short story and redeemed the slowness of the entire book for me.
Aside from its slow pacing, the other problem with this book is that Sibeal is very similar to the Sevenwaters women we have known before such as Sorcha, Liadan and Clodagh but she is not really challanged in the same way any of these characters were. I found this to be a problem with Clodagh too but to a lesser degree. The theme of true love conquoring all has been prevalent in all of the Sevenwaters books but worked better in previous books for me precisely because of the obstacles the characters faced. Sibeal is an interesting character but she isn’t really challenged in the way we have come to expect from a Sevenwaters book.
Having said that, I did enjoy this book and would reccomend it to those interested in a historical romance based in an ancient pagan world. You can read this book as a stand alone novel but references to previous books are peppered throughout Seer and fantasy lovers would do well to start with the astonishing Daughter of the Forest. If you like strong female characters, stories where nature, the magical and the otherwordly are intertwined, or Irish folklore, than these books are for you.
* Book One: Daughter of the Forest
Book Two: Son of the Shadows
Book Three: Child of the Prophecy
Book Four: Heir to Sevenwaters
Book Five: Seer of Sevenwaters