Juliet Marillier’s “Heir to Sevenwaters” would probably have made it into my favourites of 2008 if Amazon had delivered the book a day or so earlier. After finally getting around to reading “Daughter of the Forest”, and following it with “Son of the Shadows” and “Child of the Prophecy” (which easily claims the Best Trilogy I read in 2008 spot), I was looking forward to HtS and returning to Ms Marillier’s Sevenwaters world.
I’m not going to review it because it’s one of those books that I like so irrationally that writing it up is near-impossible, but I wanted to talk about a few points.
SPOILERS BELOW – you have been warned!
1) The cover. I love the UK cover. Not only do we get to see Clodagh (holding Becan!) and Dog Mask on the front, we get Cathal* on the back (Ms Marillier’s website has pictures here). And I think the artist captured the dangerous and brooding Cathal perfectly. Here’s the full picture on the artist’s website (Jon Sullivan), with links to detail and close ups. The more I look at it, the more I am impressed. There is such attention to detail, and reflects the story’s feel so perfectly. I’m thinking Mr Sullivan must have read the book before painting the cover.
The only thing I would say is Clodagh’s hair on the actual cover is a highly unnatural red. In the online cover images, it is toned down a tad, which looks more realistic. Having said that, the hair does add the bright splash of colour that I think the cover needs, else it would be too dull (the actual cover is slightly darker than the online pics as well).
2) The fact that the book focused so tightly on Clodagh and Cathal. If you had asked me who I would have liked as the main protagonist of HtS, Clodagh would probably have been near the bottom of the list. And in a way, Ms Marillier uses that to her advantage, making Clodagh, who is defined as having a talent for “… housewifely skills, washing and cooking, that kind of thing” (p.7) into the heroine of the book, where her good sense and yes, housewifely skills, turn what could be a tragedy into a triumph.
Also, Ms Marillier mentions in several articles that she purposely downplayed some of the existing characters, including Sean and Aisling, in order to make this Clodagh and Cathal’s book, and also to make sure HtS could work as a standalone.
I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I have moaned about books where every single character from previous books pops in to pass the time, so I can totally appreciate Ms Marillier working to make HtS a standalone. And I would wholeheartedly agree that some of her previous characters are so strong that they can steal the scene without meaning to.
But I wish we had seen more of Aisling. I still don’t feel as though I have a grip on her character, or why Sean loves her so much. I would also have loved to have found out how Fainne was doing – I think her book, “Child of the Prophecy”, was probably my favourite** of the original Sevenwaters trilogy.
We now proceed into MAJOR SPOILER TERRITORY…
3) So Johnny’s gay. I did think it meant the question of inheritance was resolved very tidily, and I’d not actually considered his sexuality beforehand, but Gareth?? I thought Gareth had a thing for Fainne*** from the previous book, and I went back and re-read the relevant chapters of CotP, and I still think he fancied Fainne. Or maybe that was Fainne’s interpretation. Hmmm…
In CoTP, when we first encounter Johnny, I think Fainne, and the reader by extension, views him very much as an asexual being. Partly because she’s slightly wary and in awe of him, and partly because she only has eyes for Darragh. Therefore as far as his sexuality goes, it was pretty much a blank slate, IMO.
If I’d read HtS as a standalone, I would have not questioned the relationship at all, because it was set up from the start of the book and did feel right in the context of HtS, but having finished CotP only a few days earlier, I found myself wondering if Ms Marillier knew Johnny was gay in the previous book, or only decided on this in HtS.
Ms Marillier blogged about reader responses to this here and said (X and Y being used to avoid spoilers):
The third reader response troubled me. One or two people thought this development was not right for the character – they saw it as inconsistent with the way I’d written X in the earlier books. Now, a writer never likes to hear that her characterization isn’t working for readers, especially when good characterization is a particular feature of her storytelling. I couldn’t quite work out why anyone would say this about X, because the bond between X and Y was there from quite early on, though it could at that stage have been no more than close friendship.
I think if Fainne hadn’t mentioned Gareth in particular as paying attention to her, and interpreted his reaction to Darragh joining the gang as jealousy or resentment at having more competition for her attentions, then I wouldn’t have thought twice about this. It’s more the choice of Gareth as Johnny’s lover, than Johnny himself, that made me raise an eyebrow.
4) Aidan’s death. I don’t have a particular fondness for fairies, fey, or whatever you want to call them, and I think this is one of the reasons why. It’s their lack of humanity combined with almost unlimited powers, and how they can so easily perpetrate irreversible actions without understanding the emotional cost. I completely felt for Cathal when Mac Dara killed Aidan just to prove a point, especially under the circumstances, but I think it was one of the events that made the story so right. It showed not just how inhuman the Otherworld folk are, but also what Mac Dara was capable of doing.
What I do regret though, is that we never did find out more about Aidan and whether he would have truly made a good husband for Clodagh, or if his rages were a symptom of something darker.
Right, I’m done. Any thoughts on any or all of these?
* Is it the romance reader in me, or did everyone else instantly know Cathal would be the hero of HtS? From the moment he uttered his first words on p.6, I knew.
** Though Fainne/Darragh isn’t my favourite h/h pairing – that’s a tie between Sorcha/Red and Liadan/Bran.
*** I only realised Fainne was pronounced “Faun-ya” after I finished “Child of the Prophecy” and visited Ms Marillier’s website, so I keep mentally pronouncing her name as “Fayne”. And then correct myself. Arrghh. Does anyone else do that?