Sunday, May 09, 2004

Daughter of the Forest: Book One of the Sevenwaters Trilogy ~ Juliet Marillier

I stayed up all night to finish this book, and as soon as I was done I turned back to the beginning and started over again. It's a combination of medieval and Celtic elements, pagan/witch-craft themes (clearly influenced by The Mists of Avalon), straight-up fantasy and magic, fairy tale, and with a good romance thrown in, structured around the three-volume high fantasy format. It's just a good, solid, satisfying read, and there's something to be said for that. And now (of course) I'm anxious to finish the series.
Marillier fleshes out the tale of the Six Swans, transforms the traditionally passive protagonist into the lovely heroine Sorcha, and gives us characters you really care about. It's always a good sign when I start thinking of the characters as people and start wondering about them beyond the plot of the novel. (I'm not going to revert to undergrad English student mode and start ruminating on the implications of Sorcha's suffering and silence, or the predominance of male characters or even the happy ending, which is actually a neat reversal of the traditional woman-as-prize motif--she gets the guy in the end, kind of a man-as-prize/reward at the end of the hero(ine)'s journey, very cool. Seriously, I'm not going to go into that.)

The problem I have with this book, and reason I haven't gotten the review up sooner (well, time constraints mostly)--well it has more to do with my personal idiosyncracies (I love that word, I use it whenever I get the chance) than the book itself. Or neuroses, if you like. See, unfortunately this book set off another skirmish in the Great Inner Dashwood Debate.

Remember how I said that I always end up either as Elinor or Marianne with those online Austen heroine quizzes? And how I said that really I'm both at the same time? That's the problem. It's very much Sense versus Sensibility in my head here. There's part of me, which I dubbed Marianne, which is a hopeless sucker for a good love story, the more thwarted and unrequited the better. My inner Marianne swoons over smouldering angst; it's embarrassing, frankly. It's because of my inner Marianne that I've seen Sleepless in Seattle an alarming number of times and that I get all teary eyed over the whole Eponine--Marius--Cosette triangle in Les Mis. Marianne adored the "Richmond" chapter of The Scarlet Pimpernel. She loves the unabashed pathos of Casablanca.
Then there's my inner Elinor. She has a bit more influence, because she's an intellectual and always has solid, reasoned arguments--not to mention a good deal of scorn and disdain--on her side. My Elinor side knows that "love" is a suspect concept, a social construct designed historically to keep women in their place, barefoot and pregnant. Elinor is pretty sure that she's not really the kind of person who falls in love anyway, in fact she's not sure she believes in "love" at all except in some kind of familial or general humanitarian sense. She hates sentiment and mushy kissing scenes and swelling violins in the background. She loathes weddings. She's forever grateful that Austen kept her love scenes to a sparse minimum. Darcymania makes her want to puke. She rolls her eyes at breathless effusions about Twue Wuv. She thinks Romeo is creepy loser horndog and Juliet is a stupid twit.

(I know this characterisation is a bit of a disservice to Austen's characters, but it works well enough. )

These two parts of my personality are constantly waging war with each other. I've yet to find a happy medium between them. So when something like the romance in Daughter of the Forest shows up, it sets off an internal debate that really hasn't been resovled yet. I'll be reading the book and something like this is going on in my head:

Marianne: Omigod! Omigod! He loves her, I know it! Yes!!
Elinor: Oh joy. The boy-meets-girl plot. Another example of the romanticization and idealization of institution of heterosexuality. Is this really something I should be reading at this point in my life?
M: Can't you just read something for god's sake? Why do you have to analyze everything to death? Oh boy! Angst! ::swoons:: Why doesn't he tell her? She has to know!
E: Lovely. The Strong Silent type. Shades of Mr. Darcy. Why emotionally repressed and unavailable men are considered attractive I'll never understand. It keeps women preoccupied with earning male approval instead of achieving their own self-actualization.
M: ::sighs, gasps:: Oh just kiss her already! I can't stand it!
E: Neither can I. This book is so written for straight people. If she mentions his "big hands" again I think I'm going to puke.
M: You're so uptight. He's a good guy! He's given up everything for her! Isn't it wonderful?
E: Whatever. Once the honeymoon's over you know this guy's got to be a pain in the ass to live with.

Etc. ad nauseum. It starts up again whenever I consider buying the next book in the series. And I really do want to finish it because Marillier leaves all these loose ends and I want to see how it works out. Is anybody else like this or am I just crazy?