From a Different Perspective: Juliet Marillier – Beautiful

Whenever I discover a new fairy tale retelling, my ears prick up. In this case, it was also my ears who got to experience said retelling because it’s an Audible Original, meaning it only exists (so far) as an audiobook. I had read one book by Juliet Marillier previously and while I didn’t love it as much as many others did, it convinced me of her storytelling abilities and I knew she had great ideas about how to tell fairy tales in a new and original way.

BEAUTIFUL
by Juliet Marillier

Published: Audible Studios, 2019
Audiobook: 7 hours 18 minutes
Standalone
My rating: 5,5/10

Opening line: There were no mirrors in our house.

With the Nordic fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon as her inspiration, Juliet Marillier weaves a magical story of a young princess’ search for her true self.
Hulde is a queen’s daughter and lives in a palace. But her life is lonely. Growing up atop the glass mountain, she knows only her violent and autocratic mother and a household of terrified servants.
Then a white bear named Rune comes to visit, and Hulde learns what kindness is.
But the queen has a plan for Hulde. When she turns 16, she will wed the most beautiful man in all the world. Hulde has never met her intended husband, and her mother refuses to explain the arrangement. Hulde becomes desperate to find out more and seeks the help of a magic mirror. Perhaps someone is coming to her rescue.
On her wedding day, Hulde’s existence is turned upside down. For the first time she leaves the glass mountain behind, setting out to be as brave as the heroines in her beloved storybook.
The journey will test Hulde to the limit. Can she overcome her fears and take control of her own life?

This audiobook comes in three parts. The first part was fantastic, the second meandered a bit, and the third was a nice, but unsurprising conclusion. That’s the reason I’m not rating this any higher because I love a book that starts out slow and the builds momentum but here, we have the exact reverse happening. Overall, I’d still recommend it but because the beginning was the best part, the story left me feeling mostly meh.

Hulde is a princess who lives in a castle without any mirrors. She is told she is beautiful and will marry the most beautiful prince in all the lands when she turns 16. Her tyrant of a mother has made arrangements. But Hulde has very little to do in her castle. Her days are spent waiting for the few months that her only friend, a polar bear, comes to stay. This white bear called Rune brings not only his friendship but also books. Hulde especially likes the stories that talk about brave heroines who go out into the world and defy the odds.

As I didn’t read any synopsis of this book before I started listening other than “a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, it took me quite a while to see what Marillier was doing here, although it’s highly obvious from the start. You see, Hulde is not your average princess but the troll queen’s daughter. That’s right – she’s the villain of the original fairy tale, the girl who is supposed to marry the enchanted prince unless he can lift his curse. Once I figured that out, I was all ablaze! Because Marillier makes Hulde so sympathetic. She is a kind young woman who yearns for friendship and love, who wants to see the world rather than just wait to be married off to a prince. She also disapproves of her mother’s terrible rule and the way she “disciplines” the servants (with a whip, usually). So who are we supposed to root for here? Obviously, the poor prince shouldn’t have to be married off to a person someone else picked for him, but we also want Hulde to be happy and we, the readers, know something she doesn’t. Her friend Rune the bear, is actually that most handsome prince who is supposed to marry her when she turns sixteen.

But Hulde is also clever and eventually figures out what’s going on. Her love for fairy tales and a magic mirror lent a helping hand and Hulde’s kindness and good nature made her do what is right. Which leads me to the second part o the story. Because the fairy tale as we know it is over and Hulde is the new troll queen. But ruling, it turns out, is more difficult than expected, especially since Hulde doesn’t want to be like her mother. She decides to seek out all the troll tribes and unify her people once more. On her way, she finds out that her mother’s lack of leadership has lead to strife within the kingdom which left many people dead, villages destroyed, and Hulde to pick up the pieces.

This was where the story started to become boring for me. Hulde was as kind a protagonist as ever but there just wasn’t much going on. The plot felt forced, the conflict seemed like it was thrown in there last-minute because otherwise, what would Hulde do for the rest of the book. She goes on a journey accompanied by two pet companions (who were adorable!) and two male trolls as a sort of advisors and protectors. While she learns many interesting things about her own people’s culture, there wasn’t anything really driving the story. Hulde became almost too good, too kind to still be interesting.

The climax felt equally predictable as the ending. Although Hulde didn’t get to marry her promised prince, there is a romantic sub-plot. But where Hulde and Rune’s friendship came to life through Marillier’s storytelling, this actual romance fell completely flat for me. Again, it was obvious from the start how things would turn out, there was no tension, there weren’t any sweet moments, everything just sort of went its predictable little way.

I didn’t find this book to be bad, I had just hoped – after that great beginning – that the author had at least some little twists in store. But the fact that I could have told you exactly how things would end after the first few minutes of part two tells you that this is not the kind of story that surprises you. If you’re okay with that, if you don’t mind seeing what’s coming, and if you enjoy a protagonist who’s maybe a bit too good to be believable, then pick this up. It was a short audiobook that retells one of my favorite fairy tales and I don’t regret having bought it. But in the future, I’ll stick with Marillier’s longer novels.

MY RATING: 5,5/10 – Good-ish

Juliet Marillier – Daughter of the Forest

If you like fairy tales or retellings, there is a good chance you’ve heard of Misty the Book Rat. She has thing for everything fairy tale-esque and hosts an annual Fairy Tale Fortnight – two weeks of reading fairy tales, retellings, or anything else to do with fairy tales. This year, I was lucky enough to be chosen as an active participant (rather than just read a retelling for myself). I highly recommend you check out Misty’s youtube channel. She’s one of those people who inspire passion for a book you’ve never even heard of before.

daughter of the forest1DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST
by Juliet Marillier

Published in: Tor, 1999
ISBN: 0765343436
Paperback:
Series: Sevenwaters #1

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Three children lay on the rocks at the water’s edge.

Lovely Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by her six brothers who love and protect her. Sorcha is the light in their lives, they are determined that she know only contentment.
But Sorcha’s joy is shattered when her father is bewitched by his new wife, an evil enchantress who binds her brothers with a terrible spell, a spell which only Sorcha can lift – by staying silent. If she speaks before she completes the quest set to her by the Fair Folk and their queen, the Lady of the Forest, she will lose her brothers forever.
When Sorcha is kidnapped by the enemies of Sevenwaters and taken to a foreign land, she is torn between the desire to save her beloved brothers, and a love that comes only once. Sorcha despairs at ever being able to complete her task, but the magic of the Fair Folk knows no boundaries, and love is the strongest magic of them all…

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Mythology in all its shapes and forms intrigues me. As do fairy tales. A combination of the two usually guarantees that I will go out and buy a book, and almost none came as highly recommended as Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series. A retelling of The Six Swans set in Ireland and involving a romance as well as the horrible task our heroine has to complete in order to save her brothers – there is so much potential there, I simply couldn not resist. The execution of the tale was well done but didn’t sweep me off my feet.

Sorcha tells her story in detail. Very much detail. To say this is a slow book would be an understatement. That said, I quite like slow books. I love how they focus on characters instead of action, how deep they let us get into the protagonist’s head. But despite the first person narrative, there was always some distance between me and Sorcha. Maybe it was the flowery language or the very drawn-out scenes but it was never one of those books for me that I could crawl into and dissapear in for a while. One scene especially made me cringe, not just because it was a terrible experience for Sorcha but because I felt that the scene was simply added for shock value and to give Sorcha more personality. Her wild spirit and determination to save her brothers no matter what, would have been quite enough.

As the protagonist struggles to break the curse, she has to remain completely mute. On the one hand, that is an intriguing idea, on the other hand, it is difficult to keep a story moving when the heroine never speaks. She has to let her actions speak for her. But Sorcha’s actions are just as predefined as is her silence. She collects starwort, spins it into thread, weaves the thread into fabric and sews shirts. Of course, she has to collect food and clean herself, but in reality, her everyday life is just not very interesting to read about. Then again, it wasn’t boring, either, especially in the second half. Juliet Marillier walks a fine line between thrilling and boring and somehow manages to just make it good enough to keep reading.

daughter of the forest posterAt a certain point, another level of conflict is added when Sorcha has to deal with the Britons, the sworn enemies of her own people. The Briton characters were my favorites in the entire book. I never really warmed to most of Sorcha’s brothers and Sorcha herself didn’t really grow any more interesting than she was at the very beginning, for all the ordeals she has to suffer through. Simon, Red, even Sir Richard, or Margery, managed to leap off the page and make me care. Whether it was because I wanted them to be happy and help Sorcha in her task, or whether it was because they were absolutely despicable, they were real to me and evoked real emotion. And yes, there were definitely butterflies and silly girl giggles involved when it came to a certain character.

One thing the author does magnificently well is the fact that I was never really sure if Sorcha would manage to break the curse. This is a fairy tale and as such should end in a happily ever after. But the stakes were so high and Sorcha was faced with more and more difficulties along the way, that for a long time, I was conviced this would end badly. The ending could not have been better. I won’t spoil it, but let me say that it is neither happily ever after nor is it completely bad. That bittersweet part in between struck a chord with me and was one of my favorite bits of the book.

In the end, I wasn’t impressed enough to continue with the series right away. I will, eventually. This is a recommendation, despite some misgivings, because while I was never so in love that I hugged the book to my chest and danced around the living room (yeah, that happens sometimes), it was also not bad. I am somewhat torn about how to rate this because I believe the quality of the writing should be rated higher than this. However, my rating is based on a scale of my personal enjoyment and I don’t really see myself re-reading this novel.

THE GOOD: Great beginning, great last third, some fantastic characters and a beautiful, very subtle romance.
THE BAD: A protagonist who is never more than somewhat interesting, a very drawn-out middle part, and not enough mythology for my taste.
THE VERDICT: A great retelling of The Six Swans, full of atmosphere, conflict, and an incredibly enduring girl. The beginning and the end were wonderful and despite some slow and one unnecessary bit, I recommend it to people who like character-intense books and, of course, fairy tales.

RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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The Sevenwaters Series:

  1. Daughter of the Forestsevenwaters trilogy
  2. Son of the Shadows
  3. Child of the Prophecy
  4. Heir to Sevenwaters
  5. Seer of Sevenwaters
  6. Flame of Sevenwaters

Books in the Queue – The Currently Reading Edition

Hello, fellow lovers of books. This month I believe I have taken on a bit too much. What with various challenges, my ever-changing mood and the poor books that have been queueing for a while, my current Books in the Queue is almost identical to my Currently Reading list.

China Miéville – Un Lun Dun (finished March 9th)

un lun dunChina Miéville is the guy I would like to have discovered when I was a teenager. I’m not sure my 14-year-old self would have made it through Perdido Street Station, but this young adult novel is just so  much fun. I picked it up because I wanted a nice big book that I could nibble at a little each night (and it’s on my TBR-challenge list). A mere couple of days later, I find I’m halfway done with the book. What? How did that happen? So I’m reading what feels like a little every day and just having fun discovering UnLondon. I am especially in love with the sentient empty milk carton, Curdle.

dividerJuliet Marillier – Daughter of the Forest (finished 19th March 2013)

daughter of the forest1I have owned this book for so long, I can’t even remember. A few days ago, I finally picked it up (again, that TBR-challenge got to me) and found myself liking it quite a bit. I notice that I am reading this very slowly. I had a few hours at my disposal on the weekend and read, and read, and read. In the end, I saw that I had gotten about 50 pages into the book. It’s the opposite Miéville effect. That said, I really don’t mind. I like large books that slowly build an entire world and let me get into the characters’ heads. Sorcha, the protagonist, is a likable young girl, whom I enjoy following around. I am looking forward to the part where The Six Swans retelling begins, though. Also, I find myself looking for good music to go along with this book. It feels like it needs a soundtrack… any recommendations?

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Martha Wells – Emilie and the Hollow World (finished 29th March 2013)

emilie and the hollow worldI got an e-ARC of this and have been reading on and off in it for several weeks. For a short book, it’s taking me an enormous amount of time. And it’s not bad at all. Emilie runs away from home to catch a ship to her cousin’s place. She ends up on the wrong ship and has to join an expedition to the inside of the Earth (vie aether current). I enjoy the adventure quite a bit. My only problem was that Emilie, in my mind, is about 12 years old and behaves as such, but in the book, it is said she is 16. I’m just ignoring the author and imagining my 12-year-old anyway. Right now, I’m about halfway through this Jules Verne-esque YA adventure book.

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Here’s the actually queueing books (that I haven’t started)

Caitlín R. Kiernan – The Red Tree

red treeWhy do I want to read this? If you haven’t read my gushing review of The Drowning Girl, you won’t know how much I need to read another one of this author’s books. I have no idea what this one is about (and I don’t need to), except that there is another unreliable narrator. And I do love me some of those. If Caitlín Kiernan’s books are at all alike in style, theme, or darkness level, I believe I have a new favorite author on my hands. An author I would never have picked up because I find the covers unappealing. Thank you, Worlds Without End.

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Dubravka Ugrešić – Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

baba yaga laid an egWhy do I want to read this? It’s all Catherynne M. Valente’s fault, really. She tore my heart out with Deathless and gave me a taste of Russian mythology. Ever since I read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana,  I wanted to learn more about rusalki. Then Cat Valente comes along and introduces me to Baba Yaga. I now know that I have been missing out on Russian fairy tales for a long time. I will start my journey of discovering Russian mythology with this book here. I heard very mixed things about it and am not sure at all that I will like it – but I’ll give it a shot.

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And the rest…

You may think these aren’t all that many books, right? But of course, I’m still trying to read as many of the Nebula nominees as I can fit into my free time (I do have that annoying time killer called work to think about, after all. Plus another semester at university.) as well as some other books I’ve started and am somewhere in the middle of:

  • Connie Willis – Blackout
  • Tina Connolly – Ironskin
  • John Crowley – Engine Summer (finished April 21st)
  • Meljean Brook – The Iron Duke
  • Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla
  • Leo – Betelgeuse (The Worlds of Aldebaran cycle 2) (finished April 19th)

Other than that, I still have a lot of catching up to do for my older Books in the Queue. Patrick Ness’ Monsters of Men is eagerly awaiting to be read, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone has been jumping at me for months now, Jean-Cristophe Valtat’s Aurorarama just looks at me with sad puppy eyes from my shelf. And I won’t even mention The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood (edit: Ha! Finished it. It was awesome.). It gives me a serious case of guilty conscience for being in my late twenties and not having read it yet.