Sorcha has six older brothers who have pretty much reared her on their own, as her mother died giving birth to her and her father threw himself into warfare and political affairs after his wife’s death. Sorcha is a gifted healer and a bit wild, having grown up around boys and the forest and having been a bit indulged because of her position as the youngest and only sister. But things quickly change for her, as her father takes a new wife, a woman with strange and evil powers and intentions. The evil stepmother turns Sorcha’s brothers into swans to keep them from inheriting their father’s estate. Sorcha is their only hope of returning to human form. She must dedicate herself to the physically and emotionally painful task of constructing shirts for each brother out of a thorny plant and must not speak with anyone until the task is complete. Sorcha is taken from her task away to Britain, where she finds a man she loves. But Britons are the enemy of her people and her devotion to saving her brothers prevents her from fully accepting love into her life.
THIS BOOK. I sort of felt like my childhood self while reading it, getting completely lost and caught up in Sorcha’s world and story. I often say books don’t need to be longer than 500 pages, but while this one took a little bit to get going, I realized how important it was to set the scene and develop Sorcha’s brothers as characters before they leave the story for a while. The plot here is pretty simple: a task assigned that requires much of the character before it can be completed. But the characters and the world-building brought the story to life. Sorcha’s brothers are all uniquely drawn and lovable for their own unique reasons. And Sorcha was awesome, probably one of my favorite characters I have read in a long time. She is so strong and loves so deeply and is willing to sacrifice so much for the sake of her family and her beloved home. It was heart-wrenching watching her hit speed bump after speed bump on her journey to save her brothers and heal her family. It was heart-wrenching watching Sorcha find true love, only to have to leave it behind. But Sorcha always remains determined and hopeful and that was so nice to see. I am a little skeptical of a love story where the characters don’t even talk (I love romantic banter), but it somehow worked here, as Sorcha and Red found their own ways to communicate and be together. I also had no idea I was remotely interested in Irish folklore, but I thought Sorcha’s world was quite fascinating. The line between the real and supernatural was very thin and the Fair Folk and other supernatural presences were constantly present in Sorcha’s story, whether as voices in the forest or physical presences guiding Sorcha’s journey.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough if you want to get to know a seriously strong female heroine. The weight of her family’s very survival is on her shoulders and it is a burden she gladly carries. I almost immediately started the second book in the Sevenwaters trilogy after finishing this one because I could not get enough of Marillier’s writing and the Sevenwaters world. I have a feeling this will be a book I revisit on down the road. It just struck a very special chord with me and I am so glad I gave it a chance and discovered a new favorite.