You will find below a list of ten books. Most were taken from the book submissions list (thank you to everyone who put suggestions in there), and I also tried to find a few others that were of different types. While we do have plenty of Greek representation, there are quite a few from other areas. I hope that you use the breadth of options to branch out from what you might normally read and vote for something new you find interesting!
You have three votes, and depending on what the results are, we can consider reading three books instead of the usual two. 😊
I will close the poll some time on Monday to give everyone a chance to vote. I’ll send out an announcement an hour or two before it closes.
Lastly, if anyone is familiar with markdown and is at all interested in helping me get these posts up in future, can you please reach out? I intended on getting this up two days ago but have been dealing with a lot of stuff and procrastinated as usual. No pressure to help, but if you have the time/energy/ability, you’re more than welcome to!
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
A reimagining of the world-famous Indian epic, the Mahabharat—told from the point of view of an amazing woman.
Relevant to today’s war-torn world, The Palace of Illusions takes us back to a time that is half history, half myth, and wholly magical. Narrated by Panchaali, the wife of the legendary Pandavas brothers in the Mahabharat, the novel gives us a new interpretation of this ancient tale.
The novel traces the princess Panchaali’s life, beginning with her birth in fire and following her spirited balancing act as a woman with five husbands who have been cheated out of their father’s kingdom. Panchaali is swept into their quest to reclaim their birthright, remaining at their side through years of exile and a terrible civil war involving all the important kings of India. Meanwhile, we never lose sight of her strategic duels with her mother-in-law, her complicated friendship with the enigmatic Krishna, or her secret attraction to the mysterious man who is her husbands’ most dangerous enemy. Panchaali is a fiery female redefining for us a world of warriors, gods, and the ever-manipulating hands of fate.
Notable Review by Aditi
“A woman is not a touch but a response to it”
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, an Indian best selling novelist, has penned an extremely emotional and gripping mythological-cum-historical-fiction novel, The Palace of Illusions that narrates the great epic Indian mythological tale, Mahabharata from the point of view of the most brilliant and fearless female character, Draupadi, who weaves her thoroughly soul touching yet enduring life story starting from the day she was born to the day she left her palace and kingdom to follow behind the footsteps of her husbands to heaven. Yes, in modern terms, you call it a fan fiction of Mahabharata.
Panchaali, daughter of king Draupad, was born out of fire, when her father prayed and fasted for a son who will take vengeance on his enemies. So apart from Panchaali, a dark beauty and highly intelligent and smart young girl, Dhrishtadyumna, a fierce young boy was also born out of the very same fire. While growing up, Draupadi confided in only three people who were closest to her heart, her caretaker, Dhai Ma, her brother, Dhri, and her only friend, Krishna, who guided her through all her troubles with his wise and thoughtful advice. But when the time arrived for Swayamvar, Draupadi’s heart has already found the man of her life, but due to her father and Krishna’s strategy and scheme to protect the king and the kingdom from his enemies, thereby yet once again Draupadi followed what others wanted her to follow before her heart’s desire. Once landing into the palace of her husband, Arjun, Draupadi, once again, had to fight for and obey the rules and the opinions of her mother-in-law, Kunti, who asked her to marry off five of her sons, instead of only one. From then on, Draupadi had to lead a sad and enduring life filled with only grief, pain and loss and embarrassment. But not for once Draupadi spoke out aloud of her grief either to her husbands or to her own family, instead she quietly obeyed and payed heavily for everything that her husbands did.
This is one of the most enthralling and magical re-telling of the epic mythological tale that changed the history, spiritualism, thoughts and beliefs of Indian society. The whole tale felt like an astounding, mystical and breath taking read that blew my mind with the intensity of Draupadi’s heart breaking life story as well as with the opportunity to lose myself in the thrill of the greatest mythology, Mahabharata told from the perspective of a brave woman. The author has not only imagined and projected her version of this epic tale, but has also included the wise words of Vyasa, the original author of Mahabharata.
The author’s writing style is exquisite and eloquent and has laced the story line with so many deep, heart felt emotions that will move the readers for the characters’ plight. The narrative is somewhat intellectual, thoughtful and truly authentic and it is told from the first person point of view of Draupadi, so that will let the readers contemplate with her honest voice. The pacing of the book is very slow and while reading, the readers might feel a bit lethargic due to the usage of heavy words and too many philosophical adverbs by the author.
The characterization of the protagonist, Draupadi, is really well carved out with all her flaws and her stronger aspects, with her desires and her hatred and with her positive and negative thoughts, thereby letting the readers experience and get to know Draupadi in her raw form. Draupadi has been brilliantly portrayed into the story and has been brought alive with so much vigor by the author. The readers will be shocked to go through the intense pain of Draupadi’s struggle with her childhood days, her marital life, her role as a pawn in the game of the greatest war in the history of our country, her emotions towards how the brothers fought against his own blood just for the price of kingdom. In short, the rest of the supporting characters, do not much role or depth in them, either way, from Draupadi’s minds the readers can chalk out a brief sketch of those characters.
In a nutshell, this is an excellently well written fan fiction based on Hindu mythology that will enlighten the readers’ minds and souls as well as keep them entertained all through out the book.
Verdict: A must read for historical fiction readers.
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
From the Trojan women whose fates now lie in the hands of the Greeks, to the Amazon princess who fought Achilles on their behalf, to Penelope awaiting the return of Odysseus, to the three goddesses whose feud started it all, these are the stories of the women whose lives, loves, and rivalries were forever altered by this long and tragic war.
A woman’s epic, powerfully imbued with new life, A Thousand Ships puts the women, girls and goddesses at the center of the Western world’s great tale ever told.
Notable Review by Jessica
sometimes it feels as if my hearts only purpose is to beat for greek mythology and this book is a gift, straight from zeus himself, to give me life.
this retelling of the trojan war, including the actions that lead up to it and the consequences that followed, is quite refreshing. whilst classic myths tell about the glory and conquests of men, this focuses on the often overlooked presence of women.
elegantly written from the narration of calliope, the goddess of epic poetry, the reader is given a unique perspective that is often ignored. as calliope answers the pleas of a poet, she provides a compilation of the many women – goddesses, greeks, and trojans alike – whose lives were affected by the war.
and although this isnt told in chronological order, but rather an anthology of stories, the narrative is quite exceptional. the writing provides such a vivid characterisation that, even in the shortest of chapters/stories, i felt so connected to the women.
this is a must read for fans of greek mythology, especially those looking for a new perspective of a classic story.
↠ 4.5 stars
Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes
The Greek myths are one of the most important cultural foundation-stones of the modern world.
Stories of gods and monsters are the mainstay of epic poetry and Greek tragedy, from Homer to Virgil to from Aeschylus to Sophocles and Euripides. And still, today, a wealth of novels, plays and films draw their inspiration from stories first told almost three thousand years ago. But modern tellers of Greek myth have usually been men, and have routinely shown little interest in telling women’s stories.
Now, in Pandora’s Jar, Natalie Haynes – broadcaster, writer and passionate classicist – redresses this imbalance. Taking Greek creation myths as her starting point and then retelling the four great mythic sagas: the Trojan War, the Royal House of Thebes, Jason and the Argonauts, Heracles, she puts the female characters on equal footing with their menfolk. The result is a vivid and powerful account of the deeds – and misdeeds – of Hera, Aphrodite, Athene and Circe. And away from the goddesses of Mount Olympus it is Helen, Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Antigone and Medea who sing from these pages, not Paris, Agamemnon, Orestes or Jason.
Notable Review by Sujoya
Happy Publication Day! (U.S.) March 29, 2022
Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Perennial for providing a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: 4.5⭐️
Having read and loved ‘A Thousand Ships’ by Natalie Haynes I was eagerly looking forward to reading ‘Pandora’s Jar : Women in the Greek Myths’ and I was not disappointed!
The author describes Greek myths as “protean” stating that they operate in different timelines- the one in which they are set and the timelines of the subsequent versions and retellings. Each chapter in this book is devoted to a female character from the Greek myths and the author draws from multiple sources to discuss how these characters have been presented, represented and interpreted over the years. Chapters are dedicated to Pandora, Jocasta, Helen, Medusa, The Amazons, Clytemnestra, Eurydice, Phaedra, Medea and Penelope. Popular opinion and numerous translators and interpreters have defined these women and their roles in the myths -whether regarded as famous or infamous, labeled and judged as good (Penelope) or bad (Clytemnestra) and in many cases, held responsible for events that had more powerful forces at play (Medusa, Pandora, Helen) or marginalized and relegated to the background in the role of mother or wife (Jocasta), all the while waxing eloquent about the heroic exploits of their male counterparts. But as Haynes explains it, these women are so much more than a unidimensional presence in those stories, the narrative perspectives of which may differ depending upon the writer, narrator or translator. The author provides a broad overview of how these characters have been depicted in not only literature but art, theatre, music and film and the ensuing discussion of how and why these depictions and interpretations vary makes for an absorbing read.
Haynes references the works of Hesiod, Homer, Ovid, Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles and other sources while also eloquently describing some surviving antiquarian artifacts and relatively newer artwork (paintings, sculptures etc) depicting the characters and scenes from the various versions of the Greek myths. The child friendly versions of the myths as presented by Nathaniel Hawthorne or Roger Lancelyn Green are also discussed in the context of how authors choose to whitewash the not-so-heroic exploits of popular heroes in order to emphasize the virtues of said character. I also enjoyed the more contemporary references interspersed in the discussions ranging from cinematic renderings such as Clash of the Titans and the more recent Wonder Woman franchise to how the myths have influenced select works of Dame Agatha Christie as well as characters and episodes from Star Trek or Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even Beyonce.
It should be noted that Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths is not a ‘retelling’ or ‘reimagining’ of the myths in the strictest terms but an insightful exploration into the different versions of the characters that have been presented through the ages. Smart, witty, engaging and brilliantly researched, Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes is a joy to read for fans of Greek mythology and especially those with an interest in learning more about the women in the myths. I loved the details of the art and artifacts described in each of the chapters and wished that there could have been more pictures embedded with the text. I found myself looking these up on the internet and that truly enriched my reading experience. Not only does Natalie Haynes explore how and why these women and their stories have been defined the way they have but in doing so also motivates you to question your own observations understanding of the women (and the men) in the Greek myths. While I enjoyed all the chapters in the book, I have to mention that those devoted to Pandora, Medusa and The Amazons were my favorites.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.
Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You’ll be surprised by what – and who – it finds there…
Notable Review by Bill Kerwin
In this unique love letter to the United States, Gaiman manages to celebrate its underground spiritual traditions, glory in the magnificence of its landmarks, landscapes, and bizarre tourist traps, and–most important–both mourn and venerate its pagan (often immigrant) gods in decline, battered and diminished though they may be by the shallowness and speed of our technological world. The gods are indeed the best part of this very good book: degenerate and threadbare, yet still gods, capable of inspiring both allegiance and terror.
Gaiman loves not only fantasy, but also mystery and horror, and here he has constructed a book which fulfills the genre requirements of all. The plot is complicated and crammed with marvels: the beginning promises pleasures and horrors, the middle disturbs the balance, and the ending surprises and yet satisfies.
Kaikeyi: A Novel by Vaishnavi Patel
“Patel’s mesmerizing debut shines a brilliant light on the vilified queen from the Ramayana….This easily earns its place on shelves alongside Madeline Miller’s Circe.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.”
So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.
Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.
But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak—and what legacy she intends to leave behind.
A stunning debut from a powerful new voice, Kaikeyi is a tale of fate, family, courage, and heartbreak—of an extraordinary woman determined to leave her mark in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come.
Notable Review by Jenanie
PLEASE GO PREORDER THIS BOOK NOW ✨
KAIKEYI has truly become my favourite book of all-time ✨ Not only does Vaishnavi Patel do wonders with the source mythology—bringing vilified and heroic characters alike into new lights—but she weaves the most fascinating and empowering story of a woman looking out for other women, of motherhood, of the danger of unchecked misogyny and patriarchy. I felt so deeply for Kaikeyi and the empathy and resilience she possessed. She goes down as one of the most well written and complex characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The friendships and bonds within this book will stay with me for years to come and I hope that this book will take the place on shelves among other greats.
Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
In a richly imagined, beautiful new novel, an acclaimed writer gives an epic heroine her voice.
The Aeneid, Virgil’s hero fights to claim the king’s daughter, Lavinia, with whom he is destined to found an empire. Lavinia herself never speaks a word. Now, Ursula K. Le Guin gives Lavinia a voice in a novel that takes us to the half-wild world of ancient Italy, when Rome was a muddy village near seven hills.
Lavinia grows up knowing nothing but peace and freedom, until suitors come. Her mother wants her to marry handsome, ambitious Turnus. But omens and prophecies spoken by the sacred springs say she must marry a foreigner–that she will be the cause of a bitter war–and that her husband will not live long. When a fleet of Trojan ships sails up the Tiber, Lavinia decides to take her destiny into her own hands. And so she tells us what Virgil did not: the story of her life, and of the love of her life.
Lavinia is a book of passion and war, generous and austerely beautiful, from a writer working at the height of her powers.
Notable Review by Jake
“I am not the feminine voice you may have expected”
When my father told me that Ursula LeGuin had put out a new novel, I was, as I usually am, ecstatic. LeGuin is one of my all time favorite authors, and I can’t think of time when she’s written something that has somehow failed to engage, entertain, or intrigue me. The fact that she was, apparently, riffing off Virgil’s Aeneid was just icing on the cake for this poor excuse for a classical studies major.
When the book arrived, I found myself looking at the cover and suddenly wondering what the heck this book was about. As much as I tried, I could not remember the character of Lavinia from my previous readings of the Aeneid in the slightest (the best I could do was to temporarily confuse her with Dido). My guilt at my poor powers of memory was a bit assuaged when, after some checking, I realized that Lavinia only barely appears within the Aeneid, and never speaks at all. It’s no surprise I don’t remember her. Indeed, it’s a wonder that many people do.
The notion of taking an old story and telling a different side of it is a popular one these days, and I confess I’m not terribly up on the sub-genre (which seems to include things like The Red Tent, Mists of Avalon, and Lady Macbeth, among others), so I can’t compare it fairly to other authors efforts. It is a sub-genre that seems potentially filled with a lot of anger; how easy would it be for Lavinia (or any of these voiceless women) to rage against the world that so long ignored them? How simple would it be to tell a story about how the men screwed everything up, and the women were doing everything right?
Easy though it might be, LeGuin doesn’t do anything of the kind. Her Lavinia (who is curiously aware of her meta-fictional existence) is very, well, ancient Roman. She is strong, but conscious of her duty. She has a strong sense of the importance of family. She genuinely loves Aeneas, and her insights into Aeneas are interesting, and very much in line with what I remember of the Aeneid (which I confess is precious little). The entire story is told by Lavinia herself, a decision that allows LeGuin to really get into her protagonists mind, and produce a very different, interesting, and very real vision of a part of the Aeneid that Virgil did not get to.
I think that is the thing that makes me enjoy Lavinia so much; it is LeGuin’s addition to the myth. Not a refutation, or an attack, but merely another side of part of the story. A side as compelling, powerful, and insightful as the original itself. Unquestionably worth the read.
Circe by Madeline Miller
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child – not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power – the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
Notable Review by Elle
You threw me to the crows, but it turns out I prefer them to you.
My words are not as good as the ones in this book. Circe is a book about… finding yourself. But god, it stands out so far from just that.
Okay, to get started, I’m just going to say it: Madeline Miller is one of the best writers of our time. She has such a way with words that it is absolutely impossible not to be engaged in her storytelling.
The thing that brings this whole novel together is Circe’s character. She is a woman who has done awful, evil things, and yet remains unfailingly human. She is lonely, and harsh, and hiding herself in sarcasm much of the time. And there is not a moment in this novel in which I didn’t adore her. Madeline Miller does such an amazing job developing this character, weaving her thoughts into the narrative without manipulating you into feeling a certain way, keeping the narrative wide yet keeping it focused around Circe. Throughout this novel I developed such a deep level of admiration for both this author and this character, this character I’m sure will stay with me forever.
This novel is so interesting because at its core, it is an exploration of the voice of women in Greek mythology. Circe is a character we see nothing of in the narrative of Greek mythology, a character with seemingly evil intentions and little motivation – and all this despite showing up in several different stories. There’s something supremely excellent about seeing a character like this who is essentially a plot device be given a story. I know I have a tendency to repeat the term “narrative agency” but it beats repeating— I absolutely love giving characters who have been given no agency the agency they deserve.
I mean, everything about this book was just brilliant. I loved the myth interpretation: Penelope and Odysseus are both written perfectly, and seeing Jason basically get called an asshole while Medea stood on being young and morally grey and in love was so fantastic. And the exploration of gods vs. mortals is just brilliant:
You cannot know how frightened gods are of pain. There is nothing more foreign to them, and so nothing they ache more deeply to see.
I loved the relationships — just as a special note, the relationship between Circe and Telegonus made me want to cry. I basically loved everything.
I mean, I think you guys have gotten pretty easily why I liked this so much — a morally-grey-character-driven retelling revolving around agency is basically my entire what-I-like bio. This did all the things I like and I want to reread it daily and hourly. I very well might.
The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
When a banished witch falls in love with the legendary trickster Loki, she risks the wrath of the gods in this moving, subversive debut novel that reimagines Norse mythology.
Angrboda’s story begins where most witches’ tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.
Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life—and possibly all of existence—is in danger.
With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family…or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age.
Notable Review by Yun
They say a witch used to live in these woods a long, long time ago . . . They say she loved a man with scarred lips and a sharp tongue, a man who gave her back her heart and more.
The witch Angrboda is known for seid, the power to divine the future. When Odin, the highest of the Norse gods, demands her power for himself, she refuses. He punishes her by burning her three times on the pyre, but she escapes, leaving her smoldering heart behind. When a man shows up in the remote forest she’s hiding and offers her heart back, so starts the love story between Angrboda and Loki. Before they are through, they will have set in motion a chain of events that will remake the world as they know it.
This story grabbed me from the very first page. Going in, I didn’t know much about Norse mythology and wasn’t sure what to expect. But boy, does this deliver. It has everything you’d expect from a mythological retelling: love, intrigue, betrayal, and ultimately redemption. And since every part of this story was new to me, I was able to savor every single development and twist.
The fully formed characters and their relationships very much contribute to this captivating reimagining. Angrboda, in particular, is a compelling female character, uncompromisingly strong in the face of adversity, but also tender and loving. Her complicated relationship with Loki and Skadi, as well as her children, and all the impossible decisions she has to make, are at the heart of this tale.
The writing is vivid and visceral, lending a sense of urgency that propels the narrative forward. The only nitpick I have is that some of the dialogue feels a little too modern with their phrasing and idioms. Instead of being the more formal and reserved speech you’d generally see from mythology retellings, it reads like something I would say in my casual conversations, which felt a bit jarring with the rest of the story. But that’s a small quibble.
It was easy to get lost in this rich and magical world. I’m so glad I took a chance on this book. It’s whet my appetite for Norse mythology, and I’ll definitely be reading more.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan
A captivating debut fantasy inspired by the legend of Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess, in which a young woman’s quest to free her mother pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm.
Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.
Alone, powerless, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.
To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess begins an enchanting, romantic duology which weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic—where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.
Notable Review by Elle
When I first saw this cover and went to post about my excitement for Daughter of the Moon Goddess, I wrote that I was sure this was going to be “an incredible fantasy epic”. And that was exactly the right word: epic. Like a classic narrative epic poem, Sue Lynn Tan recounts the story of Xingyin, daughter of banished immortal Chang’e, and her quest to free her mother and herself from their eternal confinement.
From the moment Xingyin escapes the moon on a cloud (yes, really), there’s feeling of immensity to her story. And as we follow her down the path of self-discovery, I couldn’t help but match up each stage of her tale with the traditional Hero’s Journey—a la Joseph Campbell. From the three “acts”: Departure, Initiation (& Descent), and Return; to specific elements like ‘supernatural aid’ and ‘apotheosis’ (raising a mortal to a god-like level), Xingyin more than rivals classic Homeric heroes such as Odysseus and Achilles. She endeavors to staggering heights and perilous depths, and is at her strongest when she’s acting on the behalf of those she loves.
But in Xingyin’s quiet moments, we get to feel a number of dueling loyalties play out. Will she stay behind with the first boy in the Celestial Kingdom to show her true kindness, or will she follow the one who can help her achieve what she’s always wanted to be? Is Xingyin willing to sacrifice her own chance at happiness for a way to free her mother? Exactly how far is she willing to go in order to accomplish some of these goals?
It would be reductive to say any of these questions fall into the expected fan-service style tropes. These motivations come so naturally to the character, and by extension the audience. Every bit of longing feels real and every betrayal fully stings. To read Daughter of the Moon Goddess is to become Xingyin, her strengths, flaws and internal discord all included.
Every word of this over five hundred page novel is thoughtfully chosen, crafted with the utmost care. It’s poetic without being overly flowery, and never light on plot or action. While there’s many stages of the journey Xingyin goes on, it all feels like a natural extension—one story bleeding into the next. I’ve seen a few reviews mention how full this book is, that it could almost be split into two, but I think that would have been a mistake. Daughter of the Moon Goddess ends exactly where it should, with Xingyin completing this arc and preparing for whatever unknown is to come. And I can’t wait to embark with her on that one as well.
**For more book talk & reviews, follow me on Instagram at @elle_mentbooks!
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
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…
Notable Review by Keertana
Incredible. I know I’ve said I’ve been speechless when reading books before, but this time, I genuinely don’t have the words to express what a masterpiece this novel is. I actually finished this novel early today morning, at around 1:30, but it was only at 2:30-ish that I actually got up to go to sleep. I couldn’t get this story out of my head; I simply kept thinking about it. If Juliet Marillier hadn’t already made a fan out of me with Heart’s Blood, then I’d be tripping over myself to fall at her feet for truly, this book is remarkable.
Daughter of the Forest is known to be one of the best fantasy novels out there, but it’s hard to believe just how good it is until you read it. From its cover, it seems to be a simplistic fairy tale re-telling, but it’s a fairy tale like no other. We don’t have any knights in shining armor; instead, the princess has to save herself. We don’t have an innocent girl for whom circumstances clear up and solve her problem; we have a broken girl who has to struggle to find happiness. Sorcha is the youngest of seven children, six of whom are boys. Thus, she has grown up sheltered, loved, and cared for by her siblings. When her father re-marries, however, bringing Lady Oonagh, a deadly sorcerer, into their peaceful abode, Sorcha’s life is turned upside down. Lady Oonagh turns her beloved brothers into swans and the only way for Sorcha to break the spell is to weave six shirts made of a prickly nettle and remain silent for her entire ordeal. It is only when the shirts have been made and worn by her brothers that the spell will be broken, but the journey that Sorcha will embark on will change more than just her future, it will change her very being and shatter her to her core.
Daughter of the Forest starts out slowly, introducing us to Sorcha, her world, and her close relationship with her brothers. Thus, when her brothers are turned into swans, we, as readers, feel just as much pain as Sorcha herself. I could feel myself visibly wincing every time Sorcha was reminded of her past life with her brothers, full of happiness and delight. Daughter of the Forest is a dark tale. A very dark tale. I sobbed for a solid five minutes at one point in this story because of the utter horror of the situation. Yet, despite all the darkness, there is a subtle undercurrent of hope, of happiness, of love. It’s all so beautifully interwoven that one cannot help but be reminded of life itself with its ups and downs and darkness and light.
You see, Daughter of the Forest is a painfully realistic tale. Sorcha has an incredible trove of inner strength. I admire her immensely and she’s one of those heroines I’ll never forget. I could simply be in the supermarket having a bad day and Sorcha is one of those protagonists who will come to mind and I already know I’ll tell myself, “If Sorcha could go through all that, I can get through today.” Sorcha isn’t a saint – she’s only human and that is felt so palpably despite the ordeal she manages to go through. Thus, despite the seemingly amazing feats she manages to achieve, Marillier weaves this tale in such a way that she is able to convey that each and every one of these ordeals is possible to overcome, just as anything is with the right dose of love, faith, and perseverance.
Nevertheless, one of my favorite aspects of this novel is, hands-down, the romance. If Marillier is the Queen of Slow Burn Romance, I am the Glutton of Slow Burn Romance. I can’t get enough of it and Marillier writes it to pure perfection. What I loved about the romance in this novel, particularly, is the fact that it manages to happen all without Sorcha uttering a word. Somehow, against all odds, Sorcha manages to find someone who understands her very soul, who sees her task as a brave ordeal she is facing, and who can understand her with little difficulty, despite her silence. Furthermore, Sorcha never even realizes that she’s falling in love. As the reader, we can see this romance unfold in front of our eyes, but Sorcha’s task remains to be the main plot thread, until eventually, Sorcha comes to realize the love she had and how, despite not realizing it before, she needs the very presence of her lover to calm her. For, to be in love isn’t necessarily to crave physical affection or even understanding, but often, it comes from the most basic, innocent, and true primitive instinct of needing that other person’s presence and strength by you. It is this that Marillier manages to embody so beautifully within this novel and I can’t get enough of it.
Daughter of the Forest is a dark, emotional, and achingly bittersweet fantasy like no other. It is one that kept me on the edge of my seat with a box of tissues within the grasp of my hand and a warm blanket draped over me. It’s one of those stories that continues to plague you long after you’ve read it as you marvel over both the author’s creativity and skill along with the characters and their complexity. I can’t recommend this book enough, but really, everyone should read this. Everyone. Like all fairy tales, Daughter of the Forest contains a trove of themes and lessons and Marillier conveys all this in a subtle and beautiful manner that touches and stays with you like nothing else quite does. Truly, if there’s one book you should make yourself read before you die, it’s this one.
What shall we read next? (Choose 3)
- Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan (19%, 7 Votes)
- The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec (19%, 7 Votes)
- Kaikeyi: A Novel by Vaishnavi Patel (14%, 5 Votes)
- Circe by Madeline Miller (14%, 5 Votes)
- A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (8%, 3 Votes)
- Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (6%, 2 Votes)
- Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin (6%, 2 Votes)
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman (6%, 2 Votes)
- Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes (6%, 2 Votes)
- The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (3%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 12