A head’s up, up front, this series started as a trilogy but it has been extended and is now 6 books.
The first book of this series is Daughter of the Forest. This story is based on The Wild Swans folk tale. I actually reviewed a version of this tale a while ago, you can find that review here. It’s a beautiful story about a witch who enchants six brothers, turning them into swans. Their younger sister has the power to turn them back into humans, but the sacrifices she must make are monumental.
In Marillier’s telling the story is expanded upon. It’s set in ancient Ireland, where druids still have power and where Celts and Brits seem to ceaselessly battle for lands.
I have absolutely no complaints about this book. Or this series (what I’ve read, I confess I’ve only read the first four books).
I love that magic permeates the land and the background but that it’s human determination, will, and strength that helps the good prevail.
I love that it’s filled with powerful women, both good and evil. Especially the first book. In a setting that is clearly patriarchal it is the women who are the greatest heroes and the biggest villains. This continues in the rest of the books, but not quite to the extent of the first book.
I love that I’ve read the first three books three times and still can’t complain about the plot, the characters, or the settings. I’m not saying there aren’t flaws, there very well could be flaws, but I’m so captured by the story that I honestly can’t remember a single flaw.
I think a huge strength of this series is that each book can stand alone. They are all set in the same family, but the lead character is in a different generation. So there are references to the previous books’ characters, but making the books jump forward a generation really gave Marillier the freedom to completely change the personality, weaknesses, and strengths of the main characters. The audience still gets to read about those they fell in love with in the prior books, but we are given an opportunity to meet a slew of new characters.
These books are easy to read, they pulled me in, and two days later I emerged ready to pick up the next book in the series.
I highly recommend these books to fantasy readers. I would caution younger readers, there is violence, there is also a rape in the first book. Marillier, however, does a good job leaving the reader horrified by what happened without getting too gruesome or too explicit.