I love the Australian Women Writers Challenge so much, and I wish I’d been better about blogging my reviews before this. However, here I am. I actually read quite a lot this year, not as much as I’d hoped to but it did include most of Juliet Marillier’s bibliography which was some of my best reading for the year. That also means that I read a lot more books than I’d aimed to for my challenge.
I pledged to take on the Miles challenge, reading 6 books and reviewing 4. In the end, I read 14 books, which I’m quite pleased about. As for reviews, look below and see my short reviews for the Sevenwaters series, by Juliet Marillier; Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth; and Suited by Jo Anderton. I’ve also included the complete list of books I’ve read. Next year, I will aim to do more in depth reviews, but really, I shall aim to review at all closer to the time of reading the book rather than at the last minute.
By Juliet Marillier:
- Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters #1)
Daughter of the Forest is everything I like about the retelling of a classic fairytale. Sorcha is a powerful protagonist and Marillier’s writing is beautiful making the experience of reading this book truly delightful. Reading this book had me wondering what had taken me so long to read any of Marillier’s work, so this was definitely one of my best reads for 2013. I love that the story involves a female protagonist and that she is strong without being ‘kick ass’, and is instead deeply ethical and respectful, compassionate. These are qualities I admire greatly in a character, and I think they’re also particularly good characteristics to use for describing a ‘strong female character’. Sorcha’s story of toil and sacrifice is one likely to be familiar even though I don’t imagine many of us spend our days weaving nettles.
- Son of the Shadows (Sevenwaters #2)
Liadan’s story in Son of the Shadows tells the story of choice, the story of going against expectations and taking the unknown path and daring to go against the grain. This is the kind of story that I think resonates for me as a woman in a society that has particular ideas about what I should do, what is proper and appropriate – Liadan experiences this too, but manages to forge her own path and do so with conviction and without losing her family who are so much a part of her life. Liadan is one of my favourite protagonists for this series, one of my favourite books of the series. I love Liadan’s story, I love her choices, I love her courage. I also love the way in which Marillier writes this book not as a second book, but as a story that continues a telling of the family history of Sevenwaters.
- Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters #3)
In Child of the Prophecy, the way in which Marillier has constructed these stories as a family history gently unfolding through each new generation really demonstrates a unique layering to this series and adds a profound depth and complexity. This is a story of heartbreak, and though it wasn’t my favourite story, I respect the way it made me uncomfortable and made my heart break. Niamh’s story is a tragedy and it is through Fianne’s eyes that we come to understand the true depths of that tragedy and it gives weight to these stories as the telling of a history. It’s not all bravery and heroism, there are challenges that aren’t overcome, costs and consequences paid and not necessarily always fairly.
- Heir to Sevenwaters (Sevenwaters #4)
Clodagh’s story is one that is much more like the epic fantasy quest stories that I first started reading. Unlike those stories, the fact that Clodagh is female and determined, honest and neither unreasonably modest or clueless, or arrogant and superior. This is a quest that comes from a deep knowing of what is right, that what you heard/saw/felt was real and true and to be acted on – even if it involves magic. This is also a love story, also in the style of fantasy epics, but once again that the story is about Clodagh transforms a story approach that is tired and overdone into something that has depth, nuance and is intelligent and charming. Another layer to the Sevenwaters tapestry, another perspective in another generation rounding out yet more understanding and knowledge about the family, its history and its future.
- Seer of Sevenwaters (Sevenwaters #5)
Sibeal’s calling as a seer, to be a druid is something deeply held within her knowingness of herself and her commitment for her life, and yet she is challenged before she makes her final pledge. I loved Sibeal’s character, her depth of knowing and also the deep conflict that comes from being challenged on something that you’ve always known as a deep truth within you, feeling that truth held sacred shifting and changing. Seer of Sevenwaters is also a story of romance, and while there’s adventure it’s less about a great quest and more about finding yourself, knowing yourself and being confronted with how that can change and grow, how that can happen in unpredictable ways and directions. The web of the family grows longer and stronger, history deepens and the knowing of the other characters from stories past grows through the eyes of new protagonists, reminding you of those stories and giving even greater understanding than was first available at the time the events of a story occurred.
- Twixt Firelight and Water (Sevenwaters #5.5)
This is an in-between story and it wasn’t my favourite of the series. However, it does tie up some loose ends, and colour in some of the tiny gaps and I always enjoy these kind of stories that aren’t quite big enough to have a major book and plotline, but are still worthwhile and satisfying. Of all the characters in the history of the Sevenwaters, Ciaran is simultaneously one of the more important figures, and yet remains a mystery being always told through the eyes of other family members, this story uncovers more about him again and it’s one of the few stories that is told mostly from a male protagonist’s viewpoint.
- Flame of Sevenwaters (Sevenwaters #6)
Maeve’s story is a compelling one that comes from a place of overcoming, of growing within one’s self and facing one’s biggest insecurities and realising that these are balanced too by unique talents. Learning the lesson that it is not what you cannot do, but what you can do, what you choose to do and how is at the core of this story and it’s fleshed out with Maeve’s kindness, compassion and her courage – traits that many of Marillier’s characters exhibit. Another deeply satisfying story, and it reminds me in part of Clodagh’s story because it’s more quest like than some of the others. It is rare indeed for a series with six books to maintain such an incredibly high quality story, one that is just as compelling and engaging as the first book. With all of the stories interwoven there is indeed a greater story to be enjoyed in the reading of all the books, but I also appreciate how each book stands alone, and could be enjoyed without necessarily having previously read the other stories. Reading the Sevenwaters books overall reminds me how incredibly good fantasy fiction can be and has whetted my appetite for more of these kinds of books with female characters living their lives, getting to be amazing and valued for it in their worlds, undertaking their quests.
Chronicles of Bridei:
- Shadowfell (Shadowfell #1)
By Kate Forsyth:
This book was one of my favourite reads for 2013, Forsyth did an incredible job of retelling this classic fairytale and also in framing it’s history and publishing. I loved the multiple storylines in different times, and I loved how they came together in the end to provide an unexpected and very satisfying ending to the story. I love that this is a story of three women at different times in fiction and history, and I love how even across time and fiction, they impact on each other’s lives and even more than that, I love how this enriches my reading experience.
By Jo Anderton:
- Suited (Veiled Worlds #2)
I liked this book and thought it was a great continuation from the first book ‘Debris’. Tanyana continues to be the kind of protagonist that you sometimes love and sometimes dislike, but I found that in this book her growth as a character continued to be satisfying, particularly since she’s much more engaged in doing something and less focused on the unfairness of her situation. I particularly like the way her relationship with the Lad develops in this book. The book is definitely a ‘second book’ and has some of the clumsy elements I associate with these stories, but the story is intricate and I’m definitely invested in continuing to read. I’m still trying to piece together my impression of what the world looks like, and what the stakes of the story are – the saving of the world, and how it’s threatened – I’m very much hoping that my confusion over some of this from the first and second books is resolved in the third. Regardless, this book continues to tell a very unique story that is quite unlike any other science fiction or fantasy I’ve read before and I think that this is the quality I appreciate most about it.
Some amazing stories by Australian women writers, I’m so glad I got to read these and took the time to review even some of them. Here’s to the 2014 challenge being just as interesting and satisfying.