Son of the Shadows
In this sequel to Daughter of the Forest, Marillier continues the story of Sorcha’s family with the tale of Liadan, Sorcha’s youngest daughter. Raised in a loving family but surrounded by societal feuds, uncertainty, and danger, the independent-minded Liadan must make her own decisions about the future — even when they go in the face of her family’s advice and the Fair Folk’s calculated plans.
This book has more of a romance-novel feel than its prequel — an aspect of it that I didn’t particularly like. Early in the book, Liadan has a romantic encounter with the quintessential bad-boy — a mysterious, tattooed, apparently heartless mercenary who leads a band of rough young warriors. She spends the rest of the book convinced that she and Bran are ‘meant’ to be a couple, that her feelings for him go way beyond physical attraction to some sort of divinely established destiny. Unimpressed by this conventional good-girl-trying-to-reform-bad-boy theme, I was more annoyed than anything else by Liadan’s obsession with Bran. Okay, so he was abused as a child — that still doesn’t exactly excuse his nasty (and immoral) lifestyle. (Oh, and they make passionate love right after a companion has just died a miserable death. Eww.) The previous book was, in spite of all its mediocre writing, at least well-plotted. This one is much less so; it is fragmentary, and unsure whether to be a romance novel or a fantasy one. (It also borrowed a get-the-story-going plot piece from the previous book; I almost felt like I was reading the same book for a couple of chapters.)
The confusingly developed theme of destiny versus choice and the ambiguity of the Fair Folk’s role in the story continue in this book, though relativism is not so much of a theme. (Indeed, Liadan seems to have a better-developed sense of right and wrong than many of the characters in the series — except when it comes to Bran.) Liadan’s birth was apparently not foreseen by the Fair Folk, which supposedly leaves her free to pursue her own ends (though they try very hard to convince her play the game their way), and Liadan is a bit of a rebel — mostly because she really likes her mercenary man, in spite of the fact that her family and the Fair Folk all strongly disapprove of him (with good reason, in my opinion). In spite of this, however, Liadan still seems to be under the power of a certain prophecy about her family…and, incongruously, this doesn’t really bother her.
There is also more emphasis on the characters’ paganism in this book (typically, the only Christian character turns out to be a villainous jerk). A sort of animism is introduced, as the Fair Folk are distinguished from the older supernatural powers which have receded into the earth itself. Liadan receives communications from these powers (in particular, they tell her to ‘go for it’ with Bran) and considers them more dependable than the ambiguous Fair Folk. (She also develops her mind-healing power and a sort of Second Sight.) The Fair Folk, on the other hand, actively oppose the villainous sorceress who tried to destroy Sorcha’s family in the first book, so they can’t be all bad, even from Liadan’s perspective. Mostly they just seem utilitarian, using the family for their own ends. The third book in the series will perhaps clarify some of this, though I’m crossing my fingers and kind of doubting it.
On the other hand, though, the importance of honesty surfaces as a positive theme; in several instances the characters observe first-hand the potentially devastating power of deceit and lies to destroy relationships. Liadan decides that her family deserves the truth about her and Bran, which I found positive. The portrayal of strong family bonds continues to be a notably good thing about the series, though the relationships were less fully realized in this book than they were in the previous installment in the series.
Content advisory: The book contains a couple of love scenes which, while not as graphic as they could be, are still fairly explicit and extremely sensual. (And, of course, extra-marital.) There is also some violent and gory content, including a disturbing amputation scene.