Note that the following review may contain minor spoilers for the book and series.
Seer of Sevenwaters is the fifth installment of the Sevenwaters series by Juliet Marillier. It comprises the journey of Sibeal, the fifth daughter of Sean and Aisling, who is studying to become a druid. Before she can make her vows, however, she is sent by her tutor Ciarán to Inis Eala where two of her sisters (Clodagh and Muirrin) live. She is to stay with them for a few months before she is to decide whether she wants to follow the druid path or not.
First of all, Marillier is one of my favorite authors, which is why it’s so hard for me to be critical of her work. However, this was the book that I least enjoyed in the series. I adored every single one of the prequels, even if some did not win me over right at the beginning. This one was incapable of doing that.
Marillier wrote most of it during her cancer treatment, which may account as for the why I didn’t feel the usual joy and vibrancy in her words, nor did I feel the least bit enthusiastic about most things going on in the story. Or maybe it was something else entirely.
The writing, although as beautiful as always, lacks life. Melody. Enchantment. Feeling. It’s like the author forced herself to keep going forward even though she was not inclined to do so. Its structure is perfect, but the narrative is not compelling. It’s a shell, hollow and resonant of its own emptiness.
The whole novel feels detached from the previous ones, which were all so unique and spirited, obfuscating everything else in the YA fantasy scene at the time. They are all set in early medieval Ireland and Britain and introduced intricate female characters with fiery personalities and enthralling storylines. The series spans over four generations of the Sevenwaters family tree and is known for its strong Celtic folklore and historical influences – elements that were still highly unexplored back in 1999.
But even when these novels became darker than expected, with surprisingly painful and emotionally demanding scenes, there was always some optimism, some prospect at the end to keep the reader eager to find out more. This one did the exact opposite.
Sibeal was very plain to me, despite the general opinion of most characters. She was not very captivating nor relatable and even though I did admire some of her traits, they did not convince me. The author tried to explain her personality and why she was the way she was, being an aspiring druid and a shy person. But it simply did not click with me.
Everything she did or experienced was often boring and uninspiring. She had always been a sort of oddball in her family, but she had never actually been given enough screen time before for me to form an opinion of her. She was always in the background, never truly noticeable. And that was fine because that was not her role at the time. But I expected a little more here.
The only exciting part of the story had nothing to do with her, which is clearly problematic seeing as she is the main character and half of the book is told in her point of view. I felt more compelled to read about Svala and the Nordics than Sibeal and her people. It was the only (sub)plot that actually made you expectant and holding your breath, rooting for things to end well. Otherwise, it was all so very bleak and dull.
The romance was uninspiring and predictable, and it ruined the story a little in my opinion. There was no actual spark or chemistry between the people involved, and the people involved were not interesting enough for me to feel like I should care whether it worked out between them or not. Everything was just very tame and dispassionate. In comparison to the fierce and unforgettable bonds established in previous instalments, this one felt more like a weak plot device used to steer Sibeal’s destiny rather than a complement to an already great story.
Again, I understand this was not a good time for Marillier to be writing. At least not about Sevenwaters. As a reader, I felt much of the sadness and loss of hope (probably her own during that difficult period of her life) in this story, through mostly Felix and Sibeal. It was a very depressing read at times, and I didn’t understand why at first. Was it the subject? Was it the fact that the character was indeed very ill and discouraged? It just didn’t feel like the rest of the series and it bothered me. It dragged on and on and sometimes I just didn’t feel like reading it at all. I longed for it to be over, actually, so I could move on to better reads.
It picked up a bit of pace towards the end, and I enjoyed it a lot more then. But had I been an impatient person and I would have not given the book another chance to redeem itself.
Seer of Sevenwaters is not Marillier’s best work but it definitely is an intriguing one, with lots of introspective moments from the author herself. You will need to read it to finish the series, so I suggest you prepare yourself for what is to come. The book takes you out of your Sevenwaters fantasy for a while and into darker territories, which may or may not appeal to certain readers. It can get very gloomy, very fast.
If you’re a fan, like me, you’ll want to get into it anyway. It’s practically a ritual that you are not allowed to skip. But don’t expect it to ring faithful to any of her previous work, or you’ll be disappointed.
You can listen to an audio sample here.
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Tell me your thoughts on this book or, if you haven’t read it yet, whether this review has inspired you to try it. Happy reading!