Son of the Shadows
by Juliet Marillier
The forests of Sevenwaters have cast their spell over Sorcha’s daughter Liadan, who, like her mother, has inherited the talent to heal and to see into the spirit world. The forest spirits warn Liadan that she must remain for ever at Sevenwaters if the sacred isles are to be won back from the Britons who took them by force. For the Lord and Lady of the forest spirits have seen in Liadan’s future a doomed romance, death; a child; and a terrible choice to be made.
Liadan is taken captive by the Painted Man, who is revealed to be a man quite unlike his legend. Liadan is drawn to him, despite the ancient prophesy of doom, but can she reclaim her life and defy the spirits, or will a curse fall upon Sevenwaters because of her forbidden love? Will the fight for the sacred isles end in tragedy?
Check out my review of Daughter of the Forest!
If you saw me gushing about Daughter of the Forest, then I imagine you’re just as surprised as I am that I’ve rated this sequel so low.
Man, I really didn’t like this book. So strap yourselves in, guys – it’s time for a rant (with mild spoilers).
Son of the Shadows opens some years after Daughter of the Forest and follows 16 year old Liadan, the youngest daughter of Sorcha who was the heroine of Daughter of the Forest. One of the things that most attracted me to the Sevenwaters series is that each book focuses on a different family member in a different generation, so even though it is a series each book has the benefit of reading like a standalone with a complete story.
Let’s just say I really wish Daughter of the Forest had remained a standalone.
Liadan is basically Sorcha 2.0, only nowhere near as interesting plus annoying and self-righteous as hell. Not only does she share her mother’s skills with healing, but she also even looks identical to her. Unlike her mother, she doesn’t seem to care at all about her siblings. But we’ll get onto that in a moment.
To be honest the whole plot of Son of the Shadows basically feels like a repeat of Daughter of the Forest – young woman is taken captive by enemy men only to fall in love with one of them and discover that even your enemies are people, le gasp – but it’s not as tightly woven or as well-plotted or even as well-written. (Although, in Marillier’s defence, it wasn’t badly written, and considering this book is over 600 pages and I was basically hate-reading it by the end, it was still very easy to read.)
A group of what are essentially mercenaries, led by a mysterious figure known as the Painted Man, have been terrorising the noble houses of Ireland, including Liadan’s family at Sevenwaters. They can be bought to kill, and kill well, for anyone, whether they be Irish, Briton, Pict or Norman. While accompanying her older sister Niamh on her journey to her new home following her marriage, Liadan is taken captive by these men because one of their own is injured and meets the Painted Man.
But before I get into that hot mess, let’s go back to the older sister I mentioned. Why? Because I am so angry at how this novel and all the characters in it treated Niamh.
Unlike her perfect little sister, Niamh longs for a life where she isn’t married off to the highest bidder like a prized goat. Considering what Sorcha went through in Daughter of the Forest, I was convinced that, surely, she and Red would never let one of their own children go through any such thing.
BOY WAS I WRONG.
Niamh isn’t interested in the healing arts like Liadan is, she’s pretty and she knows she’s pretty and she enjoys being pretty and, do you know what, that’s fine. Can she be a bit of a cow from time to time? Yes, of course, but so can any 18 year old. When we first meet Niamh she’s so comfortable in her own skin that I immediately wished I was reading from her point of view rather than Liadan’s, I so wanted to hear from someone who wasn’t trying to be Sorcha.
Niamh falls in love with someone she eventually finds out she’s forbidden to be with. Her family have good reason for this, but instead of explaining the reasons to her, she’s made to feel like worthless ‘damaged goods’ who must be wed off to some Irish lord she’s never met who’s twice her age and clearly a dickhead. Niamh and Liadan’s brother, Sean, even hits her and never apologises or acknowledges it was something he shouldn’t have done.
When the family later see Niamh again she’s a shadow of the woman she was at the beginning of the novel, abandoned by her family and abused by her arsehole husband, and her whole family can’t understand what’s wrong. Are you serious? In what world would Sorcha, who suffered a horrendous sexual assault, and Red, who we learn at the beginning of the novel has taught his daughters how to defend themselves alongside his son as a result, allow their daughter to be married off like that for the sake of a political alliance?
The big kicker, though, is that condescending, holier-than-thou Liadan ends up falling in love with the Painted Man and falling pregnant. When she returns home and tells her family, they’re totally fine with it.
What?! So you’re telling me Niamh, who didn’t get pregnant, had to be married off to avoid scandal, but it’s perfectly alright for Liadan to have a baby outside of wedlock? Talk about favouritism!
Liadan herself even scolds Niamh at one point when her sister says she wished she’d fallen pregnant with her lover’s baby, and Liadan tells her it’s a good job she didn’t do something so silly – while she herself is pregnant with her lover’s baby! Her hypocrisy knows no bounds and I hate her.
Even worse, Liadan’s relationship with the Painted Man is complete garbage. She knows him for 6 days and he’s a wanker for 5 and a half of them.
I’ve seen so many other reviewers say this is their favourite book in the series because of the romance – and hey, different strokes for different folks – but I hated it. He’s horrible to Liadan, when he isn’t busy feeling sorry for himself because of his Tragic Past™, and the worst thing is I know Marillier can do slowburn romance well because she did it in Daughter of the Forest.
But it doesn’t matter if Liadan’s own love interest doesn’t like very much, because every other character in this damn novel thinks the sun shines out of her arse. I don’t think I have ever read a book where so many secondary characters praised the main character at every possible opportunity. Don’t tell me that your heroine’s great – show me and make me believe it!
I was also incredibly disappointed with Sorcha and Red in this novel. Not only for how they treated Niamh, but how little they were there. I didn’t expect this book to be about them – it’s not their story anymore – but to be honest they might as well have not been included at all, because Sorcha in particular didn’t feel like the Sorcha I knew.
Basically, if you somehow hadn’t already guessed, I despised this novel. I don’t care about Liadan at all and I want justice for Niamh. I loved Daughter of the Forest so I won’t be continuing with this series – I don’t want the rest of the books to ruin it for me.