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Seer of Sevenwaters (or how a strong, interesting character was compromised) - Forest of Slieve Gullion [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Forest of SevenWaters

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Seer of Sevenwaters (or how a strong, interesting character was compromised) [Jan. 26th, 2011|03:24 am]
Forest of SevenWaters


[Current Mood |annoyedannoyed]

Let me begin my brief, subjective review of Seer of Sevenwaters with this: I love Juliet Marillier. She is, hands down, my favourite fantasy author. Despite my criticism of any of the Sevenwaters books, I have always found the female characters to be strong, independent and interesting. I believe the previous books in the series to be well written, wonderful, touching books.

Seer of Sevenwaters was not. In fact, it was melodramatic, "stand by your man", sexist crap that I was hoping to avoid with this addition to the Sevenwaters series.

Let's start with Sibeal, since she our protagonist. Sibeal was introduced to the series one book previously in Heir to Sevenwaters. We only meet her briefly, but long enough to know that she is a seer and she will probably be the focus of the next Sevenwaters book.

Sibeal's character "development" was a disappointment. Instead of her character progressing, she regressed from a strong, interesting character to an annoying, boy-obsessed teenager who was compromised in two or three short months. Sibeal had a tonne of potential: she was intelligent, level headed, calm and not a carbon copy of Marillier's characters beforehand. But what I was most excited about was the fact that Marillier could actually be writing a female character who had another purpose in life than to meet the "one", the "other half" or her "soulmate". I was excited by the prospect of there being a Sevenwaters heroine who cared enough about something else other than her "man".

Sibeal had been training in the nemetons of Sevenwaters, under Ciaran's care, to become a druid. It was her calling and she loved it. It was a part of her and she was the ear to the gods. Sibeal is also a seer who occasionally has visions and is apt at scrying.

Sibeal was constantly berated while on Inis Eala by all the women and men around her about her decision. No matter where she turned, people (men and women alike, including her sister) were silently judging her for her decision to follow a druidic path. They all just rolled their eyes because, come on, how could a woman possibly be happy without getting married and having children?! It's all that matters, right?! Well, according to this book, you're not a complete woman unless you're married and with child!

In the beginning, I felt like it was somewhat of a commentary on the sort of sexist ideal that a woman cannot be complete and happy with her life unless there is some sort of "soulmate" involved.

But, that all changed when Felix (aka: the worst male character written in history) washed upon the shores of Sevenwaters, half dead.

I will explain why Felix is the worst character of all time: he is annoying, entitled and selfish. Your crew left some crewman on an abandoned isle with a giant, man-eating sea serpent guarding it? WE HAVE TO GO BACK DESPITE PUTTING AN ENTIRE OTHER CREW IN DANGER (Jack Shephard style)! You get a crush on a young girl becoming a druid who clearly has other things going for her in life than marriage and children? HOW DARE SHE! I WILL APPROACH HER MENTOR BEHIND HER BACK AND GET ANGRY! I WILL CONSTANTLY EXPRESS HOW MUCH I LOVE HER! I WILL FALL INTO THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR AND ACT LIKE A MOODY CHILD WHEN SHE DOESN'T ACCEPT ME THE FIRST THREE TIMES!

How is it realistically possible, fantasy novel or not, for these two individuals to fall in love? Not only is Felix practically a corpse for his first month on Inis Eala without the ability to speak, but in total Felix and Sibeal have only known each other over the course of the summer. Sibeal doesn't know a scrap about him until his outburst in the infirmary after Knut tries to assassinate him. She makes up all these ideas about him in her head and applies them to him.

And honestly, what is so great about Felix that makes Sibeal want to give up her life's dream at the drop of a hat? I can't see it. There is nothing to his character. He was never particularly interesting and it seems like the moment he could speak he was overly expressing fondness for Sibeal in a creepy way.

The way Sibeal and Felix talked about each other nearing the end of the novel honestly made me sick.

Ciaran, I love Felix. I love him with my whole heart. He has transformed my life. Up until this summer, I never had the slightest doubt about my vocation. ... I love the gods, and I believe they still call me to their service. But I love this man too; I want to be his wife and bear his children (WTF?!). I want the sort of life Clodagh has, full of tenderness and passion and surprises (because apparently you can't have that unless you have man and have babies). - Sibeal (with my occasional commentary)

You probably dismiss it as young love, a passion that burns brightly and is soon over (which it is, but hey), a candle flame that gutters and dies at the first cold draft. But it's not like that. Please believe me. Felix and I belong together (this is really creepy of her to say). I love him as my counterpart, my perfect completion - Sibeal (with my annoyed commentary, again)

How exactly is this a positive message for women to be reading? Don't worry about your life's work, toss it all away for a man! It may be a struggle, but you'll never be complete and have a life full of passion without him~

Felix is constantly possessive of Sibeal in an Edward Cullen-like way throughout this novel. From his thoughts about her, to his body language around her to the way he addressees Ciaran about her... it's all very "Sibeal is mine and she is the only thing that will make me happy". When he is discouraged from pursuing a relationship, he becomes incredibly moody, childish and irritating. He even so much says that he hates Ciaran, simply because he is a male character that Sibeal is close with and Felix sees him as an "obstacle" from getting what he wants.

Felix is the least fleshed out character in any of Marillier's novels. I don't believe I could care any less than I already do about his back story and I don't care for his personality, either. I don't like how he is used as a plot device to have Marillier wave her opinions on ~true love conquering all over hard work, dedication and loving your vocation/career/whatever.

Juliet Marillier lost an incredible opportunity to show her readers that she could write more than unrealistic fantasy romance novels revolving around barely believable couples. She could have written a strong female character who found friendship, but chose to pursue her vocation. Instead, she opted to diminish a woman's choice to not be domestic by writing Sibeal into an unrealistic and unbelievable relationship where, in the end, she decides to leave the nementons and marry her ~one true love after two months of knowing him.

I was incredibly disappointed with this book. I exclaimed out loud, numerous times while reading, "I hate this fucking book." The only reason I continued reading it was the small hope that maybe it would pick up and get better.
It was predictable, poorly constructed and not quite as wonderful, heartfelt and lovable as the previous books in the Sevenwaters series. I would suggest that any lovers of Sevenwaters avoid reading this book all together and pray that it ends here.

In my opinion, it was best left at a trilogy (although, I do love Heir to Sevenwaters).

Haha, alright, I got that out of my system. I just finished reading the book not even twenty minutes ago. I apologize if there are any glaring grammatical errors present in my review.

[User Picture]From: dolorosa_12
2011-01-26 03:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this review. It's helped me articulate some things that I've been feeling about Marillier's books.

I've been getting increasingly annoyed with Marillier with each new book (things really started to go downhill with Heart's Blood in my opinion, although the quality of the Bridei books was a bit uneven too). The thing that really bothers me is that her ideas actually do have potential, but she squanders that potential by rigidly adhering to a formula.

Seer could've been a quite interesting exploration of the tensions between the active and the contemplative life (the link is to a blog that discusses these concepts from a Christian perspective, but they could be understood as relating to any set of religious beliefs, not just Christianity), which is, on some level, what many of Marillier's books are about.

The problem is that because she is forced into this rigid romance formula, she has to make the 'active' life be symbolised by marriage and childbirth. (Broadly speaking, all her books have this tension between wanting to stay safely at home/in the spiritual realm and wanting to be in the world/married. Usually this is resolved by the love interest being incorporated in to the Sevenwaters family and brought into the family home.) But it could equally be healing and medicine, running a household, working in some capacity or whatever. In some ways, it might've been more interesting if Sibeal's journey was entirely personal, if the struggle was between living a completely contemplative life as a druid and working as a healer in some capacity in the Sevenwaters community, and that she came to realise that each was an equally valid was to lead a spiritual life.

Does that make any kind of sense? I really appreciate your review because it reminded me that I was so annoyed at Seer because of its failed potential.
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[User Picture]From: advancedcookie
2011-01-26 04:49 pm (UTC)
It does and I completely agree with you. I was hoping this would be more of a personal novel, but in the end it wasn't - it felt cheapened by the relationship almost. Sibeal's character was completely unlikable and was making unrealistic decisions by the end of the novel.
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[User Picture]From: dolorosa_12
2011-01-26 07:50 pm (UTC)
I remember reading an old interview with Juliet Marillier and she said that in all her books she tries to write stories where there are two threats: a threat to society (or a whole family) and a threat to an individual (her protagonist), and the two threats need to be fought together. That is, her protagonists solve the broader, social problems, by solving their own personal problems.

That's all well and good, but Marillier is so enamoured of her formula (shy girl meets damaged boy) that she cannot see that it's becoming tired and that she's writing increasingly flawed, mediocre books.
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[User Picture]From: advancedcookie
2011-01-26 08:20 pm (UTC)
I am so tired of Juliet Marillier only using her female protagonists' skills and "vocational desires" to act as a set up for when they meet their "one true love". And I am tired of the "girl meets damaged boy" formula, as well.

I want to see Marillier write a novel about a strong, independent female protagonist who never once feels the need to be romantically inclined; I want to see her write about a woman who solves a great problem and defeats a foe by herself, who can stand on her own feet and solve her own problems without falling helplessly and unrealistically in love at sixteen with someone she barely knows.

I just think she should really re-read her outlines with a critical eye while asking herself, "What kind of message am I sending to women?"
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