Juliet Marillier’s Child of the Prophecy is the third book in the Sevenwaters Trilogy (but not the last to take place in Sevenwaters).
The first time I read this book, I didn’t like it. The first two books revolved around characters who were easy to admire and easy to sympathize with, whereas Fainne, the narrative character in the third book wasn’t. Sorcha and Liadan were good, strong women who were called upon to do extraordinary things with extraordinary stakes. Fainne failed to live up to this legacy. Sure, she was called on to do extraordinary things for extraordinary stakes—even bigger and grander than in the first two books—but she was neither good nor strong. Sure, she was powerful, but power is different than strength of character, and she lacked strength of character in abundance. I disliked her. I wanted her to lose. During that first read, Fainne came across as an anti-hero, and I don’t like anti-heroes.
I like heroes who are wholly good, who struggle and triumph against incredible odds. And I like heroes who are basically good, but who are deeply flawed, who must overcome a dark past in order to achieve a bright future. Nikita, for example, is a television show in which the primary hero is a woman who lived a very hard life that led her into a very dark trap—she became a killer, an assassin. The story told in the television show starts when Nikita has positioned herself to take on the organization that made her. She’s been trying to earn her redemption and set things right ever since. She makes mistakes, sometimes big ones. She does things that are morally repugnant, both in the past and in the storytelling present. But the thing of it is, Nikita is trying to do the right thing. I love Nikita! I love stories where flawed characters who are trying to do good get caught up on their dark-side hang-ups, stumbling, falling, getting up, and doing good again. I love stories that honestly depict the damage we do to one another, and yet also show people overcoming that damage to be better people.
For much of the book, Fainne in Child of the Prophecy, isn’t that type of the character. The first few times I have read the book, I couldn’t sympathize with her. However much she turns things around, however much she wants to turn things around, she’s caught up in doing bad things for bad reasons. As a stand-alone novel I might have seen a Nikita-like pattern earlier, but the first two books of the trilogy just didn’t prepare me for that pattern.
Fainne is presented as an innocent (not to be confused with “good”) girl who has been raised in semi-isolation as an outsider among simple folk, but she is triply cursed which makes her path twist and turn and corrupts her innocence with evil. First, she’s the daughter of a sorcerer. While they do not practice the black arts, they obtained their powers through tainted blood—inherited, not consumed. A long, long time ago, their ancestor was one of the Fair Folk, one who did dabble in the black arts (or something like it) and was punished—stripped of her access to the powers of light. Fainne is her descendant, and thus assumes (as does her father and grandmother) that they are also denied access to the light. They are cursed to forever walk the shadows. Second, she’s the daughter of a forbidden coupling. Her father was her mother’s half-uncle. Of course, they didn’t know that when they fell in love, but they did know it when they conceived Fainne. Fainne has a twisted foot, which is taken as a symbol of her curse. Third, her parents were subjected to a series of injustices that blighted their lives. Her father wasn’t told his own identity until it was too late, and believes he was raised not only with a lie of omission, but with a lie of purpose. See, he was raised to be a druid, a practitioner of light, but his blood denied him such a noble purpose. He only discovered this after he fell in love with his own niece, because he didn’t know she was his niece. So, he was robbed of both lover and purpose and he went away. Nobody told his lover why their love was forbidden. They married her off to, albeit unknown to them, an abusive husband, without telling her why. She believed her family and her lover had rejected and abandoned her, so when her husband began abusing her, she knew she must deserve it. Even escaping her husband and finding herself back in the arms of her lover, who explained why they’d been denied each other, even having the child she always wanted with her forbidden lover wasn’t enough to undo the damage done to her—so she, obviously, committed suicide. Her lover was left feeling inadequate and broken. Her own daughter felt rejected and worthless. All Fainne had to cling to her was her father, whom she loved.
And that’s what her grandmother used to turn her towards the darkness. And how, cursed as she was, could she deny the darkness? As much as she’d rather not do these evil things, she does them. And, in my first reading, I hated her for it. In my second and third, after I knew that she does, eventually, turn things around, I was disgusted with her for being so weak in the beginning. Only in my latest reading did I see how she was warped and shaped for this purpose, and how—in an act of great strength and courage—she overcame all that was done to her and all that she’d been forced to do, finding her way back to the light which had been denied her by generations of lies.
It’s an uncomfortable read, but it’s worth it to see how the trilogy ends, and to work your way through a character arc that is, while less admirable, worthy of the books that precede it. In the coming months I hope to learn how the subsequent books set in Sevenwaters match up.