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Literature / The Sevenwaters Trilogy

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The Sevenwaters Trilogy is a series of Historical Fantasy novels written by Juliet Marillier. It is still commonly referred to as a trilogy, despite having more than three books, because the first books actually form a trilogy. The rest of the books are sequels.

The books are set in a fictional version of 9th century Ireland and focus on the Sevenwaters family, the lords and custodians of a mystical forest. The books are written in first person from the perspective of young female protagonists and emphasize romance and family relationships.

The original three books skipped a generation between each book, with the overarching political story dealing with a feud between Sevenwaters and a British family, Northwoods, over the control of a group of mystical islands. While Marillier did not originally intend to write any further books in the series, they proved to be so popular that she eventually agreed to return to Sevenwaters for another three books. The later books begin shortly after the ending of the original trilogy, and are shorter and lighter in tone.


Books in the series include:

This series provides examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Eilis marries another lord after Liam goes missing, but it’s am arranged marriage against her will. Subverted similarly with Elaine and Simon; Elaine is to marry Red after Simon’s disappearance, but never stops loving Simon. It’s implied they will eventually marry after Simon returns and Red breaks their betrothal.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Eamonn spent the majority of the trilogy trying to achieve power and influence, just like his father (even though he never knew him). He redeems himself later by saving Fainne’s life.
  • Aerith and Bob: All the names are period-appropriate, but it may seem strange to modern readers who aren’t familiar with Irish names like Sorcha, Niamh, Finbar, or Diarmid beside English ones like Ben, Richard, John, or Anne.
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  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Liadan chooses Bran (aka The Painted Man) the leader of a group of outlaws over the seemingly steady Guy Next Door Eamonn.
  • Always Someone Better: Simon feels like he lives in his brother’s shadow and his accomplishments are overlooked by everyone, but in his absence it is pretty clear that everyone at Harrowfield admires and loves him, and his supposedly Aloof Big Brother risked his life and the security of his lands to try and find him when he went missing.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: Richard (and others) threaten Sorcha by going after her dog
  • Arc Number: Seven.
  • Arranged Marriage: Niamh and Fionn in Son of the Shadows. It doesn't work out.
  • Babies Ever After: This trope comes into effect with most of the protagonists and their love interests. Sorcha is pregnant with Niamh by the end of Daughter of the Forest, and a vision she is given shows that there will be more to come. Liadan conceives Johnny early on in Son of the Shadows and gives birth later in the novel, and in Child of the Prophecy it is said that she and Bran had four sons in total after they earned their happy ending. Clodagh and Cathal have twins at the end of Seer of Sevenwaters, and Sibeal and Felix are said to have had a baby girl. In fact, the only protagonist who is not with child or does not have a child in their happy ending is Maeve, but considering the historical setting of the series and the marriage she is making, it can be expected that she will have children at some point soon.
  • Baleful Polymorph: In Daughter of the Forest, all of Sorcha’s brothers are turned into swans by their spiteful stepmother.
  • Batman Gambit: The evil plot of Heir to Sevenwaters.
  • Battle Amongst the Flames: In Child of the Prophecy. During the final battle Fianne conjures Ring of Fire to separate Johnny and his opponent from the rest of the crowd, to avoid collateral damage.
    • In Heir to Sevenwaters, Mac Dara pushes Clodagh into the river, then conjures a Ring of Fire to keep her from coming back.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Johnny's motivation (and his friends' and family's) throughout the third book: he has to win the battle and save the islands because he's the child of the prophecy. (Or is he?) Also the excuse for much meddling by the Fair Folk throughout the series.
  • Big Brother Worship: Sorcha to all her brothers, but especially Finbar, and Conor as the story progresses.
  • Blood Brothers: Aidan and Cathal are extremely close, having been raised in the same household. Of course, this also leads to them becoming Bash Brothers.
  • Blood Knight: Colum, who spends all his time fighting with his neighbors to take his mind off his dead wife. Cormack, who is eager for battle, and hotheaded Diarmid has shades of it too.
  • Burn the Witch!: Richard's favorite pastime.
  • Canine Companion: Linn was first Cormack's Loyal Animal Companion, and then Sorcha's after Cormack was turned into a swan. After she ends up at Harrowfield, Sorcha takes on Alys, previously Simon's loyal dog.
    • The chieftains of Erin (most notably Colum, Liam, Sean and Cruinn) seem to own a pair of large hunting guard dogs which follow them wherever they go. Bran when he is Lord of Harrowfield is seen to also own two dogs.
  • The Caretaker: Sorcha, first to Simon then to her brothers.
    • In Son of the Shadows after Liadan discovers that Niamh is being abused by her husband she takes steps to free Niamh from him and make sure of her safety and well-being. Niamh is so broken that she cannot look after herself properly, so Liadan has to.
  • Character Death: Plenty during the course of the series. A lot of previous-generation characters end up dying in future books, either from old age or illness, or from something else entirely.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: An unfortunate complication that comes with the name Eamonn.
  • Cycle of Revenge: The feud between Sevenwaters and Northwoods
  • Dead Guy Junior: Niamh, Cormack, Eilis and Finbar are recurring names, and these are just the ones born after their namesakes are dead.
  • Deal with the Devil: Clodagh offers to spend a night with Mac Dara just so she can gain access to Cathal’s room, knowing that she might have to make good on her promise if she doesn’t escape.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Mac Dara's murder of Aidan in Heir to Sevenwaters.
    • In Son Of The Shadows Dog admits to having feelings for Liadan who gently rebuffs him and falls for Bran instead. Dog is slain in battle almost immediately thereafter, preventing his feelings from becoming an issue.
  • The Determinator: Liadan. Despite constantly being told by the Fair Folk and Conor that she cannot have both her lover and her son in her life, she never listens to them and makes her own choices which eventually lead her to a future with both Bran and Johnny in it.
    • Also Gull, during the escape from Sidhe Dubh in Son of the Shadows.
    • Sorcha, due to her unwillingness to give up her quest to break her brothers' curse, even when threatened with death.
    • Clodagh can be counted as well as she refuses to give up on Cathal when he is trapped in the Otherworld and risks her life to rescue him from Mac Dara.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Red says this almost word-for-word.
  • Elemental Powers: Sibeal manipulates fire and Cathal manipulates water.
  • Everyone Can See It: Sexual tension between main characters is almost always obvious to the observers before the participants.
  • Evil Matriarch: Oonagh.
  • Evil Uncle: Red's Uncle Richard.
  • The Fair Folk: Often as patrons rather then enemies but they are scary and incomprehensible. And they do have the normal amiable habits of kidnapping mortals and returning them years later.
  • Feminist Fantasy
  • Fiery Redhead: Averted with Eilis Redbeard, Red and Ciaran, but played straight with Oonagh, Fainne, Sorcha's daughter Niamh, Clodagh and her twin Deirdre, Maeve, and the younger Eilis.
  • Fighting Irish: Sorcha's father, who pours his heart and soul into "campaigning" against their neighbors to fill the void left by the death of his wife. Most of Sorcha's older brothers, to one degree or another; justified in that they live in a medieval setting when nobles would all learn to capably defend themselves, and they have an on-again off-again war with their neighbors and the Britons. Her family ends up in danger quite a lot.
  • Final Battle: In Child of the Prophecy.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Simon falls in love with Sorcha while she's treating his injuries.
    • Felix falls for Sibeal in the same way.
  • Forever War: Every tribe against, well, every other tribe. Subverted with the Sevenwaters-Northwoods feud, as it does eventually end after the events of Child of the Prophecy.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Darragh, with his affinity for horses. There's also Maeve, who despite her crippled hands can calm down any skittish horse she comes into touch with, and also displays a closeness with animals in general, seen when she takes in a pair of abandoned dogs and gives them shelter and food (and even names them). She ends up caring for them deeply, and is frightened for them when they are threatened by the Fair Folk near the end of Flame of Sevenwaters.
    • There's also Padriac, who has an entire barnful of animals which he has helped and healed from an injury or illness at one point or another. He is heartbroken when the lady Oonagh kills all his animals out of spite, knowing that he cares for them. Sorcha has shades of it too, though she’s mostly good with plants and her way with animals is mostly limited to dogs.

  • Functional Magic: There are several varieties, all important to the plots of each book, though it’s all very mythic and neither the characters or the reader are ever given a real explanation of how it works. Some of it in inherent to The Fair Folk, some is of the unexplained inherent gift variety (such as Sorcha, Finbar, and Conor’s telepathic powers), some seems to be learned (such as Oonagh’s powers, which seem to operate by specific rules), and some seems to be tuned to nature and the ancient priesthood (as in Conor’s fledgling Druidic abilities).
  • Generational Saga: Each book in the original trilogy takes place a generation after the previous one.
  • Genre Savvy: Sorcha's brothers use this to figure out why she can't speak. At one point, they compare their own situation to The Children of Lir, which the plot of the novel is actually based off of...
  • Good Shepherd: interestingly both Pagan and Christian religious leaders often come off well. Conor, Sorcha's brother is studying to be a Druid, Father Brien is Sorcha's mentor and fellow healer and when Hugh returns after finding Sorcha in a pitiful state, some nuns care for her and give Hugh sage advice about the difficulties of dealing with a Shell Shocked rape victim(that is only one of her problems but that is the one they recognize). When Richard tries to Burn the Witch!, a local bishop is one of the ones more skeptical of his charge.
  • Happily Married: Margery and John. In the last chapter of Daughter of the Forest, Sorcha and Red.
    • All the main couples end up being this. Liadan and Bran are Happily Married after the events of Son of the Shadows, just like Fainne and Darragh are happily wed after Child of the Prophecy (though they never have a formal handfasting). The same goes for Clodagh and Cathal, Sibeal and Felix, and Maeve and Bear.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Several examples.
  • Heroic BSoD: When the siblings return to Sevenwaters, Colum is in the midst of one of these, having lost every single member of his family as well as his allies.
  • Heroic Bystander: In the final battle, both Eamonn and Finbar step in to prevent Oonagh from killing more people after watching most of the action. One finds that Death Equals Redemption and the other is finally freed of his curse because of it.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Finbar, who sacrifices his own life to save Ciaran from being killed by Oonagh in the final battle for the Islands, and arguably Eamonn, who Takes A Bullet for Fainne in the very same battle.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Hugh and Sorcha. Sorcha is tiny compared to Red.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All six books use a The X of Y style, and each trilogy has a pattern:
  • Incest Is Relative: Niamh and Ciaran, her mother's half-brother. Though their family forbade it (and indeed actively sought to separate them) they continue their relationship anyway.
  • Infant Immortality: Baby Johnny in Daughter of the Forest is rescued from a fire, and between books survives an outlaw attack and living with a man who had no qualms about killing his own wife. In Son of the Shadows, the guards make clear that they'd take care of baby Johnny after they murdered his parents. And in Heir to Sevenwaters, the villain actually tries to kill Becan, but he's brought back to life.
    • This trope is subverted with Sean and Aisling's twin sons, first mentioned in Child of the Prophecy, who were likely born quite premature and were said to have lived less than a day.
  • In Harmony with Nature: This seems to be a theme with magic practitioners, Fainne and Ciaran included.
  • Instant Messenger Pigeon: Fiacha the raven in Son of the Shadows.
  • Intelligence = Isolation: Conor is frequently consulted and is considered the most knowledgeable of the Sevenwaters folk. Ciaran is also portrayed as an extremely intelligent man. Both of them live in almost complete isolation from other people.
  • Interspecies Romance: Cathal is descended from the Fair Folk and the Sea People. Clodagh doesn’t seem to care.
    • In Flame of Sevenwaters, we have the romance between the human Maeve and Bear, a human bewitched into the form of a dog. Since the entire romance goes on while Bear is a dog, this trope comes into effect.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Fainne and Darragh; she refuses to even tell him that she's interested to divert the attention of her evil grandmother.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: Oonagh uses this threat against Fainne to the point where it starts to get old. She takes it to the next level during the final battle, just to be a jerk.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Bran in Son of the Shadows, and Cathal in Heir to Sevenwaters, though both grow noticeably less Jerkass as their relationship with their beloveds goes along.
  • Kissing Cousins: Simon and Elaine, who are implied to have married after the events of Daughter of the Forest.
  • Lap Pillow: Darragh to Fianne.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: In Son of the Shadows, Liadan gets pregnant with Bran's child during her first time having sex, and gives birth later in the book. On the opposite side of the spectrum we have, for instance, Muirrin and her husband Evan. Both fairly young, both wanted children, but she only got pregnant as of Seer of Sevenwaters, after six years of marriage.
  • Love Hurts
  • Love Makes You Evil: Eamonn.
  • Lucky Seven
  • Magical Incantation
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Everyone’s attitude towards Red and Sorcha’s marriage, since both the Irish and British think of each other as superstitious savages. The animosity and disbelief are somewhat justified since their cultures are at war with each other. Sorcha’s family eventually accepts it once they understand that their feelings for each other are genuine.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Oonagh and Richard are both prime examples.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Although the setup is incredibly inconvenient for the characters, Sorcha and Hugh’s marriage qualifies; they wed so that his family will be obligated to protect her while he is absent and unable to defend her in person. Since his family’s main objection to her is her Irish blood, this is also a variation of Citizenship Marriage. It doesn’t really work, thanks to Hugh’s Evil Uncle, who just cooks up a scheme to get Sorcha framed for adultery in addition to sorcery.
    • Honorable Marriage Proposal becomes a Discussed Trope when most of the household assumes Hugh married Sorcha because he got her pregnant (though in reality they’d never slept together, and it eventually becomes obvious she’s not pregnant).
    • Given their, at this point, unexpressed (in the bride’s case, unrealized) feelings for each other, this also qualifies as Marriage Before Romance.
  • The Medic: Sorcha
    • Conor also steps into this role at various points, though never as prominently as Sorcha.
    • Liadan is also an active healer, having had her mother as a mentor and major influence. In Son of the Shadows she attempts to heal a member of Bran's band who has lost use of his arm, but he dies anyway.
  • Relative Error: Sorcha meets up with Conor outside Harrowfield on one of the nights her brothers are human; they are caught embracing by Richard, who (since she is married to Red at this point) instantly accuses Sorcha of adultery and uses this as an excuse to get rid of her. This being Richard, it’s hard to know whether he legitimately thought Conor was Sorcha’s secret lover—he graphically exaggerated the story of their embrace to falsehood when he accused her—but he definitely did not have any reason to think he was her enchanted, long-lost brother and didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the situation.
  • More Than Mind Control
  • Mugging the Monster: Several outlaws gang-rape Sorcha. They of course pick just the day when her brothers are in human form. Her brothers of course are all trained by the war leader of an Irish clan chief. Guess what happens when they find out.
  • Multigenerational Household: This is almost a Sevenwaters staple. In later books, Conor and Ciaran’s visits mean that three generations are under the same roof at the same time.
  • Nature Hero: Sorcha is a downplayed version of this. She likes playing in the forest but isn't a recluse as such; the long time she spent living in the forest alone was for a specific purpose and she returns to humanity when that is complete.
  • Never Found the Body: Simon, who was held captive by the Fair Folk for three years.
  • Never Suicide: Niamh, who was actually murdered by Oonagh in Child of the Prophecy and Firinne, who was killed by Mac Dara in Heir to Sevenwaters.
  • Noble Savage: The Irish are a subversion. They may be more In Harmony with Nature but they are still as savage as they are noble.
  • Not Brainwashed: Oonagh likes to try this.
  • One-Woman Wail: Foreshadowed multiple times throughout the trilogy. Irish women have apparently mastered the Skyward Scream.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Red. His real name, Hugh, is only used by his mother.
    • Bran, the Painted Man. No one calls him by his birth name, which is 'Johnny', not even Liadan, his wife. To his men, he is known as 'the Chief'; to the general public, he is known as the Painted Man, or Bran of Harrowfield (or just simply Bran). In Son of the Shadows Bran even states that it had been so long since he'd heard his birth name that he'd almost forgotten what it was.
  • Parental Abandonment: In Daughter of the Forest, Lord Colum's wife is dead and he allows the household staff to bring up his children. Disappeared parents are the reason for Bran's dark past and Cathal's angst. Also happens with Ciaran, although he was probably better off that way...
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Since the books are set in the Middle Ages, this one is always a hurdle. Actually exercised by Richard when Elaine wants to marry Simon, and by Niamh's whole family when she wants to marry Ciaran.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Liam and Eilis, though Liam disappears under the swan enchantment before they can actually be married.
    • Illan and Deirdre's marriage in Heir to Sevenwaters.
  • Please Don't Leave Me: Since he's a "tough guy", Bran says it without the "please."
  • The Powerof Love
  • The Power of Trust: This is basically the theme of Sorcha and Red's relationship arc.
    • It's played the same way in Liadan and Bran's relationship arc.
  • Private Military Contractors: Bran & Co.
  • Psychic Link: Sorcha and Finbar can have telepathic conversations with each other and sometimes read one another’s thoughts and emotions. Later, Conor reveals that he shares in the link, though he rarely tunes into it unless he feels it is absolutely necessary.
  • Rape as Drama: Sorcha is raped about a year and a half into her task (so mind you, she’s barely fourteen), and it is portrayed as being very brutal and having lasting effects on her psyche, including her ability to interact with men—even her brothers, whom she adores and trusts totally. It’s never completely behind her, even once she forms a loving and intimate relationship with Red at the end.
    • It's not graphically shown, but when Liadan goes into Niamh's mind in Sidhe Dubh, she sees memories of Fionn raping Niamh through Marital Rape License.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Bran. Okay, he wasn't related to the abusive adoptive father, but coming from a seven-year-old this is still disturbing.
  • Selkies and Wereseals: Darragh is turned into a selkie by the Fae. It's implied in Flame of Sevenwaters that his children have inherited this trait from him and swim with him to the shore of Erin whenever they are in selkie form.
  • Shapeshifting: Both Fainne and Oonagh are masters of this. Fainne in particular is a master of the Full-Body Disguise, from altering her appearance to changing herself into animals.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Margery makes Sorcha a rich blue gown as a thank-you for delivering her baby. Upon walking in on Sorcha trying it on, Ben wolf-whistles her, and Red actually stops mid-sentence to stare.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Liadan falls in love with the leader of the mercenaries who kidnap her. The reverse is also true, with apparently the entire crew experiencing Lima Syndrome.
  • The Stoic: Conor, in comparison with his other siblings. He tends more towards Tranquil Fury than outright temper, and almost always plays the voice of reason when things get heated. Red also fits neatly under this trope, to the extent that the one time he does lose his temper, it’s an OOC moment that is very telling.
    • Stoicism is diametrically opposed to Sorcha’s natural personality, but due to her curse, she is forced into behavior that makes her look like this—not crying, laughing, defending herself, et cetera, making her a Stoic Woobie given the extreme circumstances she endures.
  • The Storyteller: Sorcha in Daughter of the Forest. Liadan in Son of the Shadows. Clodagh is also considered reasonably good at tale-telling— her well-thought-out ending to Wolf-boy's story earns her the respect of old Willow, who is made of this trope.
  • Tangled Family Tree: All you have to do is take a look at the family tree in the beginning of Seer of Sevenwaters. A flow chart might not even help in this case.
    • It’s even more tangled when you consider Evan and Cathal, one of whom has a black father and the other who has an Otherworld father. Everyone Is Related here.
  • Token Minority: Gull.
  • Tomboy Princess: Sorcha prefers running around in the forest and playing with her brothers to being dressed up like a doll by Oonagh.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Clodagh starts off as a normal child, interested in household duties and taking care of her family. She then journeys to the Otherworld, bargains with a multitude of powerful and magical creatures, saves her brother, then goes back to the Otherworld to save Cathal. The two of them then proceed to trick Mac Dara, the king of tricks and lies. Twice.
  • Twin Telepathy: Liadan and Sean, Clodagh and Deirdre.
  • The Unpronounceable: Fainne's name is pronounced "Fawn-ya"
    • Pretty much all the names, save for Briton names, are hard to pronounce. Likely owing to their Gaelic and Celtic roots, which has sounds and pronunciations not traditionally found in English.
  • Trilogy Creep
  • True Companions: Red, Ben, and John. Sorcha and her brothers as well, with a few rough patches.
  • Vain Sorceress: Oonagh.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Oonagh and Fainne have this power
  • Whole Plot Reference: The first book is very heavily based off the ancient Irish fairy tale The Children of Lir. It's also known in versions by The Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.
  • Wicked Stepmother: The Lady Oonagh.
  • Words Can Break My Bones
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Toyed with; Finbar has terrible, hopeless visions of the future and is convinced they will come true; Sorcha insists he may be wrong. Since it’s only the first book of the series, the final results of his visions are not yet clear but at least some of Finbar’s specific interpretations (like Sorcha failing in her Impossible Task) turn out to be incorrect.
  • You Can Keep Her: Oonagh's response when Richard tries to get a ransom for Sorcha (although that's not all Oonagh asks for).
  • Your Cheating Heart: It’s implied that Oonagh was getting what she wanted not only by using her sorcerous powers, but also by sleeping her way around the neighboring lords’ bedchambers. She teaches Fainne this skill in Child of the Prophecy, to help Fainne in her mission to thwart the plans of the Fair Folk.

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