This is an extraordinary novel that once I started reading it, found it hard to tear myself away from. Actually, I didn’t read this book – I devoured it – greedily. In Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins, a masterful storyteller, presents us with a rich and detailed historical fantasy featuring a poisoned king, his five very different daughters, and a land in existential and leadership crisis.
Drawing on her vast knowledge and love of Anglo-Saxon England, Wilkins gives us a vivid and diverse world where faith, magic and individuals collide and geographical borders are only as strong as the leader enforcing them. When the King of Thyrsland lapses into a magic-induced sleep, suspicion turns not so much outwards as one would expect, but inwards towards his family. His eldest daughter, the formidable warrior, the wonderfully named Bluebell, determines to rescue her father from this grave enchantment – not only because she loves him dearly and blindly, but also for the sake of the kingdom she will one day inherit. Recognising the power that keeps him comatose is the wild “undermagic” and the only one who can help them is someone of their own blood, Bluebell employs her sisters’ help. Along with her mostly unwilling siblings, she embarks on a journey to find a cure and in doing so bring the kingdom back from the brink of war. Tall, scarred, strong, capable and tattooed, Bluebell inspires loyalty and loathing in equal measure, and not just from her men or the enemies she encounters but, as she’s to learn, from those closest to her as well.
What Bluebell doesn’t bargain on is her sisters and the terrible secrets they hide, secrets that have the potential to not only undo her intentions, but tear the family apart as well.
While this is at one level a quest novel, the journey the main characters undertake is not simply physical, but psychological and emotional. So it is with Bluebell and her sisters who are also forced to examine the past and their own choices, in relation to the present and, indeed, the future. Mostly estranged from each other, they’re presented to the reader as three-dimensional characters with their flaws, foibles and strengths on display. Whether it’s the unhappily married mother, Rose, the mystic Ash, or the twins, the sanctimonious Willow and hormone-charged Ivy (both of whom you often want to slap in the face), they feel real and whole and thus you can appreciate the choices they make, even when you wince or wonder why. Complicated, and passionate, the shifting viewpoint in the novel allows us to get to know each of them over the course of the story and you find yourself allying with one then another, or despairing at what you know the outcome will be… only, in typical Wilkins’ fashion, you don’t know. They are not always likeable either, and I love that Wilkins has taken such a risk as making her major characters unattractive at times – just like real life. You may not always like them, but you do understand them – this is clever writing that doesn’t condescend to readers.
This is also where Wilkins excels as a novelist, in her ability to present readers not only with a terrific tale, but with complex, fascinating characters with their own rationale for action, gently exposing the deep motivations that drive them, even if they take a little while to be revealed. But it’s not only the women who are represented this way either. Daughters of the Storm also has some wonderful and imperfect male characters as well – from the slumbering king, to the bitter Wylm, the brutish Raven King, Hakon, the lonely undermagician, and the love-lorn Heath.
With a kicker-twist at the end, this is a marvellous book and my only disappointment is that I have to wait for part two of what is a simply brilliant addition to one of my favourite genres and from one of my favourite writers.