What’s it about?
‘I was born two years into my mother’s captivity. She was three weeks shy of seventeen. If I had known then what I do now, things would have been a lot different. I would have been a lot more understanding of my mother. I wouldn’t have adored my father.’
When the notorious child abductor known as the Marsh King escapes from a maximum security prison, Helena immediately suspects that she and her two young daughters are in danger.
No one, not even her husband, knows the truth about Helena’s past: they don’t know that she was born into captivity, that she had no contact with the outside world before the age of twelve – or that her father raised her to be a killer.
And they don’t know that the Marsh King can survive and hunt in the wilderness better than anyone… except, perhaps his own daughter.
The Marsh King’s Daughter is actually an old fantasy story by Hans Christian Anderson and the author shares this old tale through several chapters in between the main story. Anderson’s story is about the child born from a Marsh King and an Egyptian princess, a girl who has two forms, frog by night and a beautiful girl by day. I won’t give away the rest though but you know how these stories go… you’ll see the similarities in the end and it’s so amazing that she used this fairy tale in her own story.
The Marsh King’s Daughter tells the story not by the girl abducted but, quite uniquely, through the voice of their offspring, a girl – now woman – called Helena who has a husband and two children herself in the present day.
This was an utterly fascinating story told in alternating timelines through Helena’s life in the present day, where she deals with her father’s escape from prison, and her first twelve years living with her mother and father in a cabin on a ridge in the wilderness. They lived in a self-proficient way and they were very resourceful which was displayed in many many ways. There was no electricity and maybe this was the thing she missed most of all when looking back. She still remembers the highlight of her fifth birthday when her mother made her a real birthday cake, made using a duck egg and bear grease. She got a doll from her mother as a present too which she shackled and used for target practice later, and from her father she received her first knife. Her father learned her to hunt, snare and trap, he learned her to swim and he gave her first tattoos. When she talks about her father I felt she genuinely loved him and looked up to him, he was her hero and she was a real daddy’s girl, and I wondered how she could be responsible then for him being in prison. In the present day though she knows the police won’t be able to catch him and she sets out to find him and lock him up again. She once was his ‘Little Shadow’ but she’s determined to outwit him at his own game again, she has learned from the best after all.
Sparsely scattered through her accounts at first but more and more so later on, situations and reactions from her father in the past were mentioned that made me frown upon and where I once even felt some kind of sympathy and perhaps even thought their life as a family wasn’t all that bad, it became crystal clear that I couldn’t be more wrong. The author made me take an enormous u-turn in my understanding of this fellow. It was a struggle though for both of us to face the reality and for her in the end, to see that he wasn’t all that she thought he was. It was a perfect love-hate relationship and the suspense in this novel is mostly brought on by the questioning if she has what it takes to stop her father. Does she really take after her father in the end?
The world building in The Marsh King’s Daughter was incredibly detailed and atmospheric, it must have taken lots of research and it was amazing to be immersed in this rugged landscape and very basic life. Her love for her three-legged dog pulled on my heart-strings plenty of times. The only scene I didn’t read entirely was the one where she and her father go deer hunting. I know it was a scene that was in line with the story but it was too difficult for me to read about this. I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed the rest of the story though. In the beginning there’s a lot to learn about her past but towards the end, when we finally learn why and how they left the ridge, it was followed by such a high rise in tension and it didn’t let up anymore.
This was an outstanding read, one I can highly recommend!
I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.