Fans of Kate Forsyth will appreciate this tale of a young woman 15 years after she discovered the father she adored kidnapped her 16yr old mother and held her captive until the pair escaped when Helena was 12. Apparently (I say, because I’d never heard of it), there’s a (1858) Hans Christian Anderson fairytale called The Marsh King’s Daughter which centres around the child born to a princess captured by the evil Marsh King. And the plot of this book (told in the then, when Helena was young; and the now) unfolds in a way that kinda mirrors the fairytale.
When 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.
Helena’s an interesting character. She seems to be in two minds when it comes to her feelings for her father…
My father was no monster. I want to make that absolutely clear. I realize much of what he said and did was wrong. But at the end of the day, my father was only doing the best he could with what he had the same as any other parent. 2%*
My mother told me that for the first fourteen months of her captivity, my father kept her shackled to the heavy iron ring set in a corner post of the woodshed. I’m not sure I believe her. I’ve seen the handcuffs, of course; used them myself when the need arose . But why would my father go to all of the trouble of keeping her chained in the woodshed when there was no place for her to go? 2%
As an aside, I was a bit bewildered by Helena’s flippant comment about using the handcuffs herself, and kept waiting for some antisocial penchant of her own to be revealed! But I’m torn about Helena’s narrative about her father. Stockholm Syndrome is to be expected and then there’s the father / daughter bond thing. She wasn’t particularly close to her mother, but… I wasn’t really sure in the end if she really did believe what her father did (twenty-five years earlier) was wrong. Despite having 15 years in the outside world and children of her own.
I also felt sorry for him.No woman in her right mind would have willingly joined him on that ridge. When you look at the situation from his point of view, what else was he supposed to do? He was mentally ill, supremely flawed, so steeped in his Native American wilderness man person he couldn’t have resisted taking my mother if he’d wanted to. 12%
This inconsistency bothered me a little but I actually enjoyed the parts of the book set during Helena’s childhood (and her mother’s captivity) including the Native American customs her father passed onto his child.
For me the book fell down in the ‘now’ as it felt a little anticlimactic. In essence Dionne uses Helena’s father’s escape from prison to tell the story of her mother’s kidnap and Helena’s childhood, but I can’t help but think more complexity could have been added into Helena’s pursuit of her father and their encounter, which seemed rather underdone. I would also have liked to have seen more of the fallout of Helena’s past secrets in the ‘now’ and how that played out with family and friends.
I still enjoyed this read however and it will probably appeal to those with more whimsy than me and those who better appreciate the parallels between Helena’s story and that of Hans Christian Anderson’s.
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.
I received an electronic copy of this book via NetGalley from the publisher for review purposes.
* I read this on a Kindle so no page numbers, just % of progress.