Summary: In the land of Tir na nOg, Sive catches the eye of a sorcerer named Far Doirche who wants to use the power of her voice for evil. Her only defense is to escape his clutches by living as a deer, but as the seasons pass and Far Doirche continues to pursue her, Sive crosses over into the mortal world seeking protection from Finn mac Cumhail. She falls in love with him and becomes pregnant, but a cruel trick played by Far Doirche lands her in his grasp at last. Sive makes a deal with Far Doirche to protect her unborn child, but once Oisin is old enough to go and live with his father she becomes his slave, hoping one day to escape his clutches.
Number of Pages: 244
Age Range: 13-14
Review: Shapeshifter by Holly Bennett is a beautifully written story about Sive, a girl from the land of Tir na nOg who is blessed with a magical singing voice that can evoke powerful emotions in her listener. She is kind and gentle, and when she shapeshifts into an animal for the first time as a young woman, her animal form is that of a deer.
Unfortunately her kindness puts her in the sight of Far Doirche, a powerful sorcerer whom everyone knows has evil intentions but can’t be bothered to do anything about. Sive becomes his obsession, and when she transforms into a deer to escape her power, he hunts her relentlessly until he captures her.
But it’s much more complicated than that. Sive seeks help from a man named Finn mac Cumhail in the mortal world and their love results in her getting pregnant before being captured. Once she is pregnant Sive will do anything to protect her child, and to ensure his safety she gives herself up willingly to Far Doirche. She realises her mistake after she is forced to sing and put an entire kingdom under his spell, but the damage has been done.
I was able to follow the story Bennett was telling, although the end where Oisin, Sive’s son, ends up marrying his great aunt was a bit much. I enjoyed Bennett elaborating on a story from Irish legend and found her writing to be lyrical and detailed. Sive’s story was entertaining and engrossing, a lovely read for younger female fantasy lovers.
“The underbrush trembled, and a red doe stepped into the clearing. She froze, lifting her black nose to check Sive’s scent. Sive remained still, feeling the doe’s caution and her curiosity, feeling her thirst. After a long moment, the deer picked her way down the muddy slope to the pool. And then – Sive could not keep her heart from tripping faster in a rush of delight – a young fawn, dappled with its white baby spots, came after its mam. All spindly legs and wide brown eyes, he braced himself on the bank beside his mother and lowered his muzzle to the water, whiffling uncertainly at its cold touch.
It was a moment of pure magic, watching that fawn learn to drink. Sive was filled with joy, as though it were her own baby’s clever trick, as he stopped trying to suckle at the pool and instead lapped slowly with his tongue.” – from Shapeshifter by Holly Bennett, page 6
“‘I know,’ she said, holding up her hand to forestall his reply. ‘I know how this place looks to you. And your eyes see true. My clothes are plainly woven, the food is coarse, the house dim and clumsy. But Da’ – and now she held his eye, needing him to feel the truth of her words – ‘none it matters. I am warm and sheltered and well-fed, and now I understand the value of these things. And I am loved.’
There was no need to say more. There were, after all, few men of the Sidhe who loved with a devotion as steady as Derg’s.” – Sive from Shapeshifter by Holly Bennett, page 117
“When I understood how the Dark Man had tricked me, I was sure I would die of grief. I longed for it. But what ever all those tales of great love say, it is not so easy to die of a broken heart. The body betrays the heart and keeps it beating.” – Sive from Shapeshifter by Holly Bennett, page 140
“That’s what it was like for me, as if my heart and mind had been frozen deep in the ice and were now pulled out into the sun and thawing. But the pain of it – all those lost memories and sorrows rushing back – if Oisin hadn’t kept singing that little cradle song, don’t know if I would have had the courage to endure it. I held on to that unfurling song and let it pull me in, like a man fallen into the sea hangs on to the rope his comrades throw to him.” – Sive from Shapeshifter by Holly Bennett, Page 228
Shapeshifter by Holly Bennett is published by Orca Books, (2010).