“Before I dropped off the supermarket tabloid grid, people used to ask me what was the most incredible/amazing/unexpected thing I discovered after I joined civilization. As if their world was so much better than mine. Or that it was indeed civilized. I could easily make a case against the legitimate use of that word to describe the world I discovered at the age of twelve: war, pollution, greed, crime, starving children, racial hatred, ethnic violence - and that's just for starters”
The Marsh King’s Daughter is the fourth novel by American author, blogger and reviewer, Karen Dionne. On her way home to her school-age daughter, with her three-year-old in the car, Helena Pelletier catches the end of a news report that chills her to the bone. Jacob Holbrook has escaped from jail, killing two guards in the process. Helena is the daughter of a kidnapped girl and her captor, known as The Marsh King. Jacob Holbrook is The Marsh King.
“… I was a child. I loved my father. The Jacob Holbrook I knew was smart, funny, patient and kind. He took care of me, fed me and clothed me. Taught me everything I needed to know not only to survive in the marsh, but to thrive”. Because she spent the first twelve years of her life with this man, in the marshes of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, exposed to his Ojibwa legends, his theories, his discipline, Helena knows he can easily evade the manhunt now taking place. She knows where he’s headed and that she will have to be the one to find him. Dionne alternates the narrative between three main time periods: the present day, Helena’s twelve years in the cabin in the marsh, and the period after Helena and her mother left the marsh. The sections of cabin narrative are preceded by quotes from a translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s folk tale of the same title, and parallels between the stories are immediately apparent.
This is a thoroughly gripping tale, a true page-turner. Dionne expertly builds up the tension, then halfway through, hits the reader with a real gut punch, before racing to a heart-stopping climax. At the same time, she explores some interesting topics: the effect of being born and raised in captivity; the power of psychological coercion; and society’s resistance to the unconventional, to mention a few. As a bonus, Dionne’s descriptive prose is often exquisite.
Dionne’s characters are complex and well rendered. Her extensive research into the flora and fauna of the marshes, the seasonal changes that occur there, Indian customs and folklore, and primitive lifestyles are all abundantly evident in every chapter, but this wealth of information is presented so subtly the reader is barely aware of the knowledge assimilated. Dionne gives the reader a thriller that is thought-provoking and exciting in equal measure. This is a brilliant read.