Sunday, October 8, 2017

Book Review: The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne
First published in 2017
307 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5

The Short Of It:

Interesting premise but a little short on the execution.

The Long Of It:
Helena lived isolated in the Michigan wilderness for the first 12 years of her life with only her mother and father -- a kidnapped woman and her captor -- for company. Now, Helena is married with two daughters and finally feels some semblance of happiness in her life -- until her father escapes from prison and may very well be headed her way.

I started off pretty well invested in this dual narrative, which features Helena both tracking her dangerous father in present day and growing up as the half-feral child of a manipulative murderer and a meek and subservient and unsmiling woman, completely in the dark about her situation. They live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, never leave their marsh, never encounter any people, and survive without running water or electricity. All of this is totally normal to young Helena.

The first half of the book was pretty good. But then about 150 pages in, it suddenly felt tedious and boring and repetitive. I was tired of reading the phrases "my father" and "I didn't know it at the time." And Helena isn't a particularly likable protagonist as a child or an adult. I was invested in the plot, but not really her character.

Another problem I had with the book is that the cover proclaims it to be "psychological suspense." That's really not an accurate description. There's really nothing psychological about it -- no twisty-turny surprises, no unreliable narrators, no dark secrets. And it's not suspenseful either. At no point was I on the edge of my seat, blazing through pages to find out what happened next, and despite Helena's present-day hunt for her father, it never really felt like a thriller. I'd probably just bill it as fiction. Too, the writing was a bit off-and-on and I found a few grammatical errors.

However, I did really like a few things about the book. I thought it was a great decision to tell the story through Helena's eyes, even though she was a bit irritating at times. While she was naive in the ways of the world, she was ahead of her years in other ways and the narration wasn't childlike as in Emma Donoghue's "Room." Too, I enjoyed the setting. I've never read a book set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and I thought the author did a great job imbuing the atmosphere of the place, both the towns of today and the woods of Helena's childhood.

What started out as a fairly promising story ended with a bit of a whimper, and while I won't say that you shouldn't read it, I will recommend a couple other books that fall vaguely along the lines of the story with much better execution: "The Wolf Road" by Beth Lewis and "Our Endless Numbered Days" by Claire Fuller.


  1. Wonderful review! Sounds like one that would be a bit of a miss for me as well.

  2. I liked this one when I read it. However, I'm a hard sell on thrillers so I can see why you thought it was a tad flat.


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