The Seventh Bride

by T. Kingfisher

Cover image

Publisher: 47North
Copyright: 2015
ISBN: 1-5039-4975-3
Format: Kindle
Pages: 225

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There are two editions of this book, although only one currently for sale. This review is of the second edition, released in November of 2015. T. Kingfisher is a pen name for Ursula Vernon when she's writing for adults.

Rhea is a miller's daughter. She's fifteen, obedient, wary of swans, respectful to her parents, and engaged to Lord Crevan. The last was a recent and entirely unexpected development. It's not that she didn't expect to get married eventually, since of course that's what one does. And it's not that Lord Crevan was a stranger, since that's often how it went with marriage for people like her. But she wasn't expecting to get married now, and it was not at all clear why Lord Crevan would want to marry her in particular.

Also, something felt not right about the entire thing. And it didn't start feeling any better when she finally met Lord Crevan for the first time, some days after the proposal to her parents. The decidedly non-romantic hand kissing didn't help, nor did the smug smile. But it's not like she had any choice. The miller's daughter doesn't say no to a lord and a friend of the viscount. The miller's family certainly doesn't say no when they're having trouble paying the bills, the viscount owns the mill, and they could be turned out of their livelihood at a whim.

They still can't say no when Lord Crevan orders Rhea to come to his house in the middle of the night down a road that quite certainly doesn't exist during the day, even though that's very much not the sort of thing that is normally done. Particularly before the marriage. Friends of the viscount who are also sorcerers can get away with quite a lot. But Lord Crevan will discover that there's still a limit to how far he can order Rhea around, and practical-minded miller's daughters can make a lot of unexpected friends even in dire circumstances.

The Seventh Bride is another entry in T. Kingfisher's series of retold fairy tales, although the fairy tale in question is less clear than with The Raven and the Reindeer. Kirkus says it's a retelling of Bluebeard, but I still don't quite see that in the story. I think one could argue equally easily that it's an original story. Nonetheless, it is a fairy tale: it has that fairy tale mix of magical danger and practical morality, and it's about courage and friendships and their consequences.

It also has a hedgehog.

This is an T. Kingfisher story, so it's packed full of bits of marvelous phrasing that I want to read over and over again. It has wonderful characters, the hedgehog among them, and it has, at its heart, a sort of foundational decency and stubborn goodness that's deeply satisfying for the reader.

The Seventh Bride is a lot closer to horror than the other T. Kingfisher books I've read, but it never fell into my dislike of the horror genre, despite a few gruesome bits. I think that's because neither Rhea nor the narrator treat the horrific aspects as representative of the true shape of the world. Rhea instead confronts them with a stubborn determination and an attempt to make the best of each moment, and with a practical self-awareness that I loved reading about.

The problem with crying in the woods, by the side of a white road that leads somewhere terrible, is that the reason for crying isn't inside your head. You have a perfectly legitimate and pressing reason for crying, and it will still be there in five minutes, except that your throat will be raw and your eyes will itch and absolutely nothing else will have changed.

Lord Crevan, when Rhea finally reaches him, toys with her by giving her progressively more horrible puzzle tasks, threatening her with the promised marriage if she fails at any of them. The way this part of the book finally resolves is one of the best moments I've read in any book. Kingfisher captures an aspect of moral decisions, and a way in which evil doesn't work the way that evil people expect it to work, that I can't remember seeing an author capture this well.

There are a lot of things here for Rhea to untangle: the nature of Crevan's power, her unexpected allies in his manor, why he proposed marriage to her, and of course how to escape his power. The plot works, but I don't think it was the best part of the book, and it tends to happen to Rhea rather than being driven by her. But I have rarely read a book quite this confident of its moral center, or quite as justified in that confidence.

I am definitely reading everything Vernon has published under the T. Kingfisher name, and quite possibly most of her children's books as well. Recommended, particularly if you liked the excerpt above. There's an entire book full of paragraphs like that waiting for you.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2017-09-27

Last modified and spun 2017-10-02