With a title like Seven Wild Sisters, you would expect the book by Charles de Lint to be about seven out of control sisters, and I suppose that in a way this modern version of a fairy tale is. Yet the focus is more on the confusing world of the fairies and their feuds, with middle sister Sarah Jane accidentally getting tangled up in them and dragging the rest of her family into it.
Sarah Jane Dillard was only 11 when she first dared to venture down the trail that led from the end of her family’s farm to where the “witch” in the woods lived. Of course, there was no witch. It was simply Lily Kindred, known by everyone as Aunt Lillian, who lives in her small house with not a single modern amenity, growing and collecting all but a few things she requires to survive. It isn’t a glamorous life by any stretch, but Sarah Jane is drawn to her and frequently visits her to assist with the hard work.
While there, Aunt Lillian shares the old stories about the fairies who live in the area and their ways. When they harvest ginseng – one of the few items that Aunt Lillian doesn’t plant herself, as it grows wild – there is a ritual they follow to ask blessings of the ‘sangmen whose patches they raid. Sarah Jane is fascinated by all of it and plans to move there once she’s finished high school.
Her biggest dream is to one day see a fairy, just like the ones Aunt Lillian talks about. When she’s harvesting ginseng one day for Aunt Lillian, who has grown more decrepit over the years, she spies a little twig man with what look like quills sticking out all over. She uses pliers to remove the quills, which she discovers are actually tiny arrows, before bringing him to Aunt Lillian’s for help. Just like that, she’s sucked into the feud between the ‘sangmen and the bee fairies, and her sisters become pawns in it, as well.
The book is delightfully written for the older child, with entertaining language that keeps the story flowing and characters who are full of warmth and depth and friendly sibling rivalry that just about any child can understand. The illustrations included by Charles Vess throughout the book help bring the story to life even more, as you can truly picture the ‘sangman and the Apple Tree Man and so many more.
I loved that this book was told in modern times while extolling the virtues of previous generations. The added delight of an entirely new enticing world to draw readers in, with the added benefit that even with all the mystery and action, there isn’t much overt violence that would make me put this book up until my children are older, as is the case with some books they long to read.
The book has a clear sense of right and wrong – as so many fairy tales do – and the rules that must be followed for the world to become right again. There is a sense of satisfaction in reading books that adhere to this, and the end of the book seems to be setting up a sequel to this, as there is so much left unexplored in the world de Lint created.
Seven Wild Sisters is actually set several decades after the novel The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, which involves a much younger Aunt Lillian. You definitely do not have to have read this book first, but having enjoyed the follow up novel this much, it is definitely one that both I and my children will pick up to read soon.
Written by Michelle who has also always been fascinated by fairies but may not want to actually meet them now. See how she makes her ordinary life extraordinary on her blog Honest & Truly! and follow along with her on Twitter where she is also @HonestAndTruly.