Her name was Rhea.
Her father said that she had been named after a great and powerful goddess of the old days, the queen of all the gods, but in that country at that time, there weren't many books about gods.
–T. Kingfisher - The Seventh Bride - c.2014
Rhea is a miller’s daughter. She is fifteen. And she is engaged. Her betrothed is a lord, and she had never met him before he gave her is ring to wear. But she is only the daughter of the miller, and even though the miller may be an important man in the village, to a lord, to the nobles, he is nothing.
So Rhea does her duty. She does as Lord Crevan has commanded and leaves her home to visit his home. He is not in when she arrives, but she is welcomed by his other wives.
That general outline is probably ringing some Bluebeard related bells, as well it should, but this is not just a retelling of that Bloody Chamber. Crevan doesn’t kill his wives, he steals from them, something different from each. A life from one, a death from another, and usually not for himself to use, but if he thinks a gift might be served better elsewhere then he will take it from his wife and sell it on.
So what does Rhea have that he wants?
She certainly doesn’t want to find out. Luckily she is not alone, she has a hedgehog for company, and for occasional guidance. Not that the hedgehog can talk, but he manages to communicate through body language.
If you’re at all familiar with Ursula Vernon (T. Kingfisher is her pseudonym) then you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect from this story. Creepy, strangeness, but also adorable awesomeness. And The Seventh Bride certainly delivers on both fronts. Lord Crevan’s house is all manner of wrong, from the golem-birds that warn you to “be bold, but not too bold”, to the inhabitants, there is a palpable sense of “nope” from Crevan. But there is Rhea and her helpful hedgehog, and that’s just great.
I’m probably biased, because I’ve been a fan of Vernon’s work for ages now, from back when I first discovered her Digger comic online, and this story has just what I love about her work, whether it is her art or her stories. They’re all just so original and, well, cool, in a “damn, that makes for a great whatever, how is it noone thought of that before” sort of a way.
But it also that the fantastical is grounded in the practical and the realistic. Rhea has a solid head on her, she is somewhat familiar with the magic of her world, about sometimes flowers outside her house will turn plaid, and how the local conjure woman’s cure always seems to be the same thing, but it works. And yet there is the ordinary, realistic side to her do. The side that is very aware that real life can be boring and undemanding, making sure mice don’t end up in the grinder is not exactly stimulating, and digging an out-house isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. I love that blend.
I also loved the way Rhea knows that something isn’t right. She knows the situation is all manner of wrong, but what are her options? Lord Crevan is a noble, she is a peasant. She doesn’t have any other options. She just has to figure out how to make the best of the situation.
So if you like that sort of thing then I’d highly recommend The Seventh Bride, it is great fun.