The Marsh King's Daughter

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 May 2017

Member Reviews

DNF @ 48%

Couldn't really get into this one and don't feel like forcing my way through it. I think the writing style just isn't for me and there's also not really alot of dialogue, it's all descriptions and the main characters thoughts but in a way that to me isn't holding my interest. 

I know I'm probably in the minority here because I've seen a lot of good reviews for this, but I'm just not feeling it.
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The Marsh King’s Daughter is narrated by Helena, the daughter in the title.  Helena, a married mother of two young girls, lives quietly in a rural area in Michigan.  Helena, however, has quite a past she hides from everyone, including her family.  

Helena was raised in a cabin in the marsh, where her father, Jacob, kept her isolated from the outside world until she was twelve.  Jacob, being half American Indian, taught her everything she knows about hunting and living off the land.  Unfortunately he also taught her some things no child should need to learn, mostly in the form of physical and emotional abuse.  

Helena’s mother was fourteen when Jacob kidnapped her and forced her to live and have a child with him.  It would be fifteen years before she and Helena managed to get away and subsequently, Jacob was sent to prison for his crimes.  

The book opens with Helena’s peaceful anonymous life turned upside down when Jacob escapes from prison and she suspects he will come looking for her.

Dionne seamlessly links the present day scenes with a series of flashbacks from Helena’s childhood which builds the suspense gradually.  Small incidents highlighting Jacob’s misdemeanours grow into his full blown criminal acts and Helena’s growing awareness that her life is not exactly normal.   

The book isn't all Jacob's creepiness.  I appreciated how Dionne went into some detail regarding/understanding Helena’s mother’s apathy towards Helena as well as Helena’s awkward introduction to civilisation. 

I can't fault Dionne’s intricately detailed prose describing Helena’s life on the marsh.  Even though I’m a world away from such a setting (guns and knives and bears, oh my!) I imagined everything clearly in my mind.  

There is no cliched twist like most other thrillers in the current market feel they have to include.   Instead the tension escalates as we read.  Until, towards the end, I needed to sit up late into the night to finish and find out the outcome.  

Highly recommended and I’ll definitely be giving Dionne’s other books a go.

5 out of 5
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Book blurb...

'If you only read one thriller this year, make it The Marsh King's Daughter. It's sensational' CLARE MACKINTOSH The suspense thriller of the year - The Marsh King's Daughter will captivate you from the start and chill you to the bone.
'I was born two years into my mother's captivity. She was three weeks shy of seventeen. If I had known then what I do now, things would have been a lot different. I would have been a lot more understanding of my mother. I wouldn't have adored my father.'
When the notorious child abductor known as the Marsh King escapes from a maximum security prison, Helena immediately suspects that she and her two young daughters are in danger.
No one, not even her husband, knows the truth about Helena's past: they don't know that she was born into captivity, that she had no contact with the outside world before the age of twelve - or that her father raised her to be a killer.
And they don't know that the Marsh King can survive and hunt in the wilderness better than anyone... except, perhaps his own daughter.
My thoughts…
Wow, wow and wow! This story will hold you captive until the end. I loved the use of the Hans Christen’s tale of the same name. Brilliant!
The Marsh King’s Daughter is the kind of story that lingers long after the last page is read. Even though it is fiction, this story is so powerful and so well told I was left wondering about some real-life abduction cases and what makes a person capable of such appalling cruelty to another human being.
Little else to be said about this story other than if this type of plotline/thriller interests you, the Marsh King’s Daughter will not disappoint.
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4 stars!!!

A deeply atmospheric novel, the story delves into the dark and twisted relationship between a daughter and father. Karen Dionne has a beautiful way of weaving a story. The book is very immersive with detailed descriptions of feelings, situations and the dynamics of captive and captor. The dysfunctional and perverse idea of a family in the mind of a psychopathic narcissist has been portrayed really well. Told from the perspective of Helena, the captor's daughter, the reader is taken through the journey of the captivity of her mother through her eyes. We catch a glimpse of how she struggles with loving her father and seeing him for who he really is.

The story alternates between the present and the past, in the here and now, Helena learns about her father's escape from prison. Fearing he might come after her family, she sets out to find him first. The story draws on a lot of hunting comparisons and is filled with vivid details of how life was lived in the marsh. Although many people might find the hunting sequences rather disturbing, I feel they play a vital role in portraying the backstory of the characters. I also liked the setting for the book. It really helped to build a richer storyline and have the story body as well as depth. The author has meshed the Native American ideals and culture into the storyline as well. As a result, the reader gets a clear image of who the captor as well as Helena is.

The heart of the story lies in how Helena tries to throw off her old life and tries to pursue a new identity. One that she created herself. It's about how she comes out of the shadow of her father's crime and years of manipulation to become the woman she is. Would I recommend this story? Yes, I would. Although there aren't many thrills, I don't think this book needed it. It's more of a coming-of-age story with a darker element. My only negative would have to be the pacing of the book, there were times where I wanted the author to focus more on the present, but she did tend to meander into mundane details of Helena's upbringing. However, if you are looking for a mystery novel with a twist, then this one would be a definite treat for you.
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Fans of Kate Forsyth will appreciate this tale of a young woman 15 years after she discovered the father she adored kidnapped her 16yr old mother and held her captive until the pair escaped when Helena was 12. Apparently (I say, because I'd never heard of it), there's a (1858) Hans Christian Anderson fairytale called The Marsh King's Daughter which centres around the child born to a princess captured by the evil Marsh King. And the plot of this book (told in the then, when Helena was young; and the now) unfolds in a way that kinda mirrors the fairytale.

(insert blurb)

Helena's an interesting character. She seems to be in two minds when it comes to her feelings for her father...

"My father was no monster. I want to make that absolutely clear. I realize much of what he said and did was wrong. But at the end of the day, my father was only doing the best he could with what he had the same as any other parent." 2%*

And...

"My mother told me that for the first fourteen months of her captivity, my father kept her shackled to the heavy iron ring set in a corner post of the woodshed. I'm not sure I believe her. I've seen the handcuffs, of course; used them myself when the need arose . But why would my father go to all of the trouble of keeping her chained in the woodshed when there was no place for her to go?" 2% 

As an aside, I was a bit bewildered by Helena's flippant comment about using the handcuffs herself, and kept waiting for some antisocial penchant of her own to be revealed! But I'm torn about Helena's narrative about her father. Stockholm Syndrome is to be expected and then there's the father / daughter bond thing. She wasn't particularly close to her mother, but... I wasn't really sure in the end if she really did believe what her father did (twenty-five years earlier) was wrong. Despite having 15 years in the outside world and children of her own.

"I also felt sorry for him.No woman in her right mind would have willingly joined him on that ridge. When you look at the situation from his point of view, what else was he supposed to do? He was mentally ill, supremely flawed, so steeped in his Native American wilderness man person he couldn't have resisted taking my mother if he'd wanted to." 12%

This inconsistency bothered me a little but I actually enjoyed the parts of the book set during Helena's childhood (and her mother's captivity) including the Native American customs her father passed onto his child.

For me the book fell down in the 'now' as it felt a little anticlimactic. In essence Dionne uses Helena's father's escape from prison to tell the story of her mother's kidnap and Helena's childhood, but I can't help but think more complexity could have been added into Helena's pursuit of her father and their encounter, which seemed rather underdone. I would also have liked to have seen more of the fallout of Helena's past secrets in the 'now' and how that played out with family and friends.

I still enjoyed this read however and it will probably appeal to those with more whimsy than me and those who better appreciate the parallels between Helena's story and that of Hans Christian Anderson's.
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Seriously, with a blurb like that who could not read this book? There’s been so many accounts of real life kidnappings, where teenage girls or young women are taken and either don’t escape or aren’t discovered for years. I’ve read Jaycee Dugard’s novel as well as accounts about Natascha Kampusch and Elisabeth Fritzl. However I’ve read few fiction books tackling it – Room being the only other one that comes to mind right now, although this is quite a different story to that.

Helena didn’t even know that her life was unusual for the first decade or more. She was born 2 years after her father, a man in his 30s, kidnapped her 16 year old schoolgirl mother. They lived in a very remote cabin in an area in the far north of America, close to the border with Canada. Until she was 12, Helena had no idea that her father was a criminal. She idolised him growing up, admiring him for his knowledge and desperately seeking his approval. Her father taught her to hunt and fish, often by using cruel games, although Helena didn’t recognise them as such. She believed that he was making her strong, like him and that her mother was weak. Helena could see all too clearly the contempt her father had for her mother and it was soon a view she developed too.

Escaping at 12 with her 28 year old mother, Helena had a lot of adjustment to do and she details this quite openly. Now an adult, married with two children of her own, Helena hears on the radio that her father, who was captured two years after she and her mother escaped the cabin, has killed two prison guards and gone on the run. She knows that he won’t be found unless he wants to be and that she’s probably the only one who can track him. She makes arrangements to hopefully keep her children and husband safe and then she sets off in search of her father.

Helena’s narrative is a torn one – even as an adult, who is now able to recognise the heinous crimes her father committed and realise that his treatment of her and her mother growing up was abusive and terrible, she is still conflicted by her love for him. He is her father, he shaped her in many ways. Her formative years were completely dominated by him.

Helena’s struggle was really interesting because a lot of the focus during events like this in the past in real life, are on the girl/woman who was kidnapped and the ordeal she went through. But this book is different – Helena’s mother’s experiences are related only through the eyes of Helena with what she witnessed as a child and later what she speculates as she grows older and begins to understand a little of the what her mother must have experienced. Helena’s mother isn’t a part of the book really, it’s all about Helena herself and how as an adult, she struggles to come to terms with how wrong aspects of her childhood were because at the time, she embraced the learning experiences and the chance to be more like her father, to know the land, to provide for herself. They lived without electricity, without running water, in total isolation. She didn’t even see other people apart from her father and her mother for years and years. She thought that everybody lived the way they did. It would’ve taken a lot of courage to finally do what she did in order to help her and her mother escape because if she failed, her father would probably have killed her mother and also, she had to overcome the way she’d been raised – conditioned. To obey her father above all else, to respect his word/direction as law, to realise that he wasn’t all she had believed him to be. It’s something that Helena struggles with even as an adult – she thinks she can track him but she also has to be strong enough to stand against him…and it’s possible that a confrontation with him could end the death of one of them.

Helena is a fascinating character, completely honest in her thoughts and revelations, even when they’re not exactly palatable. She has lived a life different to everyone she knows and she takes great pains these days to hide who she is – even her own husband isn’t aware of who her father is. But despite the fact that she never talks about it, she clearly thinks about it a lot. She has not visited her father, despite the fact that he’s incarcerated not far from the house she lives in, but he seems to be on the periphery of her mind. When she hears of his escape, she seems to feel that she has to be the one to go after him, to perhaps confront him, maybe even get some answers for why he did what he did to her and her mother. He’s an expert at mind games though, and as much as Helena knows this, it was obvious she would truly struggle to assert herself against him, even now. She needed sufficient motivation.

I really enjoyed this. Loved Helena’s frank narration and the intricacies of the story, the way in which Helena was raised was rendered so well. The suspense built really nicely as well, as Helena tracked her father and attempted to be one step ahead of his every move but I do feel that it was Helena’s internal struggle that was the star of the story. Her back and forth over her father’s character, his actions, how it has shaped her even as an adult. It was a really well done portrayal of what it might be like for someone who had grown up in such a way and then been thrust into ‘regular’ life at 12 years of age.

I’ll definitely look for more of Karen Dionne’s books in the future. This is the first one I’ve read but I’d be keen to read more.

8/10
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When the child abductor, rapist and murderer known as the Marsh King escapes from his maximum security prison, it throws Helena’s world upside down.

Helena’s husband and daughters don’t know that Helena is the Marsh King’s daughter; that Helena was born two years into her mother’s 14 year captivity; or that Helena is the only person who can out hunt, out track and outsmart the Marsh King. But the Marsh King knows … and he’s coming home.


The Marsh King’s Daughter is one part thriller, two parts fictional autobiography of a captive who didn’t realise she was a captive and one part the story of the survivor. This makes The Marsh King’s Daughter an eclectic and engrossing read.

Dionne has created characters who are rich in personality and invoke strong emotions. I loved and admired Helena, worried for her husband and daughters, deeply pitied her mother and loathed her father. Seeing her father through Helena’s eyes, a strange thing happened — I began to admire some of the things he did, despite my disgust at nearly everything else he did. If that’s not character depth, I don’t know what is.

The Marsh King’s Daughter is a smart thriller, it doesn’t give away too much too early and doesn’t try to force twists for the sake of twists. Instead, it is a controlled balance of Helena’s life with her father, after her father was imprisoned and now that he has escaped.

I would recommend The Marsh King’s Daughter for fans of clever, character based thrillers who enjoy getting to know where the characters have been as much as what they are doing now.

Rating: 4.5/5
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Helena Pelletier was born and raised in captivity until released at 12 years old.  Her mother was only a young girl when she was kidnapped by Jacob Holbrook aka The Marsh King and kept as his wife.  Mother and daughter suffer years of abuse from Jacob who keeps them in a remote outdoor cabin living off the little that nature can provide and a few store bought provisions.  One day the unexpected happens and they grab their chance for freedom.
Helena is now an adult with a husband and young family of her own.  She appears to lead a simple life making jams and selling them locally for a handy income.  She has never told her husband that she was The Marsh King’s daughter.  The truth comes out when her father kills and escapes from prison.  She knows exactly where her father is headed and who he wants to take with him.  In an attempt to head him off she uses the survival skills she was taught as a child to protect her children.  She will do whatever it takes to protect them from a life in captivity and her husband from death.
Jacob seemed a very complex person.  Some of the ways his daughter describes him are eg doing the best he could, cautious, evil natured, controlling, smart, funny and patient just to name a few. Helena didnt seem to have a high opinion of her mother.  Possibly that was due to the girl/woman role model she became after capture ie one mentally and physically beaten into submission over the years and almost afraid of her own shadow.  Such a complicated family arrangement if its right to even call it that.
Although this book was fiction it had an amazing realistic feel.  It really felt as if the author was writing about actual events.  The detail felt so intense at times and as if ‘it’ was swirling around me (best I can do to describe the feeling).
I really enjoyed how excerpts from the Hans Christian Anderson translation were woven into the storyline.  The translation has been placed on my To Read list.
This book was a pleasure to read and I wouldnt hesitate to recommend it to people who enjoy thrillers/suspense stories.
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Wow what a great book!  I loved everything about it, the characters, the story line and the twists and turns.  This book kept me engaged all the way through, a well deserved 5 stars.
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I was really looking forward to reading "The Marsh Kings Daughter", the blurb sounded interesting and the cover was beautiful, but I so disappointed.
I couldn't find anything relatable or likeable about the main character Helena. The way she spoke so highly of her captor/father/abuser bothered me a lot. I understand that she didn't realise what he was until she had been freed, but 15 years later to still idolise the man didn't sit well with me. And the contempt she had for her mother even years later was incomprehensible to me. 
I didn't enjoy this book. It was depressing and disturbing. I couldn't recommend it.
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Really enjoyed this! The description of the early life in the marsh was fascinating and oh so creepy, I thought Helena was beautifully depicted and it had me very tense at the end. I'll be watching out for more from Karen Dionne.
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