Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (June 2017)
320 pages; $15.42 hardcover; $12.39 paperback; $11.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

This breakout novel has been hailed as the book of 2017. Karen Dionne decided to leave the high concept science thriller behind (the wonderful Freezing Point and Boiling Point) in favor of something much more organic and disturbing. The Marsh King’s Daughter succeeds on all levels because of what it sets out to do—simply tell a story without all the bells and whistles. Dionne’s writing features a songstress’ voice and rhythm, yet doesn’t overwhelm the reader with the love of language. It embraces the feel of the setting and story, pulling the reader deep into the marsh’s realm, only relenting when the final page is turned.

The story is deceptively simple: Helena loves her easygoing life. Great husband, great kids, great job, all without much stress or fuss. In the unique world of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, life is decidedly different—think Louisiana bayou or northern Washington’s Olympic region—but something all its own. The land feels cut off from the country readers know as America, but also feels like home.

When Helena hears the news of an escaped prisoner, she realizes the life she has built for herself and her family is about to shatter. The escapee is her father, a man she knows she must track and send back to prison if she has any chance of holding on to the life she knows. When her mother was merely a teen, Helena’s father abducted her and kept her hostage for several years, giving her a daughter. Helena didn’t know life outside of the cabin in the middle of the marsh until her escape as a teen.

During her upbringing, Helena learned the ways of a hunter, a tracker, a survivalist, just like her father. She nearly became that same person in doing so. She knows the police will never find the man who both gave her life and stole it from her—but she can, and will. She hopes she can find him before everything she knows is decimated by the nightmare from her past.

The novel will blaze past, as good thrillers do, but there is something special about The Marsh King’s Daughter. It’s hard putting a finger on what that magic is, but it’s a magic which must be experienced.

Easily the hottest thriller of the year, this book is recommended for anyone who loves great storytelling and a voice that will suck them in, a cross between First Blood-era David Morrell and the best of John Connelly or Elizabeth Massie.

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