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"Brilliant....About as good as a thriller can be."--The New York Times Book Review
"[A] nail-biter perfect for Room fans."--Cosmopolitan
"Sensationally good psychological suspense."--Lee Child
Praised by Karin Slaughter and Megan Abbott, The Marsh King's Daughter is the mesmerizing tale of a woman who must risk everything to hunt down the dangerous man who shaped her past and threatens to steal her future: her father.
Helena Pelletier has a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a business that fills her days. But she also has a secret: she is the product of an abduction. Her mother was kidnapped as a teenager by her father and kept in a remote cabin in the marshlands of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Helena, born two years after the abduction, loved her home in nature, and despite her father's sometimes brutal behavior, she loved him, too...until she learned precisely how savage he could be.
More than twenty years later, she has buried her past so soundly that even her husband doesn't know the truth. But now her father has killed two guards, escaped from prison, and disappeared into the marsh. The police begin a manhunt, but Helena knows they don't stand a chance. Knows that only one person has the skills to find the survivalist the world calls the Marsh King--because only one person was ever trained by him: his daughter.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Wait here,” I tell my three-year-old. I lean through the truck’s open window to fish between her booster seat and the passenger door for the plastic sippy cup of lukewarm orange juice she threw in a fit of frustration. “Mommy will be right back.”
Mari reaches for the cup like Pavlov’s puppy. Her bottom lip pokes out and tears overflow. I get it. She’s tired. So am I.
“Uh-uh-uh,” Mari grunts as I start to walk away. She arches her back and pushes against the seat belt as if it’s a straitjacket.
“Stay put, I’ll be right back.” I narrow my eyes and shake my finger so she knows I mean business and go around to the back of the truck. I wave at the kid stacking boxes on the loading dock by the delivery entrance to Markham’s—Jason, I think is his name—then lower the tailgate to grab the first two boxes of my own.
“Hi, Mrs. Pelletier!” Jason returns my wave with twice the enthusiasm I gave him. I lift my hand again so we’re even. I’ve given up telling him to call me Helena.
Bang-bang-bang from inside the truck. Mari is whacking her juice cup against the window ledge. I’m guessing it’s empty. I bang the flat of my hand against the truck bed in response—bang-bang-bang—and Mari startles and twists around, her baby-fine hair whipping across her face like corn silk. I give her my best “cut it out if you know what’s good for you” scowl, then heft the cartons to my shoulder. Stephen and I both have brown hair and eyes, as does our five-year-old, Iris, so he marveled over this rare golden child we created until I told him my mother was a blonde. That’s all he knows.
Markham’s is the next-to-last delivery of four, and the primary sales outlet for my jams and jellies, aside from the orders I pick up online. Tourists who shop at Markham’s Grocery like the idea that my products are locally made. I’m told a lot of customers purchase several jars to take home as gifts and souvenirs. I tie gingham fabric circles over the lids with butcher’s string and color-code them according to contents: red for raspberry jam, purple for elderberry, blue for blueberry, green for cattail-blueberry jelly, yellow for dandelion, pink for wild apple–chokecherry—you get the idea. I think the covers look silly, but people seem to like them. And if I’m going to get by in an area as economically depressed as the Upper Peninsula, I have to give people what they want. It’s not rocket science.
There are a lot of wild foods I could use and a lot of different ways to fix them, but for now I’m sticking with jams and jellies. Every business needs a focus. My trademark is the cattail line drawing I put on every label. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who mixes ground cattail root with blueberries to make jelly. I don’t add much, just enough to justify including cattail in the name. When I was growing up, young cattail spikes were my favorite vegetable. They still are. Every spring I toss my waders and a wicker basket in the back of my pickup and head for the marshes south of our place. Stephen and the girls won’t touch them, but Stephen doesn’t care if I cook them as long as I fix just enough for me. Boil the heads for a few minutes in salted water and you have one of the finest vegetables around. The texture is a little dry and mealy, so I eat mine with butter now, but of course, butter was nothing I’d tasted when I was a child.
Blueberries I pick in the logged-over areas south of our place. Some years the blueberry crop is better than others. Blueberries like a lot of sun. Indians used to set fire to the underbrush to improve the yield. I’ll admit, I’ve been tempted. I’m not the only person out on the plains during blueberry season, so the areas closest to the old logging roads get picked over fairly quickly. But I don’t mind going off the beaten path, and I never get lost. Once I was so far out in the middle of nowhere, a Department of Natural Resources helicopter spotted me and hailed me. After I convinced the officers I knew where I was and what I was doing, they left me alone.
“Hot enough for you?” Jason asks as he reaches down and takes the first box from my shoulder.
I grunt in response. There was a time when I would have had no idea how to answer such a question. My opinion of the weather isn’t going to change it, so why should anyone care what I think? Now I know I don’t have to, that this is an example of what Stephen calls “small talk,” conversation for the sake of conversation, a space-filler not meant to communicate anything of importance or value. Which is how people who don’t know each other well talk to each other. I’m still not sure how this is better than silence.
Jason laughs like I told the best joke he’s heard all day, which Stephen also insists is an appropriate response, never mind that I didn’t say anything funny. After I left the marsh, I really struggled with social conventions. Shake hands when you meet someone. Don’t pick your nose. Go to the back of the line. Wait your turn. Raise your hand when you have a question in the classroom and then wait for the teacher to call on you before you ask it. Don’t burp or pass gas in the presence of others. When you’re a guest in someone’s home, ask permission before you use the bathroom. Remember to wash your hands and flush the toilet after you do. I can’t tell you how often I felt as though everyone knew the right way to do things but me. Who makes these rules, anyway? And why do I have to follow them? And what will be the consequences if I don’t?
I leave the second box on the loading dock and go back to the truck for the third. Three cases, twenty-four jars each, seventy-two jars total, delivered every two weeks during June, July, and August. My profit on each case is $59.88, which means that over the course of the summer, I make more than a thousand dollars from Markham’s alone. Not shabby at all.
And about my leaving Mari alone in the truck while I make my deliveries, I know what people would think if they knew. Especially about leaving her alone with the windows down. But I’m not about to leave the windows up. I’m parked under a pine and there’s a breeze blowing off the bay, but the temperature has been pushing upper eighties all day, and I know how quickly a closed car can turn into an oven.
I also realize that someone could easily reach through the open window and grab Mari if they wanted to. But I made a decision years ago that I’m not going to raise my daughters to fear that what happened to my mother might also happen to them.
One last word on this subject, and then I’m done. I guarantee if anyone has a problem with how I’m raising my daughters, then they’ve never lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That’s all.
Back at the truck, Mari the Escape Artist is nowhere to be seen. I go up to the passenger window and look inside. Mari is sitting on the floor chewing a cellophane candy wrapper she found under the seat as if it’s a piece of gum. I open the door, fish the wrapper out of her mouth and shove it in my pocket, then dry my fingers on my jeans and buckle her in. A butterfly flutters through the window and lands on a spot of sticky something on the dash. Mari claps her hands and laughs. I grin. It’s impossible not to. Mari’s laugh is delicious, a full-throated, unself-conscious chortle I never get tired of hearing. Like those YouTube videos people post of babies laughing uncontrollably over inconsequential things like a jumping dog or a person tearing strips of paper—Mari’s laugh is like that. Mari is sparkling water, golden sunshine, the chatter of wood ducks overhead.
I shoo the butterfly out and put the truck in gear. Iris’s bus drops her off at our house at four forty-five. Stephen usually watches the girls while I make my deliveries, but he won’t be back until late tonight because he’s showing a new set of lighthouse prints to the gallery owner who sells his photographs in the Soo. Sault Ste. Marie, which is pronounced “Soo” and not “Salt,” as people who don’t know better often say, is the second-largest city in the Upper Peninsula. But that isn’t saying much. The sister city on the Canadian side is a lot bigger. Locals on both sides of the St. Mary’s River call their city “The Soo.” People come from all over the world to visit the Soo Locks to watch the giant iron-ore carriers pass through. They’re a big tourist draw.
I deliver the last case of assorted jams to the Gitche Gumee Agate and History Museum gift shop, then drive to the lake and park. As soon as Mari sees the water, she starts flapping her arms. “Wa-wa, wa-wa.” I know that at her age she should be speaking in complete sentences. We’ve been taking her to a developmental specialist in Marquette once a month for the past year, but so far this is the best she’s got.
We spend the next hour on the beach. Mari sits beside me on the warm beach gravel, working off the discomfort of an erupting molar by chewing on a piece of driftwood I rinsed off for her in the water. The air is hot and still, the lake calm, the waves sloshing gently like water in a bathtub. After a while, we take off our sandals and wade into the water and splash each other to cool off. Lake Superior is the largest and deepest of the Great Lakes, so the water never gets warm. But on a day like today, who’d want it to?
I lean back on my elbows. The rocks are warm. As hot as it is today, it’s hard to believe that when Stephen and I brought Iris and Mari to this same spot a couple of weeks ago to watch the Perseid meteor shower we needed sleeping bags and jackets. Stephen thought it was overkill when I packed them into the back of the Cherokee, but of course he had no idea how cold the beach gets after the sun goes down. The four of us squeezed inside a double sleeping bag and lay on our backs on the sand looking up. Iris counted twenty-three shooting stars and made a wish on every one, though Mari snoozed through most of the show. We’re going to come out again in a couple of weeks to check out the northern lights.
I sit up and check my watch. It’s still difficult for me to be somewhere at an exact time. When a person is raised on the land as I was, the land dictates what you do and when. We never kept a clock. There was no reason to. We were as attuned to our environment as the birds, insects, and animals, driven by the same circadian rhythms. My memories are tied to the seasons. I can’t always remember how old I was when a particular event took place, but I know what time of year it happened.
I know now that for most people, the calendar year begins on January 1. But in the marsh there was nothing about January to distinguish it from December or February or March. Our year began in the spring, on the first day the marsh marigolds bloomed. Marsh marigolds are huge bushy plants two feet or more in diameter, each covered with hundreds of inch-wide bright yellow blossoms. Other flowers bloom in the spring, like the blue flag iris and the flowering heads of the grasses, but marsh marigolds are so prolific that nothing compares to that astonishing yellow carpet. Every year my father would pull on his waders and go out into the marsh and dig one up. He’d put it in an old galvanized tub half-filled with water and set it on our back porch, where it glowed like he’d brought us the sun.
I used to wish my name was Marigold. But I’m stuck with Helena, which I often have to explain is pronounced “Hel-LAY-nuh.” Like a lot of things, it was my father’s choice.
The sky takes on a late afternoon quality that warns it’s time to go. I check the time and see to my horror that my internal clock has not kept pace with my watch. I scoop up Mari and grab our sandals and run back to the truck. Mari squalls as I buckle her in. I’m not unsympathetic. I would have liked to stay longer, too. I hurry around to the driver’s side and turn the key. The dashboard clock reads 4:37. I might make it. Just.
I peel out of the parking lot and drive south on M-77 as fast as I dare. There aren’t a lot of police cars in the area, but for the officers who patrol this route, aside from ticketing speeders, there isn’t much to do. I can appreciate the irony of my situation. I’m speeding because I’m late. Getting stopped for speeding will make me later still.
Mari works herself into a full-on tantrum as I drive. She kicks her feet, sand flies all over the truck, the sippy cup bounces off the windshield, and snot runs out her nose. Miss Marigold Pelletier is most definitely not a happy camper. At the moment, neither am I.
I tune the radio to the public broadcasting station out of Northern Michigan University in Marquette, hoping for music to distract her—or drown her out. I’m not a fan of classical, but this is the only station that comes in clearly.
Instead, I pick up a news alert: “—escaped prisoner . . . child abductor . . . Marquette . . .”
“Be quiet,” I yell, and turn the volume up.
“Seney National Wildlife Refuge . . . armed and dangerous . . . do not approach.” At first, that’s all I manage to catch.
I need to hear this. The refuge is less than thirty miles from our house. “Mari, stop!”
Mari blinks into silence. The report repeats:
“Once again, state police report that a prisoner serving life without parole for child abduction, rape, and murder has escaped from the maximum security prison in Marquette, Michigan. The prisoner is believed to have killed two guards during a prison transfer and escaped into the Seney National Wildlife Refuge south of M-28. Listeners should consider the prisoner armed and dangerous. Do NOT, repeat, DO NOT approach. If you see anything suspicious, call law enforcement immediately. The prisoner, Jacob Holbrook, was convicted of kidnapping a young girl and keeping her captive for a dozen years in a notorious case that received nationwide attention . . .”
My heart stops. I can’t see. Can’t breathe. Can’t hear anything over the blood rushing in my ears. I slow the truck and pull carefully onto the shoulder. My hand shakes as I reach to turn the radio off.
Jacob Holbrook has escaped from prison. The Marsh King. My father.
And I’m the one who put him in prison in the first place.
What People are Saying About This
The Marsh King's Daughter is a masterpiece of crisp prose and fine storytelling. Sinister and complex, this book's twists and turns lead to a final confrontation so intense it will leave your heart pounding. The Marsh King's Daughter is bound to become a classic. Read it.
Reading Group Guide
1. Why hasn’t Helena told Stephen about her past? Is she wrong to have kept it from him? Has she endangered her family by keeping it a secret?
2. Is Helena a good wife?
3. Why do you think the author sets Helena’s story alongside the fable of The Marsh King’s Daughter? In what ways are these two stories similar? How does the fable shape your understanding of Helena’s character?
4. Does Jacob love Helena? Does he deserve her love? If The Hunter's appearance hadn't revealed Jacob's dark side, would Helena ever have broken with her father?
5. In the end, Helena thinks, “I am no longer my father’s shadow” (p. 302). What does she mean by this? How has her idea of her father changed?
6. Was Helena’s mother wrong for not saving her? Does Helena do enough to help her mother? How does Helena’s relationship with her mother change over time? Is Helena a good daughter?
7. While it’s clear Helena loves her two daughters, is she a good mother? In what ways does her own upbringing affect the way she raises Mari and Iris?
8. Is Helena better for being part of society? Is she truly healthier at the story’s end? Will she ever be okay?
9. Does Helena see her responsibilities within her own family differently at the end of the novel?
10. What does Helena mean at the end when she calls it “our story” (p. 291)? How has her life changed during the course of the novel?
11. How does Helena’s relationship with nature shape her view of the world, and does this relationship change once she leaves the cabin? How do the beliefs of the Ojibwa people shape Helena’s values? In what ways do these values suit Helena in the world she discovers outside of the marsh, and in what ways do they hinder her?
12. How does place inform this story? What would the story lose if the setting were changed? Might another setting suit the book, even if it were to change it?
13. Why are we fascinated by stories about survivors of abduction like Helena, whether in fiction or nonfiction?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book takes you on an intense ride with so many emotional twists and turns!
A real page turner!
Having spent every summer in the U.P. I could relate to nearly every aspect of this story. The author obviously did extensive research of Michigan's U.P. Fantastic story, with believable characters. FYI Michigans upper peninsula is one of the most beautiful, pristine, areas you will ever see. Oh yeah, I highly recommend this book to all.
The way the fable is woven into the narrative and character is revealed...no way to stop reading to see if Helena can survive another encounter with her past.
A terrific heroine caught in a story of beauty, cruelty, and love. Telling the fairy tale along side the story creates a poignant comparison.
Quite graphic in spots, more than I thought necessary. Easy to read and well written.
“Before I dropped off the supermarket tabloid grid, people used to ask me what was the most incredible/amazing/unexpected thing I discovered after I joined civilization. As if their world was so much better than mine. Or that it was indeed civilized. I could easily make a case against the legitimate use of that word to describe the world I discovered at the age of twelve: war, pollution, greed, crime, starving children, racial hatred, ethnic violence - and that's just for starters” The Marsh King’s Daughter is the fourth novel by American author, blogger and reviewer, Karen Dionne. On her way home to her school-age daughter, with her three-year-old in the car, Helena Pelletier catches the end of a news report that chills her to the bone. Jacob Holbrook has escaped from jail, killing two guards in the process. Helena is the daughter of a kidnapped girl and her captor, known as The Marsh King. Jacob Holbrook is The Marsh King. “… I was a child. I loved my father. The Jacob Holbrook I knew was smart, funny, patient and kind. He took care of me, fed me and clothed me. Taught me everything I needed to know not only to survive in the marsh, but to thrive”. Because she spent the first twelve years of her life with this man, in the marshes of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, exposed to his Ojibwa legends, his theories, his discipline, Helena knows he can easily evade the manhunt now taking place. She knows where he’s headed and that she will have to be the one to find him. Dionne alternates the narrative between three main time periods: the present day, Helena’s twelve years in the cabin in the marsh, and the period after Helena and her mother left the marsh. The sections of cabin narrative are preceded by quotes from a translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s folk tale of the same title, and parallels between the stories are immediately apparent. This is a thoroughly gripping tale, a true page-turner. Dionne expertly builds up the tension, then halfway through, hits the reader with a real gut punch, before racing to a heart-stopping climax. At the same time, she explores some interesting topics: the effect of being born and raised in captivity; the power of psychological coercion; and society’s resistance to the unconventional, to mention a few. As a bonus, Dionne’s descriptive prose is often exquisite. Dionne’s characters are complex and well rendered. Her extensive research into the flora and fauna of the marshes, the seasonal changes that occur there, Indian customs and folklore, and primitive lifestyles are all abundantly evident in every chapter, but this wealth of information is presented so subtly the reader is barely aware of the knowledge assimilated. Dionne gives the reader a thriller that is thought-provoking and exciting in equal measure. This is a brilliant read.
I couldn't put it down. Thank you for the adventure.
Thrilling and poignant.
There’s a lot to say about this one -it was a chillingly brilliant haunting read. The Marsh King takes its title from a Hans Christian Anderson fairy story and we all know how dark those fairy tales can get! Well,this book is dark – a girl who was effectively locked up as those two in that gingerbread house in the forest….. This is a thriller surrounded in mist, dark fog and a very dark heart. Are you brave enough to venture into the woods? This is the twisted version of that story mind – but the way it’s written captivates you as the fairy tales of yesteryear. There’s evil lurking and there’s a cabin in the woods and you just have to read to find out what happens next… And it’s in the heart of those woods where evil and more come to play. Helena has an upbringing which is more at home in a very twisted fairy story. She has had the most unconventional of upbringings and now is the hunter, after her father who has escaped from prison. the twists in this are as delicious as that apple in Snow White – and we all know how that panned out! The key to this novel was Helena and her relationship with both her mother and father. How she now sees the world and how she sees her place in it. The mix of fairy story, that dark Grimm outlook for those trapped, claustrophobia and the genius of having nature and nurture set up for the battle of their lives makes this a crackling thriller which takes you into the heart of the wicked witch and what really went on in those woods..
Wow! I won't forget this book anytime soon! It felt like I was reading true crime, the characters were so well written. We really get to know them. This would be an excellent choice for a book club. So much to talk about. I highly recommend for those who like thrillers.
Having grown up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and hearing about the stories of women like Jaycee Dugard and others surviving for years and raising children in captivity, t his book chilled me to the bone. It accurately portrayed the unique character of the UP and its people as well as capturing for readers a little of the horror and triumphs of survivors. The villain of the story was terrifying andmay remind some of "that guy" that we remember from childhood that you were warned to stay away from
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne Combining modern suspense with Andersen’s fairy tale makes for an interesting, though sometimes brutal, journey. A child feels love for her parent, even if the parent is evil. Still she must oppose evil, especially when others’ lives are at stake. Believing her father is dangerous. “My father told a lot of stories.” She is, finally, “a hunter. A warrior. A person worthy of respect and honor.” Knowledge to hold to: “affections weren’t divided; they were multiplied” and “the lesson learned was (not) the one he wanted to teach me.”
A teenager is abducted when she is 14 and has a child when she is 16. This story is told by that child after about 12 years of fleeing the abductor, she only knew as her father. It dealt a lot with her feelings and emotions of growing up with only her mother and her abductor (father) and no one else around. Helena knew of no other life and was relatively happy until the fateful day they escaped. Then she realized what her father had done and why her mother acted the way that she did. I really liked this book and lot and felt for Helena. She was a different kind of girl due to her upbringing, but one that you can't help but root for and feel empathy towards. I can definitely say all the buzz around this book is worth it. Thanks to Penguin Group Putnam and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
I really enjoyed this book. I decided to pick this book up simply because the story sounded interesting. I had never read anything by the author so I really didn't know what to expect. I was immediately hooked. I actually ended up reading the whole book in a little more than a day because I wanted to read it during every free second I had. If I wasn't reading, I was thinking about this captivating story. I am very happy that I decided to give this book a try. This was a really exciting story told from a very unique point of view. I really liked how the story was told through present day events and memories. Helena was a wonderful character. She has lived a life very different than other people. She spent the first portion of her life with her mother and father in their home in the wilderness. She never saw anyone else and they were her entire life and that was her normal. In reality, her situation was anything but normal because her father had kidnapped her mother and was holding her captive. Helena learns that her father, known as the Marsh King, has escaped from prison. She knows him better than anyone in law enforcement so she sets out to try to catch him herself. Helena's father taught her how to navigate in the wilderness. She knows how to track and hunt because her father made sure that she had those skills. She needs those skills to find him before it is too late. I really enjoyed the way this book was written. I think that having the entire book come from Helena's point of view really worked well. Helena has a very unique point of view with memories from her childhood told through an adult's filter. The were times that we see things as she saw them as a child but other times that her adult views play a role. The book is set in the wilderness of northern Michigan and the descriptions were vivid in detail. The parts set in the present day were nicely balanced with the memories from the past. I would highly recommend this book to others. It is an exciting story told from a very unique point of view. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough because I was eager to learn how everything would end. This is the first book by Karen Dionne that I have read but I look forward to reading more in the future. I received an advanced reader edition of this book from G.P. Putnam's Sons via First to Read.
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne is set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Helene Pelletier had an unconventional childhood growing up in an isolated area where her only human contact was her mother and father. That all changed when she was twelve years old. Helene discovered that her mother had been kidnapped by Jacob, her father, when she was only fourteen years old. Thanks to a stranger who got lost, Helen and her mom were able to escape. Helene’s father, Jacob Holbrook was captured and has been serving time in the local maximum-security prison. Helene counts herself very lucky that she now has a wonderful husband and two little girls. But then Helene hears that Jacob has escaped while being transported. She is afraid for her little girls. Stephen, her husband, is unaware of Helene’s past, but is quickly brought up to speed when the police arrive on their doorstep. Helene knows that the police will never be able to find her father. He can easily disappear into the marshland and never be found. Jacob taught Helene all the necessary skills to survive and how to track. If anyone can locate Jacob, it will be Helene. She knows this is the only way to ensure her families safety. On the trail of her father, Helene reminisces about early years and what happened when she returned to civilization with her mother. Helene knows she is on her father’s trail when she finds objects he left for her. But is Helene hunting Jacob or is Jacob drawing her in? The Marsh King’s Daughter has an interesting premise, but the final product did not live up to the summary on the book. I read The Marsh King’s Daughter, but I did not get into the story. It never captured my attention. I particularly disliked Helene. Her admiration for her father was disconcerting, and Helene’s dislike of her mother was upsetting (the poor woman had been kidnapped, raped, belittled, tortured). I could not understand Helene living on her paternal grandparent’s property (she inherited it). Personally, I would have sold the land to the highest bidder and moved to a different state (far, far away). Jacob raised Helene to be like him and think like him (she hunts, fishes, tracks). It makes me really question if this woman should be allowed around children (and glad that she is a fictional character). I give The Marsh King’s Daughter 2 out of 5 stars. I found the pace of the story to be glacial and key details are repeated throughout the whole novel (like how Helene is the only person who can find Jacob). There is no suspense and little action (yawn). The story is told more in a “matter of fact” fashion. The Marsh King’s Daughter plays out exactly as I thought it would (predictable). The “twist” was no surprise to me. I could see it coming based on Helene’s personality. For those of people who love animal (like me), there is bear hunting in the story. My favorite character (I actually liked one) was Iris, Helene’s eldest daughter (a sensitive child). The youngest, Mari sounded like a holy terror. The one good quality of The Marsh King’s Daughter was its ability to help me drift off to sleep (I suffer from insomnia).