...subtle, brilliant and mature ... Two elements make Dionne’s book so superb. The first is its authenticity. There’s a strain in the contemporary American novel defined by a knowledge of nature that feels intimate, real and longitudinal, connected to our country’s past...The second is the corresponding authenticity of Helena’s emotions about her father, painfully revisited and refined as she tracks him ... In its balance of emotional patience and chapter-by-chapter suspense, The Marsh King’s Daughter is about as good as a thriller can be.
Karen Dionne takes a standard story involving the kidnapping of a woman and the life she experiences with her captor and elevates it to a new level ... The way the story unfolds both captivates and disturbs. Since Helena is telling the story, she brings a lack of understanding and naivety to the tale that makes everything more vivid in the reader's mind. Her past and eventual realization of what's truly going on makes this novel resonate. The present day and Helena's eventual confrontation with her estranged father is necessary for closure, but at the same time, it's a bit of a letdown. The story's finale is a bit unnecessary since by then everyone loves Helena and we care more about her growth than revenge. That aside, Dionne has written a book that invokes raw emotion mixed in with the turning of pages.
Karen Dionne’s book turns out to be about so much more than child abduction. It is a tense thriller which will have you nervously peering around the darker corners of your room while turning the pages ever faster. It is also a thoughtful story about the limits of parental love, escaping the past and being at peace with one’s heritage. It is a fantastic book, bursting out of all the artificial constraints the publisher marketing wants to box it in ... It is this ambiguity of emotions which gives the book its lasting impact. The author refuses to see the story in simplistic, black and white terms. Even the most evil man can love and protect his child, even if he goes about it in a way most of us would find totally unacceptable ... a thought-provoking read which lingers in your mind as surely as the sulphurous odours from the swamps.
...[an] exceptional hardcover debut ... To the world, Jacob was a monster; to Helena, he was just her father, who taught her to fish, hunt, and track, and told involving stories, and was occasionally brutal. Helena’s conflicting emotions about her father and her own identity elevate this powerful story.
Helena’s race to find The Marsh King is pulse-pounding stuff, but the bulk of the story comprises a string of loosely connected flashbacks to Helena’s youth. Her conflicted feelings about Jacob ring true, but they also undercut tension, throttle pace, and de-fang the book’s boogeyman. Dionne’s efforts to tie her plot to the Hans Christian Andersen fable of the same name feel contrived and further disrupt the narrative drive. Dionne tries to strike a balance between psychological thriller and coming-of-age tale, but the end result feels more like an unsettling walk down Memory Lane.