When I went to England recently I had this great idea that I’d take my Kindle with me and have lots of books at my fingertips to fit whatever mood hit me! Of course, I forgot to take into account that the Kindle is an electronic device and as such must be turned off for more than half the 50 minute flight time – argh! This book was my emergency purchase to give me something to read. Luckily it was one that I’d been interested in for a while!
Title: The Swan Kingdom
Author: Zoë Marriott
Target Audience: YA
Genre: Fantasy / fairy tale retelling
Length: 263 pages
Story: When Alexandra’s mother is slain by an unnatural beast, shadows fall on the once-lush kingdom. Too soon the widowed king is entranced by a cunning stranger — and in one chilling moment Alexandra’s beloved brothers disappear, and she is banished to a barren land. Rich in visual detail, sparked by a formidable evil, and sweetened with familial and romantic love, here is the tale of a girl who discovers powerful healing gifts — and the courage to use them to save her ailing kingdom.
Thoughts and impressions: Fairy tale retellings are one of my more prominent reading interests. This particular fairy tale is one that I’m not as familiar with as perhaps I should be. I did read Grimm’s once upon a time, but it was a long, long time ago and this is the first retelling of this one that I’ve picked up. As with all typical fairy tales there’s the princess in distress, an evil queen, a handsome price, a curse, and an absent father who allows all these atrocities to take place (unless he’s dead, but in this case he’s alive and kicking).
In The Swan Kingdom a fearsome, unnatural beast kills the loving queen then takes her place in human form. The royal children, three sons and a daughter, are protected from her mass mind control spell by their mother’s blood and set themselves the task of trying to uncover the talisman the evil queen is using to keep her human form. In doing so, they inadvertently set off an alarm and she unleashes her magic on them. The three brothers are all transformed into swans and the princess is bundled off to live in exile with her aunt in the neighbouring kingdom.
There Alexandra meets a young man, Gabriel, who shares an affinity with nature and the enaid (Alexandra herself has a powerful connection with the enaid). They sneak off together every evening to share stories and soon attraction forms between them. Unfortunately, we’re mostly just told about their evening exploits rather than seeing them, so we don’t get to observe enough of their interactions to form an interest in their budding romance. Or at least I didn’t. I wanted to like Gabriel as well, but his character just wasn’t developed enough in those original scenes together for me to feel at all invested in it.
When Gabriel has to return home with his family, he makes Alexandra promise to meet him one year later, but the day before she was meant to meet him again she is called back to the land of her birth only to discover that is has been drained of life. This is the kick she needs to break her from the lethargy that she’s been wallowing in for the past year as she waits for her brothers to return to her (she has no memory of them turning into swans). She realises that she needs to be proactive in order to get her brothers back from their magical imprisonment so that they can reclaim their kingdom together. The only way that she knows of doing this is to weave a vest of a particularly nasty species of nettle while keeping a vow of silence.
This was an interesting and intriguing fantasy tale but possibly a little too short to do the author’s ideas justice. I would have liked to have seen more of the interactions between the characters that would have allowed them more development. As it was, I didn’t really feel like I got to know any of the characters very well other than Alexandra herself.
The magic system was particularly interesting and refreshing. It was all based on the natural energies that flow through the lands. Because Alexandra’s mother never properly explained her role in this magic system, as well as that of her ancestors, Alexandra doesn’t realise how central she is to everything, how tied to the land she really is. I’m not entirely sure that it can be called original but I did like the person twists that the author put on it.
Style: Good. It flowed well and didn’t have a clunky feel to it, though this is the author’s debut novel so it should get even better as she improves with each book! (I hope).
Final verdict: Lacking in some places but overall a good read that kept me interested from start to finish! I’m now feeling particularly inspired to pick up Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest, which is a retelling of the same fairy tale. 3.5 stars
Extra notes: No bad language. No sex.