Wednesday, July 13, 2011

YA Fantasy: The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott

Publisher: Walker Books
Date: 2007
Format: paperback
Acquired: won from Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing
Read: for the Once Upon a Read-a-Thon
Pages: 263
Reading time: three hours

Alexandra lives a peaceful life with her mother, three older brothers, and father, the ruler of the Kingdom. As descendants of wise women, both she and her mother can work magic, using their powers for healing. But their powers are unable to prevent Alexandra's mother from dying when she is attacked by a mysterious creature, and Alexandra and her brothers are baffled when their father soon announces his remarriage to a strange young woman, Zella, who seems to have enchanted both ruler and people. When the siblings attempt to protest, the brothers disappear and Alexandra is sent off to an aunt in another land. It will fall to Alexandra to find her brothers and defeat Zella's insidious power.

The Swan Kingdom is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Wild Swans" (also known as the "Six Swans" or the "Seven Swans"). There's not much action to the plot, but it stays moving and interesting. My only familiarity with the story coming from Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest, I had problems with expecting Marriott to get to the "quest" part of the story long before she did; Marillier spends 2/3 of her novel on the quest, while Marriott takes 2/3 to work up to it. Compared to my earlier read this year by Marriott, Shadows on the Moon, I thought that The Swan Kingdom had a tighter storyline but Shadows was more exciting. I really like how Marriott incorporates more of her settings into her stories than just place names - The Swan Kingdom has Stonehenge-ish connections, while Shadows on the Moon includes many details about Japanese culture. The main twist in Marriott's retelling of "The Wild Swans" comes at the end and wasn't done up enough to be a major jaw-dropper, but her interesting characters and great writing make The Swan Kingdom a worthwhile read.

I rather like this cover from Candlewick's edition, though I'm not sure which one captures the story better.

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