Author: Zoë Marriott
Published: March 5, 2007
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Retelling
Rating: 3.5 stars
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“To ugly ducklings everywhere,My Thoughts
Don't worry about those fluffy yellow morons:
They'll never get to be swans”
― Zoë Marriott, The Swan Kingdom
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. (Goodreads)
I love fairytale retellings because it gives you a chance to revisit an old, familiar tale that has been passed down from generation to generation. But at the same time, each retelling brings something new to the table as the author claims each version as their own. The Swan Kingdom is a retelling of Han Anderson's classic fairytale The Wild Swans which is very similar to the Grimm fairytale The Six Swans. Daughter of The Forest by Juliet Marillier is a popular retelling of The Six Swans story, and a book I enjoyed immensely, so I was already familiar with the storyline. In The Wild Swans, one girl must endure great suffering and pain in order to break the spell cast upon her brothers by their wicked stepmother. The Swan Kingdom followed this plot to a certain point and then veered off on its own path. This book was beautifully written and had an imaginative twist, but it fell short of my high expectations.
The Swan Kingdom was filled with lovely prose and a magical atmosphere that captivated me from the beginning. I loved how Alexandra was a cunning woman, meaning her healing gifts came from her strong connection with nature. Women played an important role in The Swan Kingdom. They were the healers of not only physical ailments, such as disease and injuries, but also any corruption in the land. The land flourished when the old ways reigned and when people trusted in the cunning women's gifts. When Zella, the wicked stepmother, enters the picture, both the land and its people suffer greatly under her enchantments.
At first, Alexandra is held back by her insecurities and fear of failure. It takes her a year to realize that something is wrong and her brothers are not returning. Alexandra, unfortunately, falls into the all too popular cliche of a beautiful girl that is oblivious to her attractiveness. She believes herself to be plain and unforgettable all though it is made clear that she is pretty. Despite her naivete and timidity, I thought that Alexandra matured considerably by the end of The Swan Kingdom. She grows into her powers, carries the heavy weight of her losses, and discovers happiness and true love when she least expects it. I began to admire her resilience and found her to be a strong, compassionate individual deeply concerned for both her family and homeland.
Throughout The Swan Kingdom, I savored Mariott's vivid descriptions of the land's beauty and then bewailed its unfortunate deterioration. Mariott's words really brought this world to life for me, and I fell in love with the fantasy aspect. While I thought the world building was wonderfully done, I was not entirely satisfied with Mariott's tweaks to the original plot. I don't believe retellings should remain faithful to every detail of the original, but if there are changes, they need to fit in with the rest of the story. Mariott's re-imagining of The Wild Swans had great potential, but I felt like the ending was rushed. There was just so much happening at once in such a short length of pages, and then it ended abruptly. Everything was resolved way too easily and I almost felt cheated of the rich ending I was expecting. I think there should have been much more of a progression towards this twist and perhaps some more background info. Such as, why did Alexandra's mom withhold magical knowledge from her daughter? And it really frustrated me that Alexandra's trials and tribulations were almost nonexistent. The Swan Kingdom merely skimmed over Alexandra's attempts to break the spell on her brothers. Instead, a much larger focus was placed on the romance.
I went into The Swan Kingdom hoping for a imaginative re-telling and a captivating read. While the ending left something to be desired, I will say that my interest was held and I was not disappointed with Mariott's writing style. Even though I had a couple of complaints, I'm still looking forward to reading more of her work in the future, especially Shadows on the Moon.