Thursday, December 13, 2012

Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler

Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler is a retelling of the "Six Swans" fairy tale.

Headstrong Princess Meriel spends most of her time escaping from her governess and attempting to emulate her beloved older brothers -- but when her father brings home a new wife, Meriel's life changes, and not for the better. Meriel's stepmother sends the boys away to school -- or so she says. When Meriel discovers six swans swimming on a nearby lake, though, she realizes the truth. With the help of a local family of witches, Meriel learns that she must sew shirts for each of her brothers from nettles -- and she must do so without speaking. In the meantime, her stepmother's cruel magic threatens everyone in the vicinity, and winter is fast approaching. Will Meriel be able to rescue her brothers in time?

I've always loved fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, but not all of them are created equal. This particular retelling is enjoyable enough, but does not stand out in what has become a rather crowded genre. I have a few issues with the plot (note to the squeamish: these could be considered spoilers), and they all come down to the ability of various magic-users to read minds. Meriel's ability to mind-speak with her magic-wielding friends undercuts the drama of her not being able to speak aloud while making the shirts (it feels like cheating, to be frank); and the stepmother's ability to read minds, but inability to learn about Meriel's brothers because Meriel's father thought only of his daughter . . . well, I just didn't buy it.

I'd recommend this to children who are discovering the fairy tale retelling genre for the first time, as it is a less frequently told tale (and the other retellings that I can think of are for older readers), and to fans of this fairy tale in general. Adult readers looking for a retelling of this tale, though, should look first at Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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