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The Swan Kingdom


The Swan Kingdom

As a child, Hans Christian Andersen's "The Wild Swans" was always one of my favorite fairy stories. The tale of a devoted sister who loses her voice and inflicts nearly unbearable pain on herself --- all to weave the magical tunics that will save her 11 brothers, who have been transformed into swans --- was impossibly romantic and evocative to my childhood self. Apparently, Zoë Marriott, whose novel THE SWAN KINGDOM is a remarkably faithful but cleverly imaginative take on Andersen's classic tale, felt the same way.

Marriott's heroine is named Alexandra. The only daughter in a family with three sons, she has always felt particularly close to her mother, a wise woman whose true powers are hidden even from her daughter. When, just after introducing Alexandra to her true magical heritage and power, Alexandra's mother is brutally murdered by a horrible beast, Alexandra's entire family, including her brothers and father, are thrown into despair.

Alexandra's father, the king, spends weeks hunting the forest for the beast who killed his beloved wife. Instead, he discovers something in the woods that brings great joy to him but only fear and trepidation to his children. During his hunting trips, he discovers an eerily beautiful young woman, whom he invites into his home --- and his heart. Soon this mysterious stranger, Zella (whose name means "shadow"), bewitches not only Alexandra's father but also the entire kingdom. Only Alexandra and her brothers are exempt from her powers, perhaps because their mother's own powerful blood courses through their veins.

But when, during a botched attempt to overthrow her, the siblings see the full force of Zella's witchery, Alexandra's brothers mysteriously disappear, and Alexandra herself is sent far away to live with relatives in an entirely different region. Haunted by dreams of silent swans, eager to connect with the boy she meets on the beach but reluctant to discuss her past, Alexandra must discover her own powers while exploring how to destroy Zella's stranglehold on the Kingdom.

Marriott's retelling of "The Wild Swans" will certainly satisfy fans of Andersen's tale. She skillfully weaves together elements of the original fairy story into her more complex narrative, making them suitable for a young adult narrative such as this one. Romance, revenge, transformations, violence and loyalty --- THE SWAN KINGDOM has all these elements in abundance. Some readers may be surprised that Marriott remains so faithful to these classic plot points rather than subverting them in, for example, a more feminist "reading" of the original tale. Others will appreciate her fidelity to her original source, as well as her clever reworkings of it into a more comprehensive narrative.

Fantasy fans, even those unfamiliar with the original tale of which THE SWAN KINGDOM is based, will enjoy exploring Marriott's generally well-developed fantasy world. If anything, the climax, which is unfortunately condensed to one brief confrontation right at the book's closure, will disappoint readers for no other reason than that they would have liked to spend more time in Alexandra's world and see more fully the ways in which she grows into her full powers.

Nevertheless, Zoë Marriott is a new fantasy author to watch. Whether she continues to adapt classic stories for her own purposes or weaves her own magical universes, she is likely to delight audiences.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 25, 2008

The Swan Kingdom
by Zoë Marriott

  • Publication Date: October 13, 2009
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 0763642932
  • ISBN-13: 9780763642938