The Swan Kingdom
by Zoë Marriott
March 25th 2008 by Candlewick
Hardcover, 272 pages
0763634816 (isbn13: 9780763634810)
rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Swan Kingdom is a re-imagining of the fairy tale Six Swans. The first written account of this tale was done by the Brothers Grimm around 1812, and its variations throughout Europe feature ravens or ducks. Those early versions were meant to emphasize the unity of the family in light of adversity, which theme Marriott continues.
In The Swan Kingdom, King and Queen of the Hartlands have four children: three boys, and the youngest, a girl, Princess Alexandra. Alexandra inherited her mother's skills as "a cunning woman," a woman connected with the natural forces and wise in ways of natural healing. Not even her skills can save the Queen when a malevolent being seeks to destroy the Hartlands. Alexandra is sent away, her brothers are turned to swans, and it takes her a year before she even realizes that she's the only one who can save them.
I understand why an agent and/or an editor took on this book. Marriott has incredible potential as a fantasy writer. Her descriptions, even of lowly herbs, are sumptuous. When she sets her mind to it, she can write a tight, fast-paced scene. Alexandra is (mostly) a smart, likeable protagonist, with the sincerity and doubts of youth but without posturing angst. If you're a fan of fairy tales at all, The Swan Kingdom is worth reading.
However, I don't think that The Swan Kingdom will ever be heralded as her best work. (At least, I hope not.) It's filled with cliches, such as Alexandra thinking she's "plain" and the reader finding out later that she's beautiful. The pace can sometimes lag (I started skimming), and she overdevelops minor characters and under-develops major ones. This book is a great beginning, and I'm excited to see more from this promising author.