It’s been a while since I’ve had a FTF, eh? To be honest, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the time to scout out fairy tale retellings specifically, so Friday’s have been more of a “let’s do reviews of 2015/2016 books” since I’ve been reading more of those. This book checks both boxes!
The Wild Swans, by Jackie Morris, was published in 2015 by Frances Lincoln.
At first there is only happiness; a childhood blessed with loving parents and eleven brothers, handsome and brave. But when the queen, their mother, dies, a terrible change comes to the castle and to Eliza. Enchantment deep in the forest leads the king to marry the mysterious woman in white. Who knows why he conceals his children from her, in a tall tower, within a complex maze? But when the new queen discovers them, she takes a bitter revenge, and eleven boys become eleven swans, who must fly far, far away from their sister. Eliza will need love, faith and courage to find her brothers, and that is only the beginning of her quest to break the white queen’s spell.
The Wild Swans is a pretty basic retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name, but Morris’s gorgeous illustrations and lyrical writing helps breathe beauty and richness into it. There were moments when I did grow a little annoyed with the writing, but all together the effect is quite pretty and helps make the retelling memorable.
I did like how the white queen gets a bit of a more complex motive than in the original fairytale. There was the implication throughout the novel that the queen would have welcomed and loved the children if she had been given the chance. She turns the brothers into swans out of jealousy and rage and, perhaps, sorrow, rather than out of the Andersen fairy explanation of “because stepmothers are evil and don’t love their stepchildren.”
Since the retelling is basic, so is the characterization and the world. Eliza is pretty one-note all the way through, but I do like how she’s the quiet, strong protagonist type. I think she’s given perhaps a little too much wisdom than the situation warrants, but maybe not.
So, yes, The Wild Swans is simple, but its dissimilarity to other fairytale retellings that are currently in vogue makes it stand out. Its simplicity makes it beautiful, helped along by the illustrations and the at times annoying, but mostly beautiful writing. This is a great little book with which to read to or with a child.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Middle Grade
Inside the tower she climbed the steps to the boys’ chamber. All were asleep, the youngest turning in fitful dreams of flying. Across each boy’s bed she threw the softest cover of pure white cloth, light as a feather. Each floated down, then wrapped itself tight around the sleeping figures, clinging, attaching at every contour of their bodies. Eleven soft cloths of the finest spiders’ webs, each warped with a spell, wefted with jealousy.
As she stood over the youngest boy, to drape the last cloth, he opened his eyes and looked into hers. “Mother,” he said, and smiled a smile in his half-awake dreaming so warm that she almost relented.
‘I could have been,” she answered, as she swept her hands across his eyes and muttered a spell for sleeping.
The last cloth fell.