Fairy tale re-tellings often take on a life of their own. Some follow their roots more closely than others. Zoë Marriott’s then-debut novel, The Swan Kingdom, is shaped after Hans Christian Anderson’s The Wild Swans (which is a variation of The Six Swans by the Brothers Grimm). At the same time, The Swan Kingdom is like neither tale. It takes on a life of its own, full of lore that never existed in the original telling.
For one thing, there are only three brothers here—not six, not eleven, three. The number is much more manageable. Besides, I pity the poor girl who winds up with such a gaggle of brothers, especially when she’s the youngest. Talk about overprotective! Alexandra follows after her mother, a magical wise woman at one with nature. Whenever the two had scenes together as Alexandra learns more about the power of enaid, it brought to mind the type of magic used by Crysta and Magi Lune in one of my favorite childhood movies, FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Comparing the two, it was easy to visualize the enaid whenever it appeared in the novel. The addition of the Circle of Ancestors also brought tales of old to mind; I could picture this ancient, magical place perfectly. I always love when I can “see” what I’m reading, even if it’s only due to my own weird way of categorization. Marriott also twists the traditional tale by killing the children’s mother and showing us the way the King becomes besotted by the evil enchantress. I loved her creepy, disturbing descriptions when the three princes are transformed into swans.
My favorite addition to the original tale is the fact that Alexandra and Gabriel connect before she takes her vow of silence. I loved seeing their relationship slowly build as they got to know one another. After Alexandra realizes what she had to do to restore her brothers’ humanity, she can no longer speak until she has spun tunics out of dangerous wanton’s needle by hand. The first tunic takes her four months to complete, and the needle has already scarred and destroyed her hands. When she’s reunited with Gabriel and unable to tell him of her plight, I truly felt her pain and suffering. Marriott also twists the ending in a way that’s much less violent than the original tales, but still full of breathless anticipation.
If you like the original renditions or want to read another version of the tale once you finish The Swan Kingdom, be sure to also check out Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, which is a darker, grittier version of the tale. Marillier went on to write many companion novels, but only this first book follows a traditional fairy tale path.
I love the way Alexandra’s brothers are on the cover of this novel. The swans look gorgeous flying over the water. I always love watching birds fly over the lake when I go to the park. There’s something so peaceful about the movement. I also like the fact that Alexandra’s hands are brushing against her torso in such a fashion, with her eyes closed and head tilted. It feels like she’s calling forth the power of enaid, centering herself, at one with the land and the forest. This cover really captures the spirit of the tale within. To top it all off, I love the title treatment, especially the way the “K” swirls out.” It feels like a wisp of wind that could blow away at any moment.
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