Friday, August 11, 2017
The Enchanted Swans by Christy Nicholas
It's been a while since I read a fairy tale based novel and so I decided to go with one that wasn't just another Grimm retelling and branch out a bit. I've always been fascinated by Celtic lore and this one caught my interest awhile ago and I decided it was time to give it a shot. Let's see how it did.
Fionnuala, daughter of a faerie king, is struggling to keep things together. Her mother died in childbirth, her father's going crazy, she has two baby brothers to look after, and the High King wants her father and her secret boyfriend to marry his daughters. As she struggles with losing her boyfriend and dealing with her new stepmother, her troubles only seem to get worse. Soon, Nuala and her brothers are all transformed by a terrible curse that traps them in the bodies of swans for a grueling 900 years.
One thing I'd like to acknowledge right away is that it's clear that this author knows her stuff when it comes to Celtic lore. The set up of the fae world and its descriptions and way of life and very detailed and fleshed out. In fact, detailed is a good word for this book. There's a lot of emphasis on atmosphere and beauty of areas and landscapes. It quickly became clear to me that this subject matter is a big deal to the author and they did a good job of conveying that through the writing.
That being said, the detail can also become something of a problem in this book. Now, for the first half of the book, which takes place before the curse, it works fine. The latter half of the book, however, is where it suffers. Once the curse hits and our characters are turned into swans, this book drags. The pace grinds to a halt and it just crawls on for page after page of nothing happening. Now, this may not entirely be the author's fault. As I said before, this book is based on a fairy tale and so sticking to the original formula could be where the problem is. How do you make being stuck in the same location as a bird for 900 years interesting? I know I'd have a hard time with it! It was an uphill battle to begin with and, while the author tries to throw battles with the antagonist and a few curse-breaking attempts and more beautiful descriptions to liven things up, it ultimately doesn't captivate the audience because we know how it ends (if you know the fairy tale it's based off of anyway).
Another problem I had with the book was that of the main character, Nuala. Oh boy, was this girl a drama queen! Now, in some cases, she had good reason to be upset. She's got a lot to deal with and I understood that. What I didn't understand is why she always needed to burst into tears and run off and throw herself down on her bed and weep Disney Princess style. Every little thing has her running off and feeling sorry for herself, but then she boasts about how she can't afford to cry because she's the oldest and has to be strong for her brothers. The problem is she isn't very strong and while she does manage to put on a brave front occasionally, the audience is stuck in her melodramatic head the whole time. I just wasn't crazy about her.
Now, for the biggest problem I had with the book, I'm going to have to put the Spoiler Warning up again so, if you don't want it ruined, just skip down to the Final Verdict.
*SPOILER ALERT* The thing about enduring the grueling latter half of this book, as you're waiting for their curse to break and you're being dragged along with all their melodrama and watching everyone around them die, it's safe to guess that their curse will break and everything will be okay, right? Well, no. No, that is not the case. Once they regain human form, they age rapidly and die within a fortnight. How friggin' sucky is that!? I admit, I don't know the original fairy tale but, if I did and it ends like this, I might not have picked this book up at all. I wouldn't expect a novel based on a fairy tale I know to be sad like The Little Match Girl or something to end happily and contradict the lesson the original is trying to teach. Because I didn't know, all I got out of the ending was "Life sucks and then you die." But...at least they all grow up so they don't have to die virgins? Yeah, that's the compensation that the book tries to give us to make up for such a crappy ending. Real nice. *END OF SPOILERS*
This book was a bit of a slog to get through. Long periods of dragging, lots of melancholy, and a pretty unsatisfactory ending. Still, if you know the original tale and still want to give the book a shot, you might have a better time with it than I did and want to give it a shot...just check it out at your local library.
Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts. Have a book you'd like me to read or would like to make a recommendation? Contact me on goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/65448711-michelle-beer
Next Time: Two heirs, one throne, and lots of symbolism to go around...