The Kingdom has been a prosperous place for all of the people: the royal family, the farmers, and the common folk, for as long as anyone can remember. Longer than Midland, certainly, which was once known as the City of Flowers, but was plagued by war, which caused the flowers to refuse to bloom. Kingdom’s prosperity is largely due to the gifts and talents of Lady Branwen, the queen of the land. She is a wise woman—able to perform great healing and has more talent than the cunning women, who have small gifts of magic. From her, her daughter, Alexandra, has learned much, and has become quite a cunning woman herself. She works alongside her mother in her garden, and is greatly respected by many people in the Kingdom—many people, but not her father. Her father, the king, is disappointed in his daughter—he had wished for an obedient, beautiful daughter that would heed his wishes and could be married off to his advantage. But instead, Alexandra is wild and far from obedient, comely, but not extraordinarily beautiful, and is her mother’s student through and through.
Despite her father not being entirely pleased with her, all seemed well for Alexandra—a loving and skilled mother, caring and fun brothers, and a peaceful home. That is, until after her fifteenth birthday (the age when people are considered adults in the Kingdom) when her mother takes her into the forest for a secret ritual. There, Alexandra is let into an even bigger secret, and her life changes forever…in more than one way. Her destiny is to become greater than her mother ever was, because she has been granted a Great Gift. In shock, Alexandra cannot believe what the apparition of her ancestor tells her, but before she can learn any more, a scream pierces the night and ends the Alexandra’s meeting. Rushing back to her mother’s side, she finds her mother crumpled in a growing pool of blood, and a wild, sinister beast circling her. Blindly charging away from the beast, Alexandra raced back to the castle. Despite Alexandra’s hard efforts, even the skills that she learned could not save her mother, and the entire kingdom was devastated.
Her father is stricken and does not speak to his children anymore. He spends most of his time in the woods, searching and hoping to kill the beast that took his beloved wife, but everyday he returns empty handed. Everyday until one day, he returns with a darkly beautiful woman named Zella, whom he saved from the woods. In the blink of an eye, the king and his country are out of mourning, and everyone has fallen under this mysterious woman’s spell. The king is smitten, the people are ecstatic about their new queen-to-be, but for some reason, Alexandra and her brothers have not fallen under her sinister charms, and are wary of her. Who is this woman who is shrouded by darkness and mystery?
Determined to come to the bottom of this woman who is posing a great threat, Alexandra and her brother hatch a plan to reveal her for who—or what—she is. But when the plan goes horribly awry, Alexandra finds herself shipped off to her aunt, who lives in Midland, and her brothers banished.
News reaches her that her father has been going to any ends to satisfy his new queen, who has been slowly destroying Kingdom right under his nose. But trapped in her aunt’s house far away, Alexandra feels hopeless and believes that her brothers will come rescue her and retake Kingdom from Zella’s grip.
Reminiscent of The Wild Swans fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, Alexandra of The Swan Kingdom has similar avian sibling problems. Alexandra eventually finds out that her brothers are not in good health and hidden, waiting for their chance to strike, as she had believed, but rather, that they are in limbo between life and death. Ever since their nightly encounter with Zella, they have been in that state, and are only sometimes able to take the form of swans. Recalling a spell she saw at the end of her mother’s book, Alexandra sets out to knit tunics of stinging nettles to free her brothers from their spell. But to succeed, she must remain silent for the whole process. How can Alexandra complete this arduous task when Zella and her minions are after her, let alone stay silent the whole time? But if she doesn’t succeed, then her brothers could very well remain in limbo as swans for the rest of eternity…
There have been many retellings of fairy tales, but I have not read many (if any at all) for The Wild Swans, until The Swan Kingdom. It is refreshing to read a new take on a classic fairytale that has not been retold as many times as Cinderella and Snow White—truly unique! Alexandra bloomed and matured, growing to finally accept her role and use her powers wisely, while learning the lesson that outer beauty is not everything. Author Zoë Marriott wove a captivating tale that preserved the heart of The Wild Swans fairytale while giving it her own spin and adding complexity to it!
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