Heather Tomlinson,
The Swan Maiden
(Henry Holt & Co., 2007)

If you've had enough angsty werewolves and fickle crane wives, you might find Heather Tomlinson's swan maidens to be a refreshing change. The Swan Maiden is a sparkling, magical tale whose sweetness -- like that of its heroine -- readily overshadows its faults.

Swan Maiden isn't a fairy-tale retelling, though it incorporates elements of several different stories: it's the coming-of-age story of a teenager who discovers her magical abilities and her identity, in that order. But if this sounds somewhat pedestrian, there's nothing like a bit of treachery, cynicism and dismemberment to shake things up.

Set in something like a medieval France with magic, Swan Maiden is the story of Doucette Aigleron, the youngest daughter of a nobleman. Unlike her two sisters, Doucette is not a swan maiden -- a girl born in the shape of a swan, endowed with the ability to shapechange and an aptitude for other magics. Instead, she has been groomed to be a pawn in a political marriage. Doucette is resigned to her fate, though her heart leans toward a handsome shepherd.

And then she discovers the swan skin she didn't know she had, hidden away at her birth by her overbearing mother, and sweet, ordinary Doucette suddenly finds herself with more power and freedom than she knows what to do with. But its price may be everything she thought she was and thought she wanted.

Doucette's gradual self-realization takes place over a number of different trials: a magical duel with her sisters, confrontations with her parents, impossible tasks (three of them) and quite a few others. Despite the often introspective nature of Doucette's adventures, the story moves along quickly. Actually, so much happens in relatively few pages that the different settings and story arcs feel somewhat glossed over. Doucette's magical training and the nature of her magic are sketchy; the castle with its fascinating, magical depths and blandly domestic veneer remains disappointingly vague.

Although its material might have been better expanded and divided between two or three books, Swan Maiden remains well worth reading for its likable heroine whose actions are always understandable (if not always laudable) and her relationship with her shepherd, which bravely goes beyond the happily-ever-after ending its fairy-tale motifs seem to promise.

Fairy-tale buffs -- very likely those who enjoy Gail Carson Levine and Shannon Hale's books -- will appreciate Tomlinson's often creative use of fairy tales and find Doucette a sympathetic heroine. Swan Maiden is a creditable maiden voyage for Heather Tomlinson. She's an author to watch.

review by
Jennifer Mo

5 January 2008

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