on September 4, 2007
Here is my full disclosure. I taught Heather Tomlinson physics in high school. She was unforgettably sharp, so quick and delightful. When I learned that she had written a novel, a fairy tale for young readers, I naturally thought I should get it and see. I certainly did not think of reviewing it. But I certainly have to.
Let me start with a summary statement. The tale pulled me in and stepped right along - rich, surprising, greatly satisfying. It will not spoil the plot to say that I was as spellbound as Nicolau, the unfortunate character who was unable to let go of the door bolt.
Any work that means to create a world in some degree unlike our real world must have two things to succeed, beyond an obvious need for a plot that works. It must have imagination and invention to draw us in, and it must have depth, those touches large and small that surround and fill and give us room to watch the story from inside. This one has both, in full measure, and would earn a hearty recommendation without need for more. But more really must be said.
I delight in fine wordcraft. Just as there are composers with the gift of tuneful invention (I go for Schubert and Dvorak), so there are writers gifted with perfect pitch in wording. I found myself utterly enjoying the wordwork. Such zest and agility, so tasty and just right!
A tale for young readers? This is a tale for all readers.
on March 31, 2008
The Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson is one of the most beautiful and amazing books I have read in a long time. Seriously, everything about this book I loved.
The Plot: While I found it to be a tad confusing in some places, it still flowed along so beautifully. It was exciting, filled with twists and turns I never expected. This plot also didn't drag on and on and on, as some writers have their books do. This plot was tight and to the point.
The Characters: These are some of the most endearing and complex characters I have ever read about. Doucette was a great main character since she wasn't the pretty or magical sister. Jaume... oh my gosh! I think I developed a little crush on him. Azelais and Lady Sarpine were the perfect villians, challenging Doucette in many ways.
The Writing: Obviously, Heather is a fantastic writer. It was so fluid and beautiful and very addicting as well. (It was nearly impossible for me to put this down!) And with this being her debut novel, I imagine it can only get better with her forthcoming books!
So... I highly, highly recommend this book. This is one of the best books I have ever read, and I think you feel the same way too!
on August 27, 2007
This is a fabulous retelling of a fairy tale. A great read and a "can't put it down until you are finished" type of book. As a children's author I read many fantasies and this rates as one of the top ones. A must buy.
If you've had enough angsty werewolves and fickle crane wives, you might find Heather Tomlinson's swan maidens to be a refreshing change. Swan Maiden is a sparkling, magical tale whose charm, 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 tale 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 a fantasy version of medieval France, 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 shapeshifter born in the shape of a swan, endowed with magical powers. Instead, daydream though she might about handsome shepherds, she is resigned to being a pawn in a political marriage. And then she discovers the swan skin she didn't know she had, hidden away at her birth, 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 or thought she wanted.
Doucette's gradual self-realisation takes place over several different trials: a magical duel with her sisters, confrontations with her parents, and impossible tasks (three of them). The pacing is a bit off; despite the introspective nature of Doucette's adventures, so much happens in relatively few pages that the different settings and story arcs sometimes feel episodic and rushed. Doucette's magical training and 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 goes far beyond the triteness of happily-ever-after.
Fairy tale buffs who love Gail Carson Levine and Shannon Hale will appreciate Tomlinson's often creative use of fairy tales and find Doucette a compelling heroine. Swan Maiden is an impressive maiden voyage for Heather Tomlinson.
on May 3, 2011
As the summary says, The Swan Maiden is about a girl named Doucette. The youngest of three and the daughter of a Comte, Doucette dreams of being a Swan Maiden and weaving spells like her sisters. Unfortunately for her, Doucette is instead doomed to be a Chastelaine. Stuck cleaning and running the household while her sisters run wild with magic, Doucette envies their beauty and confidence. But most of all she envies their swan cloaks, because it's with these coats that her sisters are able to turn into swans and fly. On top of having no magic and being plain looking, Doucette's sisters also enjoy using their magic to humiliate Doucette with cruel pranks.
As with all fairy tales or fairy tale retellings, The Swan Maiden starts by showing the reader just how unfair things are for Doucette. Not only is Doucette not as attractive as her sisters, but she also isn't a sorceress. To make matter worse, her sisters play a mean trick on Doucette and embarrass her in front of Jaume, her crush. Jaume also happens to be a sheppard, which follows the standard noble girl and pauper boy meme fairy tales seem to love (or vice versa). Of course their circumstance means they're doomed to never be together and Doucette will likely be married to a man she doesn't love for political reasons, but then something unexpected happens. While helping her mother prepare for an upcoming party, Doucette stumbles across a grey cloak of feathers. It turns out Doucette is a Swan Maiden and her parents have kept her from her magical birthright on purpose. It's at this point Doucette seems to have the power to grasp everything she's ever wanted. The question then becomes, "is it worth the cost?"
Even though this book is a fairy tale retelling, it's also a coming of age story. The reader gets to follow Doucette as she struggles to accept the simple life she doesn't feel happy in, embraces her magical abilities, and then has to decide whether to chose love or freedom. While the story may be pretty expected, The Swan Maiden still has enough charm to make it interesting. Love stories tend to be pretty unimaginative in fairy tales, but the struggle between Doucette and Jaume was actually pretty satisfying. My biggest complaint about the book was how rushed the latter part of the book felt. It lacked the depth the first half had and instead felt a bit hallow. The thing I love about fairy tale retellings though is their familiarity. The Swan Maiden feels familiar while also being wholly its own.
Doucette has always wanted to shed her chastelaine duties set for her by her mother in favor of taking up a swan skin and joining her sisters in flight. But without the magic that her sisters have, and as the youngest daughter, she is expected to stay home and marry for duty. However, when old family secrets come to light, Doucette is suddenly faced with new freedom. And with that freedom comes choices. Does she choose to embrace her birthright and risk everything she has and loves, or stay safely in the shadows of her sisters and do as is expected of her? Readers may feel exasperated with Doucette's lack of confidence at times, but will ultimately find themselves experiencing every one of her triumphs and failures as though they were their own in the magical and entrancing tale full of love, betrayal, and forgiveness.
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This was overall a hit and miss book for me. Upon first glance, I was instantly drawn to it by its lovely cover. I love how the artist plays on the human and swan form. It is beautiful. However, once I got into the book, I learned quickly that covers can be deceiving.
Within a few pages, I was overwhelmed with Thomlinson's use of French terminology. It is everywhere. And while I applaud the author for attempting to make this book as authentic as possible, since the original tale has French origins, I fear some readers may be put off by its over usage. While I enjoyed the twists that Tomlinson attempted, it was at times poorly executed. Overall, it felt like the author was juggling way too many plot elements. I honestly believe that if some things were cut out, then this would be an amazing novel.
All in all, I really did like the main character, Doucette, and many of Tomlinson's twists to this wonderful fairy tale. I would have just preferred to have this novel toned down a little bit.
on July 18, 2012
The Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson 3.5 out of 5 stars
Doucette Aigleron is trapped. Trapped by her mother, trapped by her position but, most of all, trapped because she has no wings.
Her two sisters, Cecilia and Azelais, are swan maidens: Sorceresses who can use their swan feathers to change into swans as well as perform many kinds of magic.
Each year Doucette must stay home and learn how to run a household while her sisters fly off to their aunt, the Queen of Birds, to learn the magical arts. Everything in Doucette cries for freedom, but she sees no way to get until discovering her own swan skin, hidden since her birth.
She uses the swan skin to escape and runs into her secret love Jaume who begs her to marry him. Thinking he mocks her, Doucette leaves in a fit of anger to join her sisters and her aunt in their pursuit of magic.
The arts she learns there change the way she views life forever.
I borrowed The Swan Maiden from my local library after reading the book jacket and thinking I might enjoy the read. The tale told by Heather Tomlinson is traditional --but with a few twists.
I enjoyed reading of the trials Doucette and Jaume go through to find their love, but was a little disappointed with the last quarter of the book. Cecilia and Azelais, once an integral part of the story surrounding Doucette's suffering and growth--just dissappear completely in the second half of the story.
There were a few random characters thrown in that were there only to shed light on how Doucette's character had degenerated, and I also didn't like how she treated Jaume and how readily he forgave her. I felt the ending was too rushed for me to easily appreciate it.
Altogether, though, I did enjoy the read over all and would read other works by this author.
on March 27, 2012
Doucette has always longed for the one thing she will never have. To be a swan maiden. Her 2 elder sisters are, but her mother insists that she wasn't meant to be one, and so is training her to take over the responsibilities of running a castle. Then Doucette discovers her parents secret. Doucette does have a swan skin, making her a swan maiden. With her new found swan skin, she flies over to join her sisters in training with Tante Mahalt, their sorceress of an aunt.
Upon returning home, she finds that the shepherd she has grown to love over the years is requesting her hand in marriage. In order for her parents to allow them to marry, he must pass 3 challenges. In order to win, he must depend on Doucette's powers.
I would've really loved this book if it hadn't been for Doucette's character. She was very selfish!
She doesn't think about why people are stopping her from doing whatever she wants. She thinks they're being selfish, when they're only trying to help her. She doesn't seem to listen to reason very well to the voice of reason.
I love Jaume, though. He was calm and smart and sweet and patient all these other thinks you want in a man. He was willing to do so much for Doucette, when she wouldn't do them for him.
The language was so beautiful and lyrical. I enjoyed reading it so much. The only part that I really didn't like about the lyrical language was the fact that I know I could never write like that. It's okay though. My writing style is different, and even if this language would fit really well on my stories, I wouldn't want it to. My writing has to have my voice and not someone elses.
This had a very interesting plot. There were points when I knew exactly what would happen, but then in the next chapter, everything would change! I didn't agree with most of Doucette's decisions, but they were her's to make, not mine.
on July 18, 2011
The beginning of the book was the best part because it had a very traditional once upon a time feel to it and the main character was a bullied third child. Even though the romance was a bit fast and unbelieveable(tomlinson could have provided more examples of the two falling in love or hinted more at it) I still liked the plot. The story started to drag for me in part two of the story where Doucette and Jaume had to run from her family. Doucette is barely likeable sometimes because she has a very immature personality. Not only is she timid and easily bullied but she is also petty and prone to the same unkindness her sisters exhibit. She complains a lot and never lets Jaume explain himself before leaving in a huff. Just because Jaume was laughing in the first part she got pissed and left and later because he let his DOG kiss him. That last part was trully a WTF moment for me because at this point she's just looking for excuses to leave the guy that went through hell to be with her?? Doucette as a character just confuses me and Jaume is no better. I mean who is totally ok with the same girl jilting you for no reason over and over and why is he in love with her in the first place?I cant believe he took her back in the end no questions asked. Most of the time i think Doucette is really just in love with her magic and to only reason she wanted Jaume is because hes a hottie and she wanted to detach herself from her stiffling family. Really her family is pretty messed up imo but i did like her sister Cecille cause shes a free spirited person who may play pranks but doesnt do it to be cruel.