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Black Swan (The Elemental Masters Fairy Tales) School & Library Binding – May, 2000
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Mercedes Lackey takes readers back to the ballet with her latest fairy tale fantasy, The Black Swan, which retells the story of Swan Lake. Lackey preserves much of the ballet's action but provides a happier ending than the original German folktale had. She also gives the characters depth and motivation by providing them with histories.
Baron Eric von Rothbart, a powerful sorcerer, hunts down women who have betrayed men and transforms them into swans who can only resume their true forms by moonlight. His lonely daughter Odile, who watches the flock and studies spells, longs vainly for his approval. One day von Rothbart tells Odette, the swan princess, that she can break the spell by winning and holding a man's faithful love for one month. He's even chosen a candidate, Prince Siegfried. Unfortunately, the prince is a womanizing hedonist. Should Odette succeed nevertheless, von Rothbart secretly plans a trap for them and the prince's ambitious mother, Queen Clothilde, who schemes to rule in her own right. But he must use Odile, who has befriended Odette and is no longer her father's puppet.
Some readers may find the descriptions of dancing and costumes tedious--and Prince Siegfried a questionable hero. Odile, however, is as vivid a heroine as any Lackey's written. --Nona Vero --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From School Library Journal
YA-In this novelization of the ballet "Swan Lake," Odile von Rothbart, daughter of a vengeful sorcerer, lives on an isolated medieval estate with her father's prisoners, unfaithful young women who are swans by day and human while the moon shines. Unexpectedly, after years of living without hope, the swan maidens are offered their freedom if the Swan Queen, Odette, can win the faithful love of an eligible prince. Themes of marital and filial (in)fidelity combine to create a dark and tension-filled coming-of-age story. The sorcerer is obsessed with punishing women he deems untrustworthy, while his daughter has spent her life trying in vain to win his approval and affection. Odile initially makes excuses for her father's dishonorable behavior, but is forced to view him honestly as the story progresses. The prince has long ignored his own avaricious and callous mother and all royal duties. Both Odile and the prince discover that the growing responsibilities of adulthood require that they examine their consciences and make painful choices about loyalty to friends and family and self-sacrifice. The callous use of women and theme of sexual fidelity combined with the moody romance and story of betrayal make for a compelling read.
Marsha Masone, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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I've had experience reading Mercedes Lackey books before: "The Fairy Godmother" for instance was one that I reviewed favorably on Amazon with 4 stars, in spite of the fact that I was looking for romance and found an adventure instead.
This book "The Black Swan" was something that I got because of my familiarity with the Swan Lake story (and was currently in a Swan Lake mood). Everything that happens in the most common versions of Swan Lake happen here. Odette is a white swan, Siegfried is a prince, Rothbart is the evil magician who turned Odette into a swan and tries to stop Siegfried from saving her, and Odile is Rothbart's daughter who helps him in his scheme.
There are always twists to the way Swan Lake is told. The sheer number of ways it could end from one ballet production to the next are numerous. And like most adaptations this book also has it's own things to add. In this one, Odile, the black swan, is now the focus.
At least Odile is the focus according to the tile. In truth though, you have to deal with 3 viewpoints that sometimes have little to do with the titular character. The time you spend with the 2 other viewpoints is horribly long and not that interesting really. Mostly they just add flavor. The good news is that Odile's story is enough of a carrot on a stick to keep you going in spite of those chapters.
She goes thorough so much and she feels like a real person. A real person who is a bit sick in the head, but aren't we all. By the end of the book I really wanted more Odile stories.
Another thing to note is the world building that Mercedes Lackey does in this book. It's fascinating. It really makes you feel like you're living in that time, old customs, beliefs and all. Beautifully written in that respect.
One last note before I conclude: THIS IS NOT A ROMANCE. There is romance in this book but this isn't really about that. So don't read it as that. I wasn't looking for a romance this time, from this Mercedes Lackey book, which is why I enjoyed it so much. IT IS AN ADVENTURE, and should be read as such.
4 stars. A great adventure that makes me, once again, want to give her books another shot.
Swan Lake is my favorite ballet, period, and I trust Mercedes Lackey as a superb author, so I was very excited to open The Black Swan and delve deeply into the story. To my delight, Lackey has not only lived up to my expectations, but far succeeded them - I will gladly state that this is the best novel I have read this year, easily.
The story of the Swan Lake ballet is simple and Lackey does not lose the reader who might not be familiar with the source material. The evil wizard von Rothbart keeps captives maidens in his care and curses them to take the form of swans during the day, when there is no moonlight. The spell can be broken if a young man pledges his love and faithfulness to one of the ladies, the Princess Odette, and a Prince Siegfried steps forward to attempt this task, but von Rothbart plays him false and tricks him into swearing his pledge to his disguised daughter, one Odile, the black swan of the ballet. Siegfried and Odette cast themselves into the waters of the swan lake in despair. In some versions of the ballet, they are saved and von Rothbart is killed, but the ending varies according to troupe.
Lackey carefully remains true to her source material, filling in only the details of background and motivations, and her vibrant details are a delight. The gripping story follows the viewpoint of the much-neglected daughter Odile and asks the simple question: How does she feel about all this? Von Rothbart is a cold and cruel villain, and Lackey determines that he is naturally a cold and cruel father, as well. Odile is a strong sorceress, but a gentle woman, and strikes the perfect note as an unreliable narrator - she senses that she is nothing more than a tool and a vessel for her father's schemes, but she desperately believes that he loves her and that everything he does for her is for her own good. Through the course of the novel, she overcomes her scorn for the captured prisoners and comes to understand that their curse or, as von Rothbart claims, their "punishment" is not just or fair. When von Rothbart uses her against her will to trick Prince Siegfried into breaking his vow of loyalty, Odile turns on her father in shock, fear, and hatred, using her magic to kill him in order to save the prince and princess, her unlikely friends.
If this is a coming-of-maturity tale for the sheltered Odile, it is no less so for the regal Odette and the pampered Siegfried. Odette must come to face her own actions and past and determine that while her "punishment" is arbitrary, cruel, and unjust, neither were her actions completely blameless or without shame. She accepts this with dignity, and bears herself with courage and determination for the sake of her fellow captives. Siegfried, by contrast, has lived a life of pleasure and ease, encouraged by his mother who prefers that he stay infantile and she stay as Regent on the throne. He seduces and rapes women, barely seeing a difference between the two, and lives the life of a spoiled nobleman who has never been told how to behave to his fellow humans. When one of his "conquests" drowns herself and haunts his nightmares, he seeks to reform himself. When his efforts to reform himself by half are not enough to save the lovely Odette, he agrees to reform himself wholly and becomes a better person and a fair ruler as a result.
I simply cannot recommend this book enough. At 400 pages, the reading is gripping and swift, and I simply could not put the book down. This is easily the best book I have read this year and I could not have enjoyed it more - this book is simply perfect.
~ Ana Mardoll
Before I begin, yes, I love Swan Lake the ballet. Yes, Odile is my favorite character.
Yes, I liked this book. It was very good. I enjoyed reading it, and I'll never dance or watch the ballet or variations therefrom the same way again.
Without summarizing the entire book, basically... good good characterization. But not excellent. I can't quite put my finger on what exactly was wrong with it -- ah. Yes. Odette.
Odette is lacking. Odette is, to coin a phrase, almost an "NPC" in this book. Granted, the book's about Odile, but with the amount of care given inside the mind of Siegfried's mother, Siegfried himself... yes. Odette should have had more.
Plot's fairly close to the ballet, up until the ending, when I went huh?
Granted by the end of the book, I don't really want to see Siegfried and Odette plunge a dagger through their hearts, or plunge themselves into the dark waters of the lake to drown and become free spirits for all eternity...
... but... but ... but...
Okay, so it's a bit different because Odile jumps in, ruins the romantically tragic ending, and saves the day. I don't really, really, really mind.
I'm kinda glad they had a happy ending.
Okay, fine, it worked.
Anyway, good book. I felt like it was rushed, and could have been -- hell, even a trilogy. More backstory. More court intrigue. More good descriptions.