Customer Reviews: The Black Swan (Fairy Tale Series, Book 2)
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on July 9, 2002
Compared to some of M. Lackey's earlier works, especially her tales of Valdemar, but this book left me wanting. The characters were flat and the story was contrived and bland. The villian of the story was about the only character who remained consistent. The females of the book were often simpering and melodramatic. The "heroic" prince is a confused rapist who falls in love with a the leading fowl of the swan flock.
This story would have greatly benefited if the author had made her main character more independent and less of a (excuse the pun) lackey.
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on March 15, 2012
***Spoiler Alert***

The so-called "hero" rapes a bathing gypsy girl and then tries to justify it with the rationale that she ran away rather than hide her nudity. He thought she was being coy. REALLY??? Ok, he had bad dreams after. He tried to be a nicer guy, but I will never endorse a book where the hero is a rapist.

The book was well-written and would have been a much better novel without that scene. It made the hero lose credibility, regardless of his later attempt at reform. He paid off a couple of prostitutes and was patient with people he used to think beneath him. Oh boy...

Near the end of the novel the hero falls in love with the heroine after a 5 minute conversation, but by that point I was no longer engaged. I am a huge fan of Mercedes Lackey so this was very disappointing. I expected more powerful female characters. I expected a hero that I could actually like. The only bright star was the daughter of the sorcerer, Odile, but it is very clear that she would have continued to be a willing participant in her father's schemes if he wasn't such a psychopath.
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I wanted to like this, but it just didn't have much oomph to it. The characters were insipid and unbelievable, and the prose unexciting and predictable.
Of course, this is Mercedes Lackey, so the writing itself isn't bad, but leave this one is strictly for Lackey fans. For new readers looking for books in this vein, try her title "The Fire Rose".
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on March 5, 2012
When I first saw this book I wasn't excited to read it. I actually only bought it because it was on sale with Mercedes Lackey's Firedbird. But I have to say once I opened it I fell in love! This book puts a slight spin on the classic Swan Lake by following the Black Swan's (Odile) story. It also sometimes switches views to follow Prince Seigfried and his mother.
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on January 12, 2011
For those who don't already know "Black Swan" is Lackey's retelling of the ballet "Swan Lake" but since the basic fairy tale can be summarized in a page, the author adds a tremendous amount of storyline and characters to flesh the book out to its 402 page length. I don't normally read fantasy, but I loved the movie "Black Swan" so much that I decided to give it a try.

By and large I found "Black Swan" to be an enjoyable read. It's told from the perspectives of Prince Siegfried, his ambitious mother Clothilde and the Black Swan herself, Odile, the daughter of the sorcerer Rothbart. Of the three, Odile is by far the most interesting and sympathetic. She's a far cry from the bewitching vamp that we see in the ballet. Rather, she's a young woman kept cloistered by her misogynist father, dedicated to learning about magic and seeking to win her father's approval (if not love). I found her a very sympathetic and appealing character.

<minor spoilers>

Prince Siegfried is a less than appealing hero. Early in the story, he commits a rape of a young gypsy girl who kills herself. As rapes go, it's not a particularly brutal one and committed out of arrogance (his refusal to believe that a woman could find him anything but irresistible) rather than because he hates women or wants to inflict pain. But it's still a sexual assault and the "redemption" his character undergoes is a little less than complete. If I had been Lackey's editor, I would have either made the rape an attempt at rape or had the character show some serious remorse (he does a bit but I think a lot of good men would be suffused with guilt over something like that and for the most part, he gets over it rather quickly).

<end spoilers>

One other flaw is that while the book unfolds a little bit slowly, the plot goes from from zero to sixty near the end and gets resolved a little too fast (at least for my taste) and the last ten pages are sort of filler.

But the book is a nice read for the most part, and it gave me a better feeling for the story of Swan Lake.
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on March 18, 2009
Black Swan / 978-0-88677-890-3

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
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on March 5, 2006
Mercedes Lackey is either a writer who manages to hit every right note with the reader or hits every wrong note. In the case of _The Black Swan_ she manages to slipshod in what could have been one of her better non-Valdemar orientated novels.

_The Black Swan_ is of course inspired by the ballet "Swan Lake" based on the old myth of a young Princess named Odette who is captured by an evil sorcerer named Van Rothbart, cursed to be swan by day and human by night (Moonlight, specifically); she wins the love of a handsome Prince named Sigfried and the rest from there varies with each telling of the story. In some tellings there is a secondary character, either an assisstant or a daughter named Odile who helps Van Rothbart in his cause. In the case of Lackey's _The Black Swan_ Odile is Rothbart's daughter and the narrator of this, albiet well written but poorly paced and focused novel.

Lackey deliberately sought out an alternate view point when writing this novel, focusing instead on Odile, Siegfried the Prince and his Mother Queen Clothilde, shying away from Van Rothbart and Odette and perhaps it is here that she falters. For one of Lackey's greatest weaknesses and strengths in a good deal of her writing, is focusing a good deal of the story on the villan. In the case of Queen Clothilde and her almost manic desire to stay young and keep her throne, her evil-evil-no-redeemable-part-of-them whatsoever viewpoint is a major factor that manages to drag the novel and leaves it decidedly unbalanced. Lackey simpliy spent too much time with Clothilde and didn't focus on those character truly enduring to the tale, rather then truly "important" to the tale.

While Odile is a likeable herione who manages to be at once, both intelligent, compitent and amazingly-naiive she's also a lackluster narrator that leaves only the dilligent reader rivited to the story itself. While Sigfried is a remarkably unsympathetic and almost at times completely oblivious narrator as well whose redemptions and realizations of his past sins seem, as one reviwer said unbelieveable. Lackey takes a chance with the novel by spurning away from her usual route and giving the reader narrators who aren't without any true fault other then being different. She instead takes and opposite route and gives us characters, each of whom have some past grievances and flaws that makes them seem more human and not all together truly likeable.

Lackey's swing away from her usual route in writing is what doesn't make this novel all together likable or one of her better works. Lackey is at her best when either devoting the novel entirely to the hero/herione or evenly balancing the story between two characters, the villain and the hero itself. As another reviewer said, Princess Odettes point of view would have been welcomed here, an even balance to Odile's characteristics. Being better suited as a real developed character rather then a plot point that definitely left something to be desired as she is the true Locus of the story. Odile maybe of Lackey's less whiny heriones and a welcomed good change of pace for bringing forth a neglected character to shine; but she sadly is not all together interesting or sparkling.

_The Black Swan_ isn't reccomended to hard core Lackey fans who perfer her traditional style of narration and characteristics, nor is it truly reccomended to anyone but the deepest lover of Fairy Tale retellings. _The Black Swan_ is a nice edition to the market for a thorough and decidedly adult (as opposed to the three movie cartoon series suited for children) telling of the story of "Swan Lake", but it also not the best novel in terms of pacing and focus. Half a reccomendation to only dilligent readers and readers who like their heros with a few humanistic flaws and love focusing on the villain of the tale.
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Mercedes Lackey's _The Black Swan_ is, fundamentally, about metamorphosis. On the surface level, it's a retelling of the story of Swan Lake, a tale of shapeshifting. Lackey moves further into the theme of change, as we follow the development of two interesting characters. She moves the Princess Odette into a more supporting role, focusing instead on Prince Siegfried and on Odile, the daughter of the evil sorcerer Rothbart. Siegfried is a chauvinist pig and a one-time rapist, in danger of becoming a true villain, when he goes through a haunting and a religious experience, and begins to try to live a better life. Odile is an aloof sorceress-in-training who initially idolizes her father and disdains Odette and the other swan-maidens; as the story progresses, she comes to know both Rothbart and Odette much better, and realizes who really cares about her and who does not. She opens up more to emotion, as she learns how to have friends.
Oh, yeah, and besides all this stuffy English-major thematic stuff, I would like to mention that it's an immensely enjoyable book, and a lot of fun to read.
Why not five stars? I subtracted a star because I don't believe the shapeshifting spell was described very well. The girls are supposed to remain swans unless Odette can keep a man faithful for a month--but on the day Siegfried first proposes, the girls talk about how this might be their last night under the spell. And the spell is supposed to change the swans back into maidens from moonrise to moonset--but Lackey always has them as humans by night ans swans by day. The moon rises at different times throughout the month; it's only at the full moon that it rises as the sun sets. So technically they should have transformed at different times of day throughout the month. But don't mind my nitpicking. It's a good story anyway.
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on January 30, 2008
(Spoilers below)

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.
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on September 11, 2004
This was my first Mercedes Lackey book, and I want more! It's a female fantasy, kind of like a romance in a fantasy setting. Guys won't like it. (I know because my brother didn't like it and he's a fantasy nut.) It revolves mainly around Odile, von Rothbart's daughter. It also covered a lot of sexist issues in an interesting way, such as how men can cheat on women yet not the other way around. With some of the men in this book, it's a wonder von Rothbart is after only women!

The problem with the book was that I felt it was incomplete. For example, why is von Rothbart after women? What did his wife do and why? You never find out. Why does von Rothbart hate mirrors? They show the truth, but what is he hiding? You don't find out either. Odile has a scrying mirror, and spends a chapter speculating and studying, but never ends up using it to see into her past.

The romance is mainly about Odette, the swan princess, even though she is not the main character. The main character, Odile barely gets any romance, and she is the black swan.
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