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SwanSong Paperback – September 17, 2011
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About the Author
Lynne Cantwell has been writing fiction since the second grade, when the kid who sat in front of her showed her a book he had written, and she thought, "I could do that." The result was "Susie and the Talking Doll," a picture book illustrated by the author about a girl who owned a doll that not only could talk, but could carry on conversations. The book had dialogue but no paragraph breaks. Today, after a twenty-year career in broadcast journalism and a master's degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University (or perhaps despite the master's degree), Lynne is still writing fantasy.
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Top customer reviews
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The focus of the book is on the four children (if you don't know the story of the fate of the children of Lir) who are partially transformed into a swans by their jealous step mother. It was enjoyable at first, I quite enjoyed the introduction and even at the beginning thought the pace might have been a bit too fast. Sadly, the pace slowed considerably as the book went on. Trying to cover 300 year stints at a time got a little tedious!
There was a lot of focus on basic day to day stuff which wore a little thin too after the first lot. I felt that not enough emotion was put into the various losses for the children, they seemed a little glossed over to me.
The focus was primarily on the children and their singing, which bored me. I love music, just as much as the next person, but I didn't need to hear the same description of the songs over and over and over again.
This was an OK read, not great, not bad. It would be a good book to fill a few days if you had nothing better to do.
A few things I noticed:
6% - 'she wore a plain blue shift the (replace with that) complemented the pale blue of her eyes.'
14% - 'Neeva (Neeve) felt a queer sensation.'
16% - 'Those children had him wrapped around his (replace with their) little fingers.
16% - '...and disappeared over a much lower rise on the opposite bank.. (remove second fullstop)'
54% - 'so I have shut it up and moved to (remove to) back to the old rath.'
84% - 'Neeve tried to squint past past (remove second past) the glare...'
88% - "Oh ho!" he calledd (remove second d) when he saw them.'
As in the original tale, Ms. Cantwell's novel depicts the entwined fates of four siblings, a sister, Neeve, and her brothers Kennet, Corwin, and Kyl. Six years after the death of their mother, the children's demigod father marries Eva, the dead mother's haughty, divisive sister. Once the brief, sensual honeymoon is over, Eva's jealousy of the children turns deadly and she uses her limited magical powers in an attempt to destroy them. The children become trapped partway between swan-form and human-form, with their human faculties and sensibilities intact. The curse will last for 900 years.
Ms. Cantwell does a wonderful job of developing realistic relationships among the siblings, as well as a powerful love between father and children. His loss is felt deeply, as is the children's loss of him when he cannot follow them to the northern land where they are fated to dwell during the middle 300 years of their curse. The tale is set in an ancient time where magical beings and long lived giants dwell, but are dying out, and being replaced by regular people; the end of the 900 year curse sees the dawn of modernity when light is given by electric bulbs more often than at the tip of a magical wand. The siblings dutifully care for one another, and continue to grow as people despite their individual disabilities (each one is transformed in a different way). The story is a fantasy rooted deeply in the everyday aspects of life, which are beautifully and carefully rendered.
SwanSong has a few typos, but they are minor compared to the strengths of the novel, and can easily be overlooked. Point of view changes are a bit irksome at times. For instance, though Neeve is truly the main character, and her point of view usually dominates, there are times when we glance inside the mind of a brother and then quickly get back inside the mind of Neeve. This dilutes some of the story's power and could easily be remedied. But the overall impression of the story is, once again, strong enough to overcome such minor lapses. The novel has a good structure, with each part named for a kind of musical composition: "Cantata for a King," "Sonata for a Swan Quartet," etc. Music is an integral aspect of the story as the swan children have a gift for music that lies far outside the norm; it is, indeed, what sustains them throughout their long ordeal.
Lynne Cantwell's SwanSong will be sure to satisfy young adult and adult readers of fantasy, especially those seeking out new voices and timeless, well written tales.
What is perhaps most impressive is the reader's acceptance of the half-swan, half-human characters as she presents them effectively and empathetically. Just enough is left to the reader's imagination so that there is no awkwardness to the strange characters.
Chapters are named after designations given to symphonic music pieces, an unusual feature which suits the tempo of the story. There is just the right suspense and the climax gratifyingly unexpected.
And I was deeply moved by the book's theme, summed up in the thoughts of the heroine: "...gratitude... [is] the best revenge."
Having also thoroughly enjoyed "The Maiden's War", I look forward to more from Ms. Cantwell--surely this cannot be her swan song.