I received a review copy of this book through Netgalley; all opinions are my own and honest.
Summary: When a swan crashes through her window at the height of a winter storm, journalist Mitzi Fairweather decides to nurse the injured bird back to health. But at sunset, the swan becomes a woman.
This unexpected visitor is Odette, the swan princess – alone, adrift and in danger in 21st-century Britain, entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers. Bird by day, human by night, and with no way to go home, she remains convinced, to Mitzi’s distress, that only a man’s vow of eternal love can break her spell.
Mitzi is determined to help Odette, but as the two try to hide the improbable truth, their web of deception grows increasingly tangled. Can they find a way to save Odette before it’s too late?
Genre(s): Adult, Urban Fantasy, Fairy Tales (Swan Lake)
Representation: female friendship, kind-of immigrant
Content warnings: xenophobia, minor mentions of blood
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I’m so glad I picked up this book when I did; after a string of 2-star reads I was starting to feel guilty and burnt out. But the writing is fantastic, elegantly descriptive without being lurid, and the characters are nuanced. A lot of important social themes come up naturally, from pursuing your passions to xenophobia to philanthropy to moral dilemmas; a lot of it is well-trodden ground, but the topics are still extremely relevant and the tone isn’t preachy. There’s also much more emphasis on friendships than on romance, even while keeping the male-centered conditions of Odette’s curse at the forefront of the plot.
Possibly my favorite thing about this story is the way it’s been adapted: beyond simply retelling the fairy tale with a contemporary backdrop, Duchen has actually incorporated modern concerns and attitudes (leasing terms, bureaucratic paperwork/police concerns, the nature of interpersonal relationships, etc.), making the narrative unique and memorable. The ending was a little bit abrupt, but I think it works well with the tone and setup.
And the characters are terrific too. Mitzi is a complex protagonist, balancing Good Samaritan impulses with her own financial struggles, pursuing her career while trying to keep sight of her personal interests, worrying about her actor-hopeful little brother; she’s easy to relate to and sympathize with. On the other hand, Odette displays the typical sheltered-princess-discovers-reality culture shock: she’s innocent and wide-eyed and optimistic in a way that charms everyone around her, but this card is played sparingly enough that it’s not grating — just enough to demonstrate how it influences her understanding of the world and her interactions with others. (There’s potential “othering”/exoticism issues with her poor English, but in addition to being Russian she’s a hundred-plus-year-old princess so I wasn’t bothered by it, though others may feel differently.) You can’t help but want to protect her, just as Mitzi does, and to feel her longing for freedom warring with her love of flying.