What by Who: The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott
Another of my favorite stories is that of the princess who were turned to swans and saved by their sister, who remained mute as she wove thorn-spun shirts to break the spell. This... is not really that story at all. Which is, really, the worst thing I can say. Unlike Goose Girl I can't lay this on a mix up - it is simply a grand re-imagining. And one that works quite well, though it left me slightly confused as to what had happened at certain points.
The story centers around Alexandra, a princess that runs about the woods around her castle and studies earth magic with her mother, all the while admiring her three brothers and wishing her father wouldn't be so disappointed in her. When her mother is attacked and dies, her father marries a beautiful witch and her brothers disappear. Alexandra is then sent away in a rickety cart to live with her aunt in a far away kingdom until she manages to break the spell on her brothers, defeat the witch and return home.
It isn't so much the story that comes from the familiar tale that made me recommend the book, however. Nor is it the old world magic elements, though they were an interesting touch. No, what really spoke to me was the princess's transformation while at her aunt's house. When she first arrives she is horrified at the order of the place, and of her aunt. She is a wild sort of princess, one that plays and digs in the earth and has never cared overmuch for her appearance or her manner. But during her time there she transitions from a carefree child to a confident, elegant woman. She wears her hair in a neatly styled bun, enjoys her formal gowns and holds herself as one who deserves respect. And yet through all this change she remains herself.
It's a situation that speaks to me, in a way. In school I was very much like the princess at the begining of the story. I never wore make-up or put much thought into what I wore. In college I seem to remember being covered in a nearly constant layer of charcoal and took to wearing black daily simply because it was easier than keeping the stains from art class out of my clothes. But some time after graduation and after getting married I found myself somewhat changed and was dealing with changes around me. I couldn't be the art student anymore and was working less with charcoal and more with books. I was free to try a new image and for the first time I really wanted to. And eventually I came back around to lolita, a fashion I'd admired but been afraid to try in high school but had forgotten in the craze of classes and friends after. It is a far cry from the image of myself that I've put forward before, but at the same time I'm still utterly myself. And I have a hard time believing I'm alone in this transformation.
I'm not sure how much I would recommend this book, however. I suppose it hits the right notes. The story is well told, though not as advertised. The characters are good and the addition of the magic tied to the land gave it a great feel. However, the plot was predicable and slightly confusing all at once and the countries seemed to be separated by time periods rather than distance, which was slightly unsettling. Still, it is a quick, pleasant read that's a decent filler for a rainy afternoon.