Review: Swan Lake by K.M. Shea

After reviewing Cinderella and the Colonel, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Selkie from K. M. Shea's Timeless Fairy Tales series, I wasn't sure what to expect from Swan Lake. On the one hand, I did not enjoy two of the three books by her that I had read, but on the other hand, the story of "Swan Lake" is unique because it is performed in dance more often than it is told in prose. My instinct to give this book a chance in spite of Shea's shortcomings as a writer turned out to be spot on. Swan Lake was a real page-turner that stayed true to many elements of the ballet while adding in some modern twists. It is the seventh book in the series, and it is the best one that I have read so far.


Like K. M. Shea's other fairy tale adaptations, Swan Lake features a clever and calculating version of Odette who leads and protects the other cursed swans of the lake. For this reason, she is given the nickname "Swan Queen" like in the ballet, though her shortcomings prevent her from wearing that title with pride. Odette was the first of Rothbart's victims Unlike the others, she came to him voluntarily in exchange for paying off her family's debt. Just like in the original story, Odette, along with Rothbart's other victims, are swans by day and humans by night. Odette trains the others to do smuggling jobs for an unknown client while also working to keep their curse a secret by preventing others from coming near the lake in case Rothbart finds them and curses them as well.

Her plan works out just fine for four years until two princes discover the secret of Swan Lake and insist on trying to help find a way to break curse despite Odette's numerous protests. One major difference between this version and the ballet as well as Richard Rich's famous film is that instead of making the prince's companion a bumbling friend who has no real significance to the story, Alexsei visits Swan Lake with his brother Yakov, who is a self-proclaimed expert at charming ladies. Odette's lack of interest in Yakov is a tribute to her astute ability to see past people's outward appearances. In fact, she finds Yakov just as cheesy as any modern princess would find a superficial prince of old. Odette's relationship with Alexsei is slow and filled with doubt due to a lack of self-esteem on both sides. Alexsei sees himself as unworthy of love due to living in his brother's shadow, and Odette views herself as an unimportant peasant in spite of her strong leadership abilities.

Rothbart's daughter Odile, while still Odette's foil, is very different from the dark seductress portrayed by Natalie Portman's character in the 2010 movie Black Swan. Since this version of Odette is a strong modern warrior as opposed to the frightened mousy version in the ballet, Odile is shy and delicate to contrast her. Also in contrast to the original story, is on Odette's side in wanting to stop her father, making things rather awkward when Rothbart transforms her into an Odette lookalike at the ball to try to fool the princes. Odile's mother is mentioned on occasion, but never seen in the context of the book. She is implied to be a wicked sorceress like Rothbart. Though she does not inherit all of her parents' magic, Odile has an enchanted flute that she uses to tame wild animals, which comes in handy when Rothbart releases some extremely dangerous wyverns near the end of the book.

It seems to me that K. M. Shea is a lot better at writing high fantasy than she is at realistic romance stories. She was able to bring the myth of the selkies to life in The Little Selkie. With Swan Lake, she brings us a fully realized world of dark magic, dragons, and magical transformations. I found Odette to be a lot easier to relate to than Elle from Beauty and the Beast because she keeps fewer secrets from the audience, and her intentions of protecting everyone under Rothbart's spell were clear from the beginning. It was interesting to see the unassuming Prince Alexsei strip down her protective layers one by one until they both saw each other for who they truly are. I really enjoyed this version of "Swan Lake" and felt that it added a much-needed modern perspective to the classic ballet.

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