The ebook cover of Lynne Cantwell's mythic novel SwanSong has four swans flying in an ominous, cloud-banked sky. A giant moon hovers above them, casting no light, offering no comfort. It is a beautiful picture, suitable to this enchanting young adult fantasy based on the Irish folktale "The Fate of the Children of Lir."
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 everday 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 is a self-published ebook available at Smashwords.com and Amazon.com, and will be sure to satisfy young adult and adult readers of fantasy, especially those seeking out new voices and timeless, well written tales.
(reviewed 67 days after purchase)