Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Swan Maiden - Jules Watson

The Swan Maiden
Jules Watson
Bantam
Copyright Date: 2009
978-0553384642

According to the cover of The Swan Maiden:
In this lush, romantic retelling of one of the most enduring Irish legends, acclaimed Celtic historical author Jules Watson reignites the tale of Deirdre—the Irish Helen of Troy—in a story that is at once magical, beautiful, and tragic.

She was born with a blessing and a curse: that she would grow into a woman of extraordinary beauty—and bring ruin to the kingdom of Ulster and its ruler, the wily Conor. Ignoring the pleadings of his druid to expel the infant, King Conor secrets the girl child with a poor couple in his province, where no man can covet her. There, under the tutelage of a shamaness, Deirdre comes of age in nature and magic…. And in the season of her awakening, the king is inexorably drawn to her impossible beauty.

But for Deirdre, her fate as a man’s possession is worse than death. And soon the green-eyed girl, at home in waterfall and woods, finds herself at the side of three rebellious young warriors. Among them is the handsome Naisi. His heart charged with bitterness toward the aging king, and growing in love for the defiant girl, Naisi will lead Deirdre far from Ulster—and into a war of wits, swords, and spirit that will take a lifetime to wage.

Brimming with life and its lusts, here is a soaring tale of enchantment and eternal passions—and of a woman who became legend.

This is a book that I ended up buying because of what I'd read about it on various of the blogs I follow, although I can't now remember the specific blogs that reviewed it. I'm glad I did get it though.

A fascinating fantasy based on an old Irish legend, The Swan Maiden is definitely a good read. Because of the legendary base, you know the story has to follow a certain path to its conclusion, but at the same time I found that I had to keep reading to see how Jules Watson was going to reach that end.

I found the prophecy to be rather reminiscent of Greek myth: Oedipus, Paris etc, where something prophesied occurrs despite the actions taken to avoid it, as though it is the action of avoiding the prophecy that sets it in motion. That, however, seems to be fairly typical of these ancient stories. A warning perhaps?

The setting of the story is iron age Ireland, apparently a few centuries before Christ, but there are, so far as I can tell, not being an expert in Irish ancient history, no real markers to definitively pin a period down.

Jules Watson, the author has created a vivid and realistic (although magical) world which the reader can almost touch, hear and smell. That's one of the things I really liked about the book, the feeling that there was more to the world, and that there were other worlds touching on this one. Every life is interconnected and has it's place.

Aspects of this story reminded me of some of the other ancient-set stories I've enjoyed, such as Epona, written by Morgan Llwellan. Also, of parts of Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon. I will definitely admit that I'm rather partial to the mix of history and fantasy to be found here in The Swan Maiden.

On the other hand, there were times when I found the story to be a bit slow moving and I found myself skimming for a few pages. Not enough to mar my enjoyment though.

Next year, there's going to be another myth-set book by Jules Watson, and I'm going to have to keep an eye out for it as well (not to mention the trilogy she's written, which I have yet to read): The Raven Queen. I get the feeling that it is intended as a sequel to this book.

One thing I wonder at, is given how The Swan Maiden is based on Irish legend, if anyone's read the original legend, how does it compare?
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