The Wild Swans (Timeless Fairytales #2) by K.M. Shea
The Wild Swans isn’t a retelling I come across often, although it had always been a secret favorite story of mine. The strength of this fairytale is that it relies on the family relationships over romantic relationships, which is a sweet spot for me and not done often enough in fairytale retellings. Elise is the princess, and King Henrik adopted her into the royal family with seven brothers. Elise runs the treasury and is a business whiz, and I really liked this element of Elise’s character. I don’t think I’ve read a penny-pinching princess before, and Elise’s personal goals are to keep her country afloat even when her father, the King, marries Clotilde, a woman that wants her hands on the country’s purse strings.
The brothers, as siblings, are great characters. Some of them (Nick, Mike, Erick) aren’t as well fleshed out, but the other four brothers (Steffan, Rune, Falk, and Gerhart) have full and complicated relationships with Elise. I was particularly touched by the familial bond between Elise and Steffan, and they had a really sweet big brother/little sister relationship that was totally believable. (Did I mention there’s not enough family relationships explored in epic fantasy in general? It’s an amazingly rich area that so many stories leave untouched.) I absolutely believed Elise wanted to knit her hands into bloody pulps to save the big brother she admired. (In retrospect, this big sibling/little sibling relationship is the initial thing that I loved so much about Grey, too.) Elise and Gerhart have a complicated relationship, and it’s because Rune and Falk both have crushes on their adopted sister.
Yeah, the romances are where this story falls apart. (But only a little bit…I promise this won’t be another ‘Heather rants about romances’ reviews.)
Since we’ve had Game of Thrones, we are now all presumably cool with incest relationships in our fantasies, but there’s a weird brother/adopted-sister dynamic love triangle that I couldn’t grasp onto. While Thief of Songs had an interesting love triangle that was rich and complex, The Wild Swans had an awkward pair of relationships between Elise/Rune and Elise/Falk. There’s also the ‘choose your own ending’ bit, which I didn’t hate, but I wasn’t invested in either romance, so I read them both. If Elise’s relationships with Rune and Falk hadn’t been romantic (or if one of the brothers would’ve been purposefully picked as the love interest), this story would’ve woven itself together more convincingly. In Beauty and the Beast, the romantic plot is strong, even if it ended a bit wonky. The two characters are able to grow together, and the love triangle dilutes that relationship a lot in this story.
This series is being told in a single universe, which worked well to entice me to read the rest of the series. The heroine, Elise, is unique, and her attachments to her brothers and to her country are the powerful, driving forces of this story. The end, where Elise chooses to face Clotilde rather than risk her brothers’ lives again, touched me and got to the heart of why I love this fairytale. That overcame the awkwardness of the romances for me, and maybe it will for you, too.
Rating: 4 stars because I was excited to read this story the entire time, even when I found myself groaning a little bit. Is it an objectively ‘good’ story? I don’t know, but I really did love this retelling, and the focus on family hit a sweet spot. It might, objectively, be a 3 star book, but the characters elevated this retelling for me.