Thursday, November 24, 2011

Joint Book Review: Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler

Princess of the Wild Swans by Diane Zahler
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 224
Received: ARC from publisher
Small's Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 

Goodreads Page

How well was the fairy tale adapted?

I'd put this retelling on the younger end of MG, and for that level I think Diane Zahler did a pretty good job. All of the basic elements of the original story were present, but this was like the Disney version of the original. I know I usually say I want the Disney version, but for this particular fairy tale I don't want sugar coating. I want the princess to suffer. Mwahahaha!

Ruby: Hm, but how young? I could see an eight year old enjoying this book, but the reading level is more nine or ten. I agree about the suffering. That's basically what the fairy tale is about. By lessening Meriel's suffering, she lessens the impact of the original story.

Small: I agree on all counts. I can see anyone from 8 to maybe 12 enjoying the story, but especially the 8-10 year old crowd.

Seriously though, I don't mean my laughter in the evil queen way it sounds. It's just, you're right, the meat of the original story is all about the princess's suffering through these truly horrible trials because she loves her brothers so much. Her suffering provides depth to the story and underscores how powerfully she loves them. Her triumph at the end (and partial failure) are made so much more poignant when she perseveres through hell to get there.

Ruby: Zahler also put too much emphasis on how much Meriel had "grown", which made her previous self sound pretty worthless. Which I didn't appreciate, because I tend to think that good heroines already have the internal strength they need to, and that their story is about finding it.

Small: I do wish her growth had seemed more gradual and building on a foundation that was already there. Instead it was sort of a flip from "selfish Meriel" to "Wonderful Meriel" and I wasn't buying it. I also didn't see anything in "selfish Meriel" to like, so right off the bat we started out on the wrong foot.

Going back to her suffering, Princess Meriel had to pick nettles and it was mentioned that her hands ended up looking pretty messed up. BUT she had friends to do half the work and keep her company and provide her with healing balms. And she wore gloves. Gloves! That's lame. She also found a HUGE loophole for the no-talking requirement and I was so NOT pleased with this cop out.

Ruby: Couldn't agree more. I kept wanting to shout, "SORCHA DIDN'T WEAR GLOVES!" and similar things.

Small: It's cheating! Her journey was hardly the torturous trek it was supposed to be, and so the destination wasn't nearly as sweet as it would have otherwise been. But this IS a middle grade book, after all, and so I guess I should give all of this a pass. (Is my grumbling petulance showing through?)

Ruby: Pft. I don't care if it was written for toddlers. She didn't have to change that part. Not to get all grandpa on you guys, but it wouldn't hurt some kids to experience some suffering, especially if it's vicarious.

Small: Hehehe, in Sorcha's day she walked twenty miles uphill both ways in the snow, barefoot and without gloves sewing her prickly nettle sweaters...


Small: They were nice. There isn't really much else to say about them. They didn't have much depth, which admittedly does sort of go along with the whole fairy tale thing.

Ruby: Nice is such a tame word! I don't want nice characters. Nice = boring.

Small: Pretty much.

Even though the friends lessened Meriel's suffering, I did like those two characters a lot. Their relationship with Meriel was sweet and served to provide the framework for Meriel's (much needed) personal growth. Their presence also helped liven up a story that can very easily tend toward the boring and overly introspective.

Ruby: There were times when I felt they were there to teach Meriel life lessons, and to show that poor people are nice and compassionate.

Small: Ha, yeah, that "poor people are people, too" message was a little heavy handed, wasn't it?

Meriel annoyed me. She did get better as the book went on, but I still never fully warmed up to her. With the exception of one, the brothers didn't distinguish themselves beyond a few labels, nor did they have any real personality. All of this combined to make it so I didn't really feel for them and their fowl predicament.

Ruby: "Fowl predicament"--HA!

Small: Thank you, thank you. *bows and grins*

The Fantasy Elements

Small: Supplementing the original story was a Diane-Zahler-original dimension with a fairy kingdom. I liked this feature and thought it provided a decent source of motivation for the queen's actions. It blended in well enough and didn't seem out of place to me, but I wish it had more depth or explanation. It felt like it should have been more of a Big Deal than it actually was.

Ruby: This being my first Zahler novel, I can't say how it compares with her other works. I thought the queen was in line with the other characters in the book--she was underdeveloped. But stereotypes (archetypes?) are a feature of fairy tales, so I wonder if that was Zahler's intention? If it was, then she's not the fairy tale-reteller for me. What I like about fairy tale retellings is the chance to see new, different, and more complex sides of those very archetypes. Retellings bring new dimension to old tales. Or, they should!

Small: I can be ok with that. I think I'm still going to give her book The Thirteenth Princess a shot, especially now that I know where to park my expectations. I do agree though, overall I much prefer a fairy tale retelling that provides more plot and, especially, character depth than the original version.

HarperCollins is generously providing a copy of Princess of the Wild Swans for giveaway!

Info for the giveaway:
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • You must have a US mailing address
  • There is an opportunity for an extra point for tweeting about the giveaway
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • Your address is not required, but including it will help with sending the book out to you sooner
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on December 7th

How did you like our joint review? This is the first one I've ever done, and I'm honored to have Ruby as my very first co-reviewer. 

Have any of you read this book or one of Diane Zahler's other fairy tale retellings? How do your thoughts compare to ours?

But wait! The joint review isn't over yet! Check out Ruby's blog today for the rest of our review!

Have you entered to win our prize pack giveaways?


  1. I haven't read this book but am definitely interested. I LOVED this joint review!!! It was pretty cool to see both perspectives and I really felt like I was watching a conversation that was actually happening instead of reading something that 2 people wrote separately!!

    Lah @ LazyGirl Reads

  2. Loophole for not talking? LAME!!!!
    Wearing gloves? Where has the spirit of this tale gone?!!!

    As Ruby said: SORCHA DIDN'T WEAR GLOVES!!! She didn't even scream when they you know... well, Ruby obvs knows.

    (Small, have you read it yet?)

    Meh, I hate heavy handed messages!

    And I agree with both of you ladies, I like re-tellings because they add to the story, they explore different aspects of it, not just say the same thing over and over again. Even those skinny little Once Upon a Time books do that! and those ain't that long or written very complexly.

  3. Yes, Alex, I know. It'll be interesting to see what Small's reaction will be, having come from the opposite angle I did.

  4. I really like this review style! Like, a lot! :) I think it's awesome!

    I've read Zahler's previous two novels, and I feel like the way you described this one is how I've felt after both of those-

    Definitely enjoyed it, unique and neat and interesting concept but not a great deal of depth and a lot left unexplored.

    But, I'm definitely interested in reading this one and really do love this joint review! I'd love to see more of them!! :)

  5. What a gorgeous cover! Great back and forth banter with Ruby.

  6. I loved the joint review! Great job. It was like listening in on a great book conversation or having a book club at my house. ;)

    If you're looking for a great adult (and older teen) retelling of this story, look no further than Juliet Marillier, Daughter of the Forest!

  7. Lah, I can see you liking it. I'm so happy you liked our joint review! It was a lot of fun putting it together.

    Alex, Ha, yes it was totally lame. Nope, I haven't read Juliet Marillier version yet, but I will very soon and I even own a copy. This does add a new dimension with the fantasy aspects and the friends, but I didn't think it had as much character depth as the Once Upon a Time books (love them!)

    Ruby, Hopefully I'll be able to find out soon :)

    Ashley, Thank you for the feedback! Oh, good to know about the other two. I do want to read them, and I think I'll enjoy them more now that I know what to expect (and not expect) from them.

    Julie, Thank you! I agree, the cover is gorgeous. Diane Zahler has some of the prettiest covers around.

    BookGeek, Thank you! That's what we were going for :) I really need to read that Juliet Marillier book! :P

  8. Oh, when you two get together, now that's a great review!! Loved it!


  9. I liked this review! As for the story, I have to say I'm not very familiar with the original. Though from the sounds of it, this one lacked impact. I find I'm more often disappointed with retellings than I am pleased for the reason you both stated: lack of originality or added character depth.


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