Princess of the Wild Swans

212p. CIP. HarperCollins/Harper. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-200492-5; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-210202-7. LC 2011019378.
Gr 3–6—Zahler uses Andersen's "Wild Swans" and the Grimms' "Six Swans" as a departure point for the story of Princess Meriel, whose five brothers are turned into swans by her evil stepmother, the Witch-Queen Orianna. Meriel is helped by Liam and his sister Riona, a good witch in love with one of her brothers. She explains that to free her brothers, Meriel must sew five shirts out of nettles while remaining mute until the garments are completed. As Meriel's task nears completion, the danger from the Queen increases, and Meriel is hidden in the village, thus putting the townspeople at risk. At the same time, the swans are in danger from the impending winter and from an entrance to the Land of Faerie at one end of the enchanted lake they swim in. A suspenseful climax leads to a happy conclusion. Although the brothers' characters are undeveloped, the main characters and plotting are successful. Meriel's relationship with Liam, in particular, has a contemporary feel. There is a touch of Irish fairy tales in the Gaelic names and the Queen's connections to the monster onchu. Zahler softens the original stories: the effects of the nettles are temporary, as Meriel soaks the stinging substance out of the nettles, and her muteness is greatly tempered by her ability to communicate telepathically with the people who are helping her. Fans of Gail Carson Levine's "Princess Tales" series (HarperCollins) are ready for something longer and more novelistic will love this tale.—Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
When Princess Meriel's new stepmother turns her five brothers into swans, Meriel must save them by making each a shirt from stinging nettles--but she mustn't speak before her task is done. The novel departs from Andersen's "The Wild Swans" in ways that diminish the narrative tension, but fairy-tale fans will enjoy the atmosphere and the spunky heroine.

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