Book: “A Rush of Wings” by Laura E. Weymouth
Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, November 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: Rowenna Winthrop has always known there’s magic within her. But though she hears voices on the wind and possesses unusual talents, her mother Mairead believes Rowenna lacks discipline, and refuses to teach her the craft that keeps their Scottish village safe. When Mairead dies a sinister death, it seems Rowenna’s one chance to grow into her power has passed. Then, on a fateful, storm-tossed night, Rowenna rescues a handsome stranger named Gawen from a shipwreck, and her mother miraculously returns from the dead. Or so it appears.
This resurrected Mairead is nothing like the old one: to hide her new and monstrous nature, she turns Rowenna’s brothers and Gawen into swans and robs Rowenna of her voice. Forced to flee, Rowenna travels to the city of Inverness to find a way to break the curse. But monsters take many forms, and in Inverness Rowenna is soon caught in a web of strangers who want to use her raw magic for their own gain. If she wishes to save herself and the people she loves most, Rowenna will have to take her fate into her own hands, and unlock the power that has evaded her for so long.
Review: I’m always down for a fairytale retelling of “The Seven Swans.” I have a pretty solid favorite in Juliet Marillier’s “Daughter of the Forest,” but there have been a few surprising contenders of the years. This month, strangely enough, I’ll be getting through two very different versions of the story! First off is “A Rush of Wings” featuring a very pretty cover! Alas, the story didn’t quite hold up to that promising start.
With latent magical abilities, there is nothing Rowenna wants more than to follow in her mother’s footsteps, using her gift to protect her family and the land. But where her mother is calm and serene, Rowenna’s spirit is wild and rebellious. So much so that her mother refuses to teach her, worried that Rowenna would lack the discipline to use such a gift wisely. But when Rowenna’s mother dies before teaching her, and then, disturbingly, returns changed for the worse, Rowenna is left without the tools to combat this powerful enemy. Now, with her loved ones trapped as swans and deprived of her voice, Rowenna must fight to understand and control the powerful magic within herself.
Obviously, I love the bare bones fairytale at the heart of the story: the young woman proving that strength comes from within, willing herself to keep going to save those she loves, pushing through pain and fear until the end. And that story can be found in this book. However, I was already struggling before we even got to that point, unfortunately.
For one thing, Rowenna was a difficult character for me to like. I understand her arch, one of coming to realize her own strengths and temper her more reckless moments. But that story seemed to mesh awkwardly with the typical character arch to be found in this fairytale. In the originally, you need to be wholly behind the heroine, to feel her pain with her, to urge her onwards and feel completely involved in the challenge before her. But with Rowenna, because she is set up originally in weaker position character-wise, I struggled to care for her story. She wasn’t outright unlikable, but she also didn’t have any particular aspects to her character that made her quickly appeal to me. Right there, the entire story was a bit hobbled going forward.
Beyond that, I found the writing to be stilted and awkward. Dialogue didn’t feel natural, and, worst of all, there was an abysmal lack of descriptive additions to scenes and characters. I couldn’t describe what almost any of the characters looked like or what their world truly held. It almost felt like the author was in such a rush to get to the action of her story, that she forgot to fully flesh out the world her story took place within. Without being grounded in any clear world or attached to the main character, the book felt like a rather sterile plot machine rather than a story.
One example of this problem came when fairly early in the story a few fantastical creatures were casually mentioned. I had no idea we were fully operating in this type of second world fantasy! Obviously there was magic, but the story went full on “magical creatures” on me, and without any descriptions of the world given to me, I had already established the world as largely based on our own. This is the kind of mental disconnect that can happen between a reader and a book when the author hasn’t done enough to establish the world firmly.
I was so sad to find myself struggling to finish this book. I think the author had some interesting ideas, but her characters and unclear world let the story itself down. Fans of fairytale re-tellings could perhaps add this to their list, but I think there are better versions of the story out there.
Rating 6: A bland main character and stilted writing left me feeling disconnected from the story overall.