Proudly proclaiming itself as ‘the most thrilling fantasy you will read all year’ Throne of Swans boasts high expectations on its cover. With dull prose, a washed out lead and predictable storyline, sadly this novel does nothing but disappoint. Throne of Swans will be published January 2020, I read a proof I won at YALC this year.
Set to inherit the powerful dominion she is trapped in Aderyn longs for freedom. Seizing her opportunity upon her father’s death, with nothing but fleeting knowledge of the outside world and a dangerous secret, Aderyn leaves for the king’s court, desperate to avenge her mother’s murder that still leaves her dangerously scarred. Suddenly she steps into the dangerous world of secrets and politics she should have been raised in, yet has little understanding of. In a world where nobles are marked by their ability to transform into birds and executed if they loose this power nothing can be more dangerous for this flightless dominion ruler than entering her uncle’s, the King’s, court. Especially when her claim to the throne and the important dominion under her control ensures that the court must surely want her dead.
“We can’t any of us out-fly fate.”
Aderyn, our protagonist, narrates with equal parts niavity and selfishness. As the young, inexperienced and doted upon leader of a powerful dominion her narrative rings with gullibility as she determinedly ignores the advice of others for a pointless quest that she earnestly undertakes, forsaking a dominion she claims to love. The events of the novel are so self inflicted it’s impossible for any reader to truly care about her situation. Even her character development is marred by inexperience: rather than truly regretting her choices or growing in maturity she simply convinces herself of the justification behind her decisions. Her friendship with her flightless maid, Letya, further served to highlight her priveledge and ignorance as they talked endlessly of tiresome problems the flightless face yet never sought solutions, Aderyn’s focus always on herself.
The surrounding characters present little complexities: Aderyn, her mother and her father’s loyal clerk are good, kind and attractive, while the other nobles were ugly, greedy and cruel. Sparsely detailed beyond their rich, greedy stereotypes it is a struggle to recall which noble is which. The central characters show minimal character development throughout the novel: Odette remains ignorant and uncaring about politics or her role as heir to the throne, Aron is portrayed, and the reader is often told, as the perfect just ruler, continuely resentful to have lost his birthright and Lucien is permanently arrogant. While these characters present unique flaws and details that effect the plot none of them overcome these issues or even realise they are flaws, their characters remaining stubbornly flat during the events of Throne of Swans.
World building proved an easy task for the Katherine and Elizabeth Corr as their simple setting was merely a predictable feudal system, the nobles ability to transform into birds providing the only sprinkle of originality. The reader is presented with a cliché backdrop: nobles are cruel to the flightess, a wicked tyrant rules and peasants are left struggling. Although the sparse and unexplained details about medieval castle design is correct the world holds little originality and the setting adds nothing to the saturated fantasy genre. It was further disappointing that the only unique aspect this world held: the nobles ability to transform, shaped the world itself very little. Aside from nobles flying to court and additional landing platforms placed atop castles the world was impacted disappointingly little from this development. The authors favoured the unimaginative medieval feudal system and standard setting any reader would recognise.
The writing style was tedious and simple. Descriptions were few and it fell to Aderyn’s narration to tell of the state of the realm. The reader was told the roads were bad, which dominions were cruel and the kindness Aderyn’s family showed towards the peasants but this world building was never detailed through action or event. Neither captivating nor beautiful, with an unengaging commentary from Aderyn’s perspective, there is little encouragement for a reader to continue. At times it was difficult to discern the events of the novel and impossible to connect with the protagonist from such an uncompelling monologue, the only description the novel presents being a typical ball scene where Aderyn’s dress is described in some detail. The reader is predictably told that Aderyn looks beautiful by a male character and the dreary monologue continues.
Similarly, Aderyn’s affection for Lucien was told to the reader but never shown, as the authors make no attempt to build chemistry between the two characters. Their romance was fast moving, from knowing little of each other to sex in one paragraph without a single conversation in the middle. This whirlwind romance quickly leaves Aderyn and Lucien to a declaration of love as the two begin discussing marriage. Most worrying was Lucien’s demeaning tone and derogatory comments, dismissive at best but more often taken to be bullying, towards only Aderyn. These cruel quips were quickly forgiven and dismissed as Lucien explained his love for Aderyn had fueled his degrading commentary. Lucien’s cruelty and this damaging series of events, a negative trope to be portraying, was never criticised during the novel, a damaging relationship that is often glorified through the YA genre.
He was a good man. But a good man can still do terrible things.
The relationship between Aderyn and her lady’s maid, Letya, was included purely for plot purposes. Again, Aderyn’s affection for this character was told to the reader by Aderyn and was impossible to discern from the dynamic between the two characters. Despite Aderyn’s insistence, her control over her friend, as Letya’s ruler and boss, made the friendship uncomfortable. This fact, although mentioned, is never explored in the text. The brief mention of Letya’s family and the toll her extended stay at court has taken on the young servant, is similarly brushed aside and stirs no compassion in our neglectful and childish protagonist. This friendship further bolstered the disappointing view of Aderyn already emerging: a tendency to be selfish and ignorance of surrounding situations and characters. Her relationship with Letya shaping her character very little beyond what the plot required as the authors never fully address Aderyn’s priveledge.
Trust was a prominent theme throughout the novel. From Seigfried’s persistent questions on the subject to Lucien’s insistence that Aderyn should trust no one a dark undertone was added, foreboding what the reader can already deduce. This theme is used to further highlight Aderyn’s limited understanding of her uncle’s court and her niavity as her readiness to believe others makes her vulnerable. The complex relationships shown throughout Throne of Swans make the reader question motives that Aderyn simply believes as this underlying theme was woven throughout the text.
The plot was predictable and only served to highlight Aderyns flaws: her greed and selfishness leading her to dangerous situations, her niavity compromising her position, all the while the reader cares little as she steps into yet another obvious plot twist. Furthermore, the events of the novel seemed inconsistent. The antagonists appeared to orchastrate varying conflicting strategies that appeared placed by the authors to cause Aderyn as much anxiety as possible without actually considering the purpose behind each event. The pacing felt disjointed as the novel stumbles from one problem to the next without fully finishing the original storyline. This made both the pacing and the plot difficult to follow, all the while the protagonist dragging the reader around these seemingly random events pursuing her own selfish aims.
But I realise, sitting there alone with Siegfried on the roof of his house,v exactly how much I have allowed myself to become dependent on him.
The target audience for Throne of Swans would be older teenagers. With themes of torture, images of death and implications of a sex scene it is definitely not middle grade however the immaturity of the main character makes it difficult to place in the older Young Adult market. Aderyn, the novels heroine, is about eighteen throughout the story.
Overall, Throne of Swans was not the most thrilling fantasy of the year. Ripe with obvious twists and confusing turns it adds little to an unoriginal backdrop disappointingly coupled with an uninspiring and frustrating protagonist.