Court of Swans
Court of Swans provides a fairly decent opening for Melanie Dickerson’s A Dericott Tale series, which will focus on the Dericott siblings and retell various fairytales through the lens of their love stories. Court of Swans is a half-realistic/half faith-based retelling of The Seven Swans, though is tendency to lean toward bloody violence might disturb those looking for a quieter experience.
Lady Delia Raynsford is aghast to watch her father the Earl of Dericott marry a woman close to her age (she is fifteen when the book opens) and his bride is equally aghast at the presence of Delia, believing that she harbors “evil thoughts” toward her stepmother.
Delia is the only girl among seven brothers, all of whom she adores, and all of whom have been fostered out to train as knights. Parnella, her stepmother, banishes them back to those kingdoms after the wedding, and three years later when she has a son by Delia’s father, she wants the boys disinherited. Parnella is more than usually protective of her son and refuses to allow others near him, but this seems to reflect her intense paranoia in general. Delia has spent the last three years trying to get along with her stepmother and convince her she means no harm, but to no avail, and she has given up on their relationship.
When her father dies six months later, her brothers are accused of treason, conspiring against the king and killing him. Delia knows that Lady Parnella lies behind the plot, and sets out to save the lives of her brothers.
Delia uses the wise counsel of her aunt, an abbess, to navigate court politics – and her hated for Geoffrey, the king’s head guard, begins to wane as he shows her kindness and develops an incredulous disbelief in the charges levied against her brothers. They begin to work together to disprove the charges and hide her brothers from harm, but her faith and endurance are tested by the situation.
There are dangers coming at her from all sides – courtiers who wish to murder her or besmirch her, a cruel woman who wishes to hurt her, and the constant fear of having charges of treason leveled against her. Delia uses her faith in God as a bolster to keep her from sinking below the waves of her own fear. But will that be enough?
The uneven way in which Court of Swans is told is what holds it back. Grounding the story in reality instead of the magic of fairytales is a good idea and provides for an occasionally spellbinding piece of work, but Dickerson’s research falters in several places, though her choice to reflect the realism of the era does mesh well with her pragmatic take on Christianity.
Delia is supposed to be a strong character, the inverse of her complaining, scheming and paranoid stepmother and the shrewish court rivals she meets, but her blandness doesn’t really bear that out. Sure, she’s brave enough, but because the Lord is directing her mission, she’s left to the whims of fate on occasion, and refuses to take direct action or make direct judgments, as the Bible tells her not to, and the way she passively accepts what she cannot solve is irritating.
Everything about Parnella as a character is unsatisfying, from her lack of dimension to the way she disappears during the middle stretch of the novel during Delia’s investigation. Had I committed the massive amounts of fraud that she had, I would not have simply turned and run away, depriving the readers of the satisfaction of my comeuppance.
On the positive side of things, Geoffery is a good and stalwart hero. I really liked Delia’s brothers and her interactions with them, and a lot of Dickerson’s work on the action portions of the story – when they finally arrive – work well.
But the general prose here is a large problem. The combination of fairytale rewrite and actual historical backstory meshes pretty well, but Dickerson’s writing is flat and kerns toward telling instead of showing. The book could have been chopped down by a hundred pages and lost nothing but Delia’s propensity for endless internal meanderings, which stretch the action on for an unnecessary number of words. The language bounces between medievalisms and more modern-sounding English, and between modern spellings and old fashioned ones – it could have used an edit for consistency’s sake.
Court of Swans is an okay book overall – not great, not perfect, but passable entertainment for young Christian readers who aren’t sensitive to gore or attempted sexual assault.
Note: There is a fair amount of blood and gore in this one, as well as attempted rape. Parents or guardians with younger readers sensitive to such topics should beware.
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