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The Swan Maiden by Jules Watson: A Book Review

The Swan Maiden
Author: Jules Watson
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Bantam
Release Date: 2009
Pages: 560
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: In this lush, romantic retelling of one of the most enduring Irish legends, acclaimed Celtic historical author Jules Watson reignites the tale of Deirdre—the Irish Helen of Troy—in a story that is at once magical, beautiful, and tragic.

     She was born with a blessing and a curse: that she would grow into a woman of extraordinary beauty—and bring ruin to the kingdom of Ulster and its ruler, the wily Conor. Ignoring the pleadings of his druid to expel the infant, King Conor secrets the girl child with a poor couple in his province, where no man can covet her. There, under the tutelage of a shamaness, Deirdre comes of age in nature and magic…. And in the season of her awakening, the king is inexorably drawn to her impossible beauty.

     But for Deirdre, her fate as a man’s possession is worse than death. And soon the green-eyed girl, at home in waterfall and woods, finds herself at the side of three rebellious young warriors. Among them is the handsome Naisi. His heart charged with bitterness toward the aging king, and growing in love for the defiant girl, Naisi will lead Deirdre far from Ulster—and into a war of wits, swords, and spirit that will take a lifetime to wage.

     Brimming with life and its lusts, here is a soaring tale of enchantment and eternal passions—and of a woman who became legend.


     My review: The Swan Maiden is a retelling of “Deirdre of the Sorrows”, an Irish Helen of Troy. In this story, Deirdre, who at birth was born with a curse that her beauty would be the downfall of the king. In order to change the fate of his doom, King Connor decides to give the girl over to a poor couple and hides them in the woods where no one knows of their whereabouts. He then makes her betrothed and wants her adopted parents to raise her to love the king. However when Deirdre becomes of marriageable age, she decides to reject the king because of his old age and soon falls into the hands of three warriors. She and the oldest of the three Naisi soon fall in love with each other. Soon, their star-crossed romance not only brings about the ruin of the king, but also the kingdom.

      At first, Deirdre is portrayed as a naive young girl. She does not know much about the world around her. However, she loves nature, and it is as if she and nature are of one being. She is also very spirited for she chose to defy the king. She is also very intelligent, which helps her to overcome her obstacles. Deirdre is also very lonely. She has no siblings to confide in, and yet when she meets Naisi and his two brothers, she feels kinship with them, and they become her family and her home. I also liked the slow-budding relationship between Deirdre and Naisi. It is begins as friendship then grows into a romance.

      Overall, this book is about friendship, family, and love. This book is filled with adventure, danger, and a forbidden romance. The writing is very lyrical, and the story is beautiful, haunting, and tragic. The characters are very complex and intriguing. I also liked how the Celtic world has come alive in her novel. When I first read the book in college, I was so immersed in the story that after I finished reading the last page, I went back and re-read it. I have read this novel many times, and it is still an emotional read every time. I recommend this novel to anyone looking for a good mythological retelling, fantasy and romance. This novel is sure to stick with you even after you have read the last page, so much that you will be craving to read it again. I am looking forward to reading her companion novel, The Raven Queen.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars



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