The Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson
In the quiet hour before dawn…
Anything can happen. A third daughter can dream of being a creature of flight and magic, of wearing a swan skin like her sisters. But Doucette must run the castle household while her older sisters learn to weave spells. Her dream of flying is exactly that--until the day she discovers her own hidden birthright.
I read this book a while back and found it fascinating. It was a quiet story, but tackled quite a lot in its pages. Family and love, birthright and dreams. Even dignity and compassion. I also loved how they tackled magic, much more dark and dangerous but infinitely more seductive.
Our protagonist was Doucette, a third daughter for a high class family. She was different as both her older sisters, Azelais and Cecilia, were Swan Maidens and were training under their Aunt for one of them to eventually be a great sorceress. Doucette wanted so badly to be a swan maiden, instead of being trained all lady like by her mother, but sadly, was not born with a swan skin. Then one day, she discovered she was lied to. She was born with a swan skin except her mother wanted so badly to have a "normal" daughter, her mother hid her skin. In her anger, and exhilaration of finding her skin, Doucette ran (actually, she flew) away to her aunt's to learn magic. Even though she had potential, she was not powerful enough to gain the Sorceress title and instead, to escape the life her mother planned Doucette made an exchange...
I know that sounds a bit mysterious, but it was a bit of a key factor about magic and the prices one must pay. There was also the discussion about love vs. freedom, which I found to be brilliant. So many times, an unbecoming young woman suddenly gains magic, freedom and love and thus happily ever after. Here, there was an incredible difference in that gaining power and freedom conflicts with love. Sometimes, the price for freedom and magic was to not love. It wasn't perfect by any means as the end, we still had our happily ever after perfectly wrapped up, but it was nice change.
A quick thing about the magic. I don't want to give too much away, but a simple example that I loved was about gold. The greed of Azelais, Cecili and Doucette's father had Azelais and Cecili magically create gold and pass it off as the real thing, except it's still not gold. A piece of wood turned into gold would never be real gold and could not be melted down, thus had dire economic consequences throughout their world. Or when grass turned in to a feast would have no real nutritional value as it would still be grass. Even at the end, if it wasn't Cecili's subtle care in slipping Doucette a little something real, I doubt Doucette would've had her happily ever after.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. The writing was very lyrical and beautiful to read. It was a simple story on the surface with a lot of complex ideas and themes.