Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.
Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.
Peniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.
I was very intrigued as soon as I first heard the title of this book and saw the US cover, but it was the gorgeous and stunning UK cover which made this a highly anticipated release for me, and I flew through it in just a matter of hours.
When I picked this up today, I had a feeling I could finish it in a single sitting and I’m glad my expectation wasn’t misplaced. The writing is easy to follow while also being lush and vivid, especially the descriptions of locations and atmosphere making me want to teleport to that place, and the finger licking descriptions of food making me so hungry that I needed something to munch on while reading. The pacing is also pretty fast, which makes for an exciting read, but sometimes it also felt like we breezed through certain important plotlines or didn’t get enough time to process the monumental revelations. But the overall imagery that the author weaves through this fairytale kind of story is very vivid and memorable and it’ll remain in any reader’s head for a while. The magic for the most part is simple and uncomplicated but as the story goes on, we get to learn more about the lore of this world in bits and pieces, but this book still is more of a setup in that aspect and I fell we’ll get more of the magic, gods, dragons and demons in the sequel.
Shiori didn’t endear me immediately as a character. I used to love YA fantasy a lot but I’ve also grown older now and having ventured more into the adult fantasy genre, I’m feeling more and more unattached to younger protagonists. In this one too, Shiori is reckless and impulsive initially and I had to remind myself that she is young and just needed to grow and learn restraint. But she is also resilient and curious and while this does land her in trouble, she is also strong enough to handle the hardships and the ordeals she goes through just makes her more inclined to fight for herself and her family.
Her relationship with her six brothers is sweet and their bickering only makes you feel more close to them. Her best friend is an absolute delight and what she might lack in empathy, she makes up for with her wittiness and also just being there as Shiori when she really needs someone. And while I was glad that romance wasn’t necessarily a focus of this story, I thought the slow burn was beautifully written and it’s development truly fits the “fated ones” vibe of the story.
To conclude, this was such a fun and adventurous ride. I don’t know much about the original fairytale “The Six Swans”, so I couldn’t tell you how close this retelling follows the storytelling. But it’s a lovely amalgamation of western and eastern fairytales and folklore, which will mesmerize you with its stunning imagery and the endearing family bonds. And the reluctant arranged marriage trope is always fun to explore and I can’t wait to see where this story goes next.
PS: Thank you to Knopf Books and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.