Alexandra is a princess. Much to her father’s disappointment she isn’t beautiful, nor is she terribly concerned with gowns and jewels. Instead, she takes after her mother and is much more interested in the life force, or enaid, that keeps their land alive and healthy. In this world there is a magical connection that people feel to the land. Those that have this connection are called cunning women. They can create poultices and heal the sick, do “workings” or small tricks like encouraging kindling to catch on fire. There are varying degrees of skill and Alexandra, unbeknownst to herself, has a connection much stronger than most. Her mother’s murder by an evil creature in the woods curtails Alexandra’s education and sets in motion a spiraling set of events that upsets her family and the entire kingdom.
This fantasy was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson “The Wild Swans” which I have never read. Somehow I got it confused with “The Goose Girl” by the Brothers Grimm and kept wondering why she wasn’t herding a bunch of geese. And when it was very apparent there were no geese in this story, I started wondering when she was going to meet the swans she was supposed to herd. That should have been a clue that I was mixed up, after all who herds swans? Alas, I never actually clued into that until the end of the story. Regardless my point is that even if you have crazy misconceptions, not to worry, Marriott’s story stands up very well on its own.
Not that it was a perfect novel. When Alexandra is sent to live with her aunt in a neighboring country, I very much wished we had gotten to know her better. Her aunt was appealing in ways that few of the other characters were. She had a past, she was angry and dour, she was just plain interesting and I wanted more. I was sad when the story left her behind.
I also wish that the author had fleshed out exactly why her mother chose not to show Alexandra the full extent of her powers. Was it fear, jealousy, condescension? We know her mother failed, but at what? It seemed like a major plot point got dropped.
All in all, this is a fantasy that will appeal to those that read widely among the genre. It has danger, romance, seemingly impossible tasks, all the elements that make for a satisfying read.