That's what the blurb says and I have to admit, after first reading that, it sounded like every other magical fantasy out there. I bought it though, simply for the fact that the cover art was absoloutely stunning. Let's put it like this though. I started the book on the car ride home and I had finished it two hours later. This title is the one that showed me that a book can be beautiful.
Everything about this book is gorgeous, from the way that Marriott writes, the characters, the settings. It's because of this that Marriott, in my opinion, deserves a place amongst better known authors of the genre such as Shannon Hale and Robin McKinley. Our protagonist, Alexandra is also our narrator. It's through her eyes that we see the story. Alexandra is a character for all the ugly duckings out there. She starts off as plain, lanky Alexandra, the fourth child, the one that the king doesn't really care about. This has made her worried about how everybody else sees her. This is a very good plot device because this makes her relatable to all the other teenage girls out there. Alexandra has three brothers, one who will be a great king, one who will be a great commander and one who will be a great scholar. This alienates Alexandra even more because she herself has no notable skills apart from being able to do small workings (little bits of magic), which is a skill her father doesn't encourage.
At the beginning, Alexandra marks the spot for all ugly ducklings in the world. That, I think is the reason why this book is so easy to reread. It's beautiful -I know I keep using that word but it's all I can think of to describe the book - to see Alexandra grow over the two years the book spans. Marriott does this very well, without making it obvious but hinting at little things, showing her stronger side. Especially where she stands up to Zella. Ahhh, Zella. Typical fairytale antagonist? I think not. While she holds all the cliches: evil prescence, evil magic, evil stepmother, stunningly beautiful withan evil form. She also has hidden depths, which are sort of hinted at throughout the book and revealed right at the end. I never thought I'd cry for an evil stepmother, but in this case I did. We also have the handsome prince, Gabriel, who pulls off all his handsome princely duties in the book. Saving her, caring for her, just being an all out handsome prince. I found myself falling in love with this character. (Zoe, if he's based off anyone in particular, send him my way.
Now, I think the greatest thing in this book is Marriott's poetic prose. From the start of the book, when Marriott describes Alexandra's life before things start happening to the action scenes, the pacing is perfect. The images her storytelling creates are so vivid, you begin to see as Alexandra does and feel what she does. I read faster in the action parts but just went with the flow in the slower parts, which I think is the mark of a true writer.
I love how Marriott manages to envelope a story in one fairytale (the Wild Swans) but also alludes to so many more, (The Ugly Duckling, The Children of Llyr as just two examples). Another thing that strikes me when I read this book is how informally she writes while also making the dialogue sound a little fairytaley. I'd read The Wild Swans before and I had many question that were answered for me, in this book. Congratulations to Zoe Marriott, she certainly has me hooked!
Overall rating: A
Stand alone/series: Stand alone
Released: March 5th 2007 (Paperback)
Publisher: Walker Books
Book obtained via: Bought!