Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Company of Swans - Eva Ibbotson

Summary: For nineteen-year-old Harriet Morton, life in 1912 Cambridge is as dry and dull as a biscuit. Her stuffy academic father and her oppressive aunt Louisa allow her only one outlet: ballet. There, in Madame Lavarre's famed school, Harriet is finally able to come to life for a few hours each week. When a Russian ballet master comes to class searching for dancers to fill the corps of his ballet company before their South American tour, Harriet's world changes. He chooses her to be the "eighteenth swan." Defying her father's wishes and narrowly escaping the clutches of the man who wishes to marry her, Harriet sneaks off to join the Russian ballet on their journey to the Amazon. There, in the wild, lush jungle, they perform Swan Lake in grand golden opera houses for the wealthy and culture-deprived rubber barons, and Harriet meets Rom Verney, the handsome and mysterious British exile who owns the most ornate opera house. Utterly enchanted by both the exotic surroundings and by Rom's affections, Harriet is swept away by her new life, completely unaware that her father and would-be fiance have begun to track her down.

My review: I decided to read this book based solely on the fact that I completely flipped for Countess Below Stairs by the same author. You can read my review here and Heather's here. Despite my adoration of that novel, and perhaps because of it, I couldn't help but have mixed feelings about this one. I was delighted by certain aspects of this book--the descriptions, a particular turn of phrase, or surprising twist in plot. Ibbotson is a fabulous writer and she created some truly charming characters (my favorite--a little boy named Henry). Others were so aggravating that you just couldn't help but want to throw through a plate glass window, figuratively speaking, like Isobel or Harriet's father and it was fun to watch them get what was coming to them. However, Rom, the male lead doesn't stand out much in my mind even now, a few short hours after I read the book. Harriet herself, is a mix of dependability, quiet strength, and intelligence. Typically this isn't the kind of heroine I like. Well, I like all those things...but they need to be mixed with a serious backbone and some real fire, which Harriet was supremely slow in developing. She was almost too agreeable. What fun is that?! All of that having been said, I still ignored my kids for a great portion of the morning so that I could finish this book--that has to mean something (other than my inability to prioritize).

I think I might be judging a bit harshly for the young adult genre because of the fact that I liked her other book so much and, consequently, expected more from this one. Comparison is a killer. While I don't regret reading Company of Swans, it lacked the all around quantity and quality of characters that I found in Countess Below Stairs. I still think it's a fun, worthwhile read depending on what you are looking for. If you want something with teeth and substance, this ain't it. But if you are just looking for a lazy afternoon snuggled up on the couch with a romantic storyline and a bag of milano cookies, then this is right up your alley.

My rating: 3.9 Stars. Close to a 4 but fell just shy.

Sum it up in one phrase: One ballerina short of a full corps.

1 comment:

Heather said...

I find it disappointing that none of Ibbotson's other books have been as delightful as A Countess Below Stairs. Based on your review, I think that I might check this one out anyway.

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