OK, first off – I don’t think that the marketing blurb advertising this book as “reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez” was a good idea (although it got me to grab the book). It creates unrealistically high expectations – and no, this book simply does not resemble Márquez. Nor does it try to. Stylistically, this reminded me a lot more of YA books such as Scott Westerfeld’s ‘Uglies’ series, or even Malorie Blackman’s ‘Noughts and Crosses.’ And I think the audience for those books would like this one very much.
The story takes its inspiration from the folk tale of the ‘swan maiden’ who can be captured and made a wife, if her feather cloak is stolen. Here, in an alternate modern-day NYC, the ‘swans’ are not shape-shifters. But, somewhere between the ages of eight and eighteen they do sprout feathers on their backs – and if someone steals those feathers the ‘swan’ is magically enslaved to that person’s will. Clearly, the potential for abuse of this vulnerability is huge, and ‘swans’ are commonly forced into sexual relationships, used as slave labor, prostitutes, etc. Unsurprisingly, most of the 3% of the population who may be ‘swans’ keep it well-hidden, although there are some activists who wish to ditch the shame associated with the condition and go public. The parallels with our gay rights movement are made explicit, as well as, of course, the real-world evils of human trafficking.
In this world, we are introduced to a struggling family from East Brooklyn – who just happen to be tied by marriage to one of the wealthiest families in the city, who own a publishing conglomerate. Brooklynite Deanna’s childhood best friend Hyde was the tycoon’s adopted son. Hyde was missing and presumed dead nine years earlier – but now he’s reappeared, and is prepared to take over the business empire. And absence seems to have made the heart grow fonder, where Deanna is concerned. Of course, no romance can blossom without obstacles… and Deanna, against her will, is swept into a vicious intrigue concerning control of the business, and before it’s over, quite a few secrets, dirty and otherwise, will see the light.
It’s not bad at all. Overall, it’s a little more juvenile than I prefer, but this is clearly marketed for a YA audience. (And I do think that some kids may find some of the scenes excitingly ‘adult.’) I could do without Deanna being so very law-abiding. (“I don’t drink because I’m under 21 – and by the way, so are you.” [paraphrase] Really? Ugh. How about, “I don’t drink ‘cause my dad’s an alcoholic and I have no interest?” That works.) However, my biggest gripe with the book was just about my perspective as a New Yorker. I doubt it would bother anyone from elsewhere. OK, Deanna’s supposed to live in East Brooklyn (in a ‘shack’). But Sterling and Underhill, the address that’s supposed to be conveniently close to her house, is hardly in East Brooklyn. That’s Park Slope, and a crazy pricy neighborhood. For a supposedly financially-challenged family, they do an awful lot of routinely calling car services (which they call ‘cab’s, and never differentiate between cabs and car services.) Seriously, no one, let alone a non-wealthy person, would catch the subway *and then a cab* to get to Chrystie St. (Whatever train you caught from Brooklyn, that’s a max of a 5-short-block walk.) And NO ONE who had grown up in Brooklyn would say, at the age of 17, “Let’s try the rides… the Cyclone looks pretty bad ass,” unless there were some kind of convincing and unusual reason that they *hadn’t* been at Coney Island every summer since they were too young to remember. OK, I don’t want to go on nit-picking, but it never feels like the perspective of someone who grew up in Brooklyn. It just seems that the personal experience, and also something about the city’s rich and diverse mix of cultures is missing. I ended up just saying, “Well, this is alternate-world Brooklyn, and it’s different.”
That said, I think this book definitely has the potential to do well, and displays Raughley’s promise as a YA writer.
Review copy provided by NetGalley.