REVIEW of The Swan King by Nina Clare

Swan KingElsa is a beautiful and unusual girl in nineteenth century Bavaria. She has the mysterious gift of being able to talk to animals, a gift that could prove valuable to cruel Count Wuelfen as he builds his stable of racehorses. When Elsa’s father disappears on a business trip, her greedy stepmother arranges for her to marry the villainous nobleman. Aided by the servants, Elsa escapes into the forest, but a fall from a horse leaves her with amnesia. When King Ludwig and his aide Prince Paul discover her wandering by the mountains, they take her under their protection.

As fragments of her memory return to her, Elsa becomes the vessel to communicate messages from the swans and the faery world about a mysterious item that Ludwig must find in the mountains. With a look of the fae about him, the king becomes increasingly obsessed with building his mountainside castle Neuschwanstein. He devotes all his fortune to a charlatan architect named Weimar while the man’s genius apprentice William does all the work. War is on the horizon, but Ludwig cares only for beauty, and the country begins to go to wrack and ruin. Can Elsa evade the evil count, return to her family, and survive the toppling of Ludwig’s regime?

This “historical fairy tale” explores the legend of Lohengrin and the mysterious end of Ludwig II of Bavaria. The gorgeous prose carries the reader away into a world that is both fantastical and realistic. I particularly enjoyed the author’s nod to the historical composer Wagner with the outrageous architect Weimar. I did think the story began to drag a little bit toward the end and would have preferred a tighter resolution. But overall, I am very impressed with Nina Clare’s ability to cast the spell of a storybook world and am looking forward to reading more of her fairy tale retellings.

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