Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Non-Laughter Reviews & Giveaway : ISLAND OF THE SWANS

Ciji Ware

Fictionalized Biography
Sourcebooks, 2010 (reissue)

Premise: Remarkable life of a woman caught in a love triangle who rises to social and political prominence during turbulent times.

Cover: Title - Excellent. Short, unusual, relevant to the story geographically and symbollically. Art - Excellent. The portrait is a true likeness rather than a period stand-in; the swans add a wonderful touch. Overall, one of the best covers this reader has seen in a long time.

What Works: This story is well-deserving of the word 'sweeping'. It follows the heroine's development over several decades as her path interweaves those of the many people whose lives she touched. Doing this justice would a challenging enough task for any biographer, but Lady Jane lived during a time of many historically significant events. Through chapters set during and sometimes embedded in events of the American and French revolutions, power struggles between Parliament and British monarchy, the rise of poet Robbie Burns, efforts of Scottish nobility to rise from the ashes of the Battle of Culloden aftermath, and repeated recruitment drives to raise Scottish regiments for British war efforts, history came alive for this reader.

But even more than these largescale events, it was the small details of everyday life that enriched the story; the food eaten, the poor tenements in childhood, the descriptions of streets, livelihoods , transportation, and the pervasively unjust treatment of women which Lady Jane spent a lifetime resisting. All made for an engrossing story and winning heroine - personal flaws and all. When the titular swan island shows up, it becomes the heart of the story, a place of retreat and restfullness where thoughts and feelings and actions impossible anywhere else can come to life. The reader longs for a return to this place right along with Lady Jane.

Where to end a biography of a historical figure is a ticklish question. AW liked the author's choice to end the story in a hopeful spot, with the heroine still living rather than with her death.

What Doesn't: This is always a difficult question in biography because it can be impossible to tease apart authorly writing style and constraints imposed by subject matter. If someone was a hothead in life, the author can't magically write in increasing wisdom with age for the sake of nicely readable character arc. This reader had some moments of frustration with the repeated similarity of how the two main male characters behaved during chance encounters, much as Lady Jane herself must have felt. Is this a weakness of the story? Only if the reader thinks real people don't behave immaturely when feelings are involved - which obviously, is all too often the case in real life. It is perhaps too much to expect for historical people to be beyond such human weaknesses.

Overall: AW had never heard of Jane Maxwell Gordon prior to reading her story and finds this inexplicable. Why in the world has no-one made a movie about this extraordinary woman, equivalent to the recent film about her rival, 'The Duchess"?

Interested in reading this biography for yourself? The publisher has offered two books to AW's readers! Comment today for your chance to win, and double your chances by commenting on tomorrow's interview with the author.

The Fine Print:
1. Open to readers with American and Canadian addresses. Sorry, no P.O. boxes.
2. If your name does not link to a site, please leave a way to get in touch.
3. Contest closes 15 February 2010.



Bethie said...

Please count me in. I would love to win this. Thanks for the giveaway.

lizzi0915 at aol dot com

M. said...

Bethie - welcome to apprentice writer! best of luck with the draw

Sue said...

This looks great! Thanks for the giveaway.

s.mickelson at gmail dot com

Jenners said...

I like that you analyze the covers of the books you review. That is a good idea. And I imagine it might be frustrating to write about a real person and be constrained by the facts of their actual life!

Anonymous said...

I would love to be entered in your draw. Thanks.

Laura Hartness said...

Please enter me for the drawing. I also commented over on the interview post.

I also enjoyed The Duchess. movie. Makes me look forward to this novel! Thanks for the review and chance to enter!

Laura Hartness
The Calico Critic
CalicoCritic at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

I would love to win this book and read it for myself.

happymomof5 at hotmail dot com

Marjorie said...

This book sounds excellent, please count me in on your giveaway.

cenya2 at hotmail dot com

Sarah E said...

Please enter me in this giveaway!

saemmerson at yahoo dot com

Sarah E

Teddy Rose said...

I thought I had entered this giveaway, but just realized I did it on the interview post. So here is my entry.

I have heard so many wonderful things about this book.

teddyr66 at yahoo dot com

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