Feather Bound is the latest ‘fairytale’ retelling, this time The Swan Princess. The writing is easy to follow and the story moves quickly. But very lazy world building and somewhat cartoonish characters really let down the story. It’s a book that needs to be read lightly and quickly since it doesn’t stand up to any kind of close scrutiny. This might have been a very creative and interesting take on a much loved foltale but instead we have a modernized fairytale without any magic (or logic).
Story: Dee is trapped in poverty: her mother gone, father a maudlin alcoholic, older sister a gold digger and younger sister self obsessed. It’s up to practical Dee to keep the family together and going – from making sure the electricity is paid to working to pay for rent. When attending the funeral of her father’s good friend, a billionaire businessman, the best friend she had thought dead for years suddenly appears at the funeral – of his father. At the same time, Dee suddenly discovers she is one of the rare people who develop a feather robe – and can thus be enslaved if someone steals one of her feathers (which is pretty easy considering they fall out all the time). Dee is blackmailed into seducing her old friend Hyde and being the instrument of his downfall; either she complies or she will be sold into swan prostitution. But Dee has other plans.
The Swan Princess folktale is one that exists across many cultures in history (Italian “The Dove Girl”, Shetlandic selkies, Croatian She-Wolf, Africa Buffalo Maiden a Russian swan-maiden, Chinese myth of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl and most notably for this story, the Japanese legend of Hagoromo, it is a heavenly spirit, or Tennin, whose robe is stolen and the Crane Wife). Feather Bound looks to have taken pieces from the Crane Wife and the Swan Princess for this story. But nothing about the myth is really explored, expounded upon or even modernized. The most basic aspect of the story, the cliff notes version of an animal/bird maiden able to be enslaved, is stuck jarringly into a modern setting, with no attempt given to make it work.
That lack of world building makes for a very unsatisfying read. Where did the swans come from? Why do so few people know about them? Is anyone doing anything to research how to prevent the condition (which most seem to hate?). About the only nod to the modern milieu is a resistance movement trying to create laws to prevent swan enslavement. And really, that resistance movement is only there as a glaringly obvious Chekhov’s Gun, to be used later as an overly complicated (hey, why not just tell Hyde? He’s rich, he can figure out how to get you out of the blackmail) means of temporarily preventing having to ruin her love interest.
It’s ironic that with so many overly obvious deus ex machina (the boy’s name is Hyde – if that doesn’t tell you his ‘plot twist’ before the end, then you’re able to read a lot more shallowly than I am) that the main character over thinks every single situation. And that’s a problem as well. The characters are one-dimensionally flat and the author’s attempt to show depth by switching up ALL their roles at the end falls miserably flat. Dee is supposed to be strong and dependable, having had to grow up early, but reacts and acts in very simplistic ways throughout (including Scooby Doo level plotting). The sisters are self absorbed and distant (in painful tell but not show observations by Dee) but really just needed a cause to rally around to come together at the end? Hyde is happy and madly in love, easygoing and eager to meet Dee again. Yet somehow has managed to survive a terrible past without psychological repercussions? Honestly, both Dee and Hyde read more like giddy fifteen year olds rather than 17 and 19 near adults. He’s a happy puppy and she’s even more self absorbed than her sisters.
In the very least, there is no instalove here, his affection explained through co dependency on her in his formative years. But the wet rag that she is in modern times does make it a bit hard to understand or empathise his attraction at nineteen. So little was went into actually give him or anyone more than the very barest hint of depth.
Because there is absolutely no world building and little character development, the story reads quickly and took me only a few hours to finish. This is a book I’d characterize as a Twinkie – fluffy and overly sweet but ultimately leaving one hungry not soon afterwords for something more substantial. But I was able to finish it, meriting 3 stars. Ideally, this is much better suited for the younger end of the YA spectrum: tweens. With only implied sexual situations and only a bit of swearing, it skews very young.
Reviewed from an ARC.