The Secret Swan
I thought instead of raving about this on every which page of GoodReads, I should just review the book and give the poor masses a break. At least part of the reason that I was taken with The Secret Swan may be because I had somewhat low expectations. This is not my first Shana Abé. I loved her cunning dragon earls in her Drákon novels-- but I just don't like medieval romance. The heroes always come off as stupid brutes trying to learn Middle English. Swan was a pleasant surprise. There's no Middle English. No "Zounds!" or "thee" or "Come here, wench!" I don't care if you're Shakespeare reincarnated. Middle English will never be sexy. Abé uses something closer to modern English in dialogue and the same elegant language and succinct exposition -no bloating- we've come to expect from her, rife with imagery:"He was dressed as the rest of the young men around him were, in fine tunics and colorful hose, each wearing the heraldry of the lord they served. He blended in well with them. Were it not for just one stray beam of sunlight sliding along the floor, she might not have noticed him at all.But the sunlight was there, slanting down from a window high above, and at just the moment when she glanced his way he took a half-step into the light, jostled by a friend, the two of them laughing softly together.She felt as if she had stepped, unsuspecting, into a vat of honeyed nectar, thick and sweet, filling her, suspending her even as she died within it. A blissful death—or an excruciating life—to gaze upon him, to bear witness to this beauty disguised as an ordinary squire. Amiranth had never before seen such dark splendor, such grace in a boy."As she gets older, Amiranth still waxes poetic about her knight, but she starts to notice his man's figure and dangerous eyes, after Tristan has returned from war a changed man. Needless to say, Abé's carefully manipulated and emphasized details leave the reader breathless throughout the novel.I particularly liked the realism in the story. Amiranth grows up besotted with Tristan Geraint, sneaking glances at him whenever she can, carefully dropping hints to her guardians that she wouldn't mind a marriage to a certain knight-- but Tristan is like any other young man, in fact, perhaps more shallow, and their arranged marriage is like many, distant and barely tolerated. Though he is polite, Tristan is far more interested in war than his young, mousy bride, who has never been as pretty as her cousin, and leaves her at the earliest opportunity.Then he comes back. Dun, dun, DUHHHHHN. There are no soap opera reunions, however. No shrieking or shouting matches. The the melancholy tone (hence, my comparison to Private Arrangements), tension and angst between Amiranth and Tristan is subtle and stretches throughout the novel. Amiranth holds herself apart from the husband she no longer trusts to love and care for her, and Tristan must win her back in small strides and demonstrations, gradually. These two were developed very well, especially Tristan who is a complex amalgam of the knight he was and the man stranded in a war prison for eight years, by turns haunted and gallant. I thought Abé's characterization of him was much more in-depth and realistic than many romances. He is scary at times, just as a man at odds with the world might be.Amiranth herself is quite clever for a romance heroine (save for the fact she keeps Tristan at a distance for so long; no one's perfect). I was grateful that she wasn't another romance heroine wearing trousers. Her strength was her resourcefulness, e.g. she is a convincing actress where it benefits the hero, hides incriminating evidence, etc., at a time when her survival was not always guaranteed.I think this would appeal to readers looking for a subtle romance and not afraid to see their heroes' mistakes, regret and reconciliation. Oh, and fans of dark heroes. >:D Hehehe.