Title: A Company of Swans
Author: Eva Ibbotson
My grade: A-
Sometimes you want to read a fluffy teen romance. It happens. The rather frilly cover and blurb of A Company of Swans made me think this would be pure fluff and silliness, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not to say that there isn’t some fluff and silliness, but there’s also some lovely writing and a rich setting to back it up.
Picture it: England. 1912. A young girl named Harriet is a budding ballerina and is given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of joining a ballet company that’s touring in the Amazon. How exotic! How liberating! But her stuffy, conservative father and aunt will never allow it, because that way leads to depravity, and then people would talk. Also, Harriet has a rather adorably boring would-be-fiance who studies fleas. But at this point, we’re only twenty pages in the book, so of course she defies her family and off to the Amazon we go! At that point, we meet the dashingly-named Rom Verney. Romance ensues, naturally, but Harriet’s family and fiance-of-sorts aren’t giving up that easily. It all kind of plays out the way you would expect, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
Whether she’s describing the ballet or the Amazon, Ibbotson knows how to sprinkle in her research without losing control of the story or the reader’s interest. In fact, I found the descriptions of the ballet theatre to be somewhat more compelling than the central romance. There’s something about the prose in this book that invites you to sink in without making you impatient. In other words, I thought the pacing was perfect.
If I hadn’t enjoyed the style and pace of this book so much, I would be less forgiving of what I found to be the main flaw–Harriet herself. For most of the book, I thought she was just boring. She’s good and sweet and smart and talented and boring. She always says just the right thing, and everyone simply loves her, except, of course, for the people we’re not supposed to like. Even the grumpy manatee ends up liking her.
The problem is that I never quite loved her the way everyone else did. With the big exception of her running away to the ballet company, she’s such a passive player, allowing everything to happen to her without exhibiting much will of her own. I did love Rom Verney–he’s a bit of a Byronic cliche, but I’ve rarely met a Byronic cliche I didn’t like, so I didn’t mind at all (oh, carmhelga, you would hate him so much)–but paired with Harriet, he becomes overbearing, and she becomes even more weak-willed. I liked them both better before they met.
Basically, this book would have been perfect with a more interesting and captivating heroine, and thus a more even-footed romance. Even so, I was so enamoured with the writing, the minor characters, and the background setting, that I can’t bear to give the book a lower grade.