Review: The Black Swan

I waited too long to review this one! Now I’m not sure I have a good enough memory of the details to write a good review. But I’ll give it a shot.

There’s definitely stuff to like. The Black Swan is essentially a fairytale retelling – it’s based on a ballet but there is a lot of similarity between the way a ballet plot works and the way a fairytale plot works (and for that matter, a lot of ballets are themselves based on fairytales….). The book does a decent job of filling in the back story and rounding out the characters of one of my favorite ballets ever.

The problems arise when you consider who the main characters of the book are versus who the main characters of the ballet are. Lackey stays extremely close to the plot of the ballet – most of her additions come in terms of characterization, or actions that occur before the ballet takes place. But Odile, the main character of the book, is barely involved in that plot at all. So the protagonist of the book is at best tangentially involved in its plot.

I liked that Siegfried started out as not a nice guy, but I’m not sure I bought his transformation completely. Plus, it took up a lot of the book and was over even before he met Odette, so…it just slows the pace.

Clothilde was sort of interesting. I liked her machinations with Uwe (actually, Uwe was very interesting. There was a lot of potential for good story there, and then…it didn’t go anywhere).

Hardly any time was spent on Rothbart – he was just as important an antagonist – if not more- but we spend a lot of time getting to know Clothilde and not him, and he comes across as a bit flat.

I also liked that Odette wasn’t innocent, but her backstory didn’t really have any consequences, as Siegfried forgives her pretty much immediately after learning about it. What, then, was the point?

Actually, all of the conflicts that could have arisen in their relationship are waved away. Siegfried is a jerk? He reforms before he meets Odette. Siegfried has other suitors? He never likes any of them as much as Odette. Odette has a dark secret in her past? Siegfried forgives her as soon as he hears it. Boring!

Odile had the most interesting treatment by far. I liked how she came to sympathize gradually with the swans (the back of the book lies, by the way). But she definitely spent too much time defending Rothbart/making excuses for him, past the point where I thought that was realistic.

I was really more interested in her and her magical growth and personal growth than I was in the whole Siegfried/Odette plot. I wish that Lackey had strayed a little more from her inspiration and somehow made Odette’s trial really some sort of test for Odile. If it had been Odile vs. Rothbart from the beginning I think that would have worked better. Or if not, then having Odile be the main character really doesn’t work.

And while there were moments that moved along quickly, there were too many others that dragged. I like a good dress description as much as the next girl, and I’m maybe even a little more tolerant in that regard than some readers. But there were so many long descriptions of medieval castle life…did we really need to know the sleeping arrangements of every single member of the castle’s household? Or a step-by-step description of the peasant dances for the hunting party?

There was a lot of potential, here. I just don’t think the book was as successful as it could have been.

3 stars. A decent book, but not one I think I’ll reread.

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