After reading Copper Sky way back in August of last year, I was very much looking forward to reading The Swan Keeper, Milana’s latest novel.
The Swan Keeper is told in the third person through the perspective of Lilly, a young girl. On her eleventh birthday during a family outing to see newly hatched trumpeter swans, she witnesses Dean Drake shoot her father, injure her mother and senselessly slaughter the swans. Frustratingly, the sheriff, along with her own family pay no heed to her accusations, blaming the confused mind of a young girl. It is up to Lilly alone to seek justice.
Once more, the author creates a modern Western, twisting those traditional elements we associate with the genre into something fresh and new. The ‘white hat’ cowboy becomes a young pre-teen girl on a bicycle, the ‘black hat’ a dangerous hunter. The heart of the story is a classic good vs. evil scenario. Dean Drake as the ‘bad guy’ is portrayed wonderfully. His snarling, animalistic description in stark contrast to Lilly, young and innocent but with a steel core of determination running through her.
One of the things I struggled with in Copper Sky initially was the setting. I felt I didn’t easily get a sense of it. In The Swan Keeper the setting is almost another character in the book and the description is incredibly beautiful. The marsh and the Mission Mountains, where so much of the action is set, came effortlessly alive in the mind’s eye.
The swans, as you would expect from the title, play a huge role throughout the novel. At a time when she feels shunned by humans, Lilly seeks comfort in the swans. She feels a kinship with them, caring for them and seeking justice for them, just as much for her father. I found these scenes to be increasingly magical and vividly imagined as Lilly becomes more invested in them and her thirst for justice becomes a desperate need.
My only negative comment would be that the scenes in the middle of the book felt a little repetitive at times. The language and description is beautiful, but for me I felt most connected to Lilly when she was at home with her sister and her mother, or when she was with her friend, Jerome. Their developing relationship was sweet and touching and I would have liked a little more of the ‘coming of age’ elements throughout the novel.
As with Copper Sky, it is evident that the author is highly skilled in creating a taut and suspense filled ending. Once more I was in awe at the stunning use of language and felt myself increasingly drawn into the action as the novel progressed.
Although on a personal level, I prefer the storyline of Milana’s first novel, Copper Sky, her progression as a skilled author is clear to see within The Swan Keeper. I very much look forward to reading her next novel.
From USA Today featured novelist and Western Writers of America Spur award finalist Milana Marsenich, The Swan Keeper is an historical, coming-of-age novel set in 1920s Montana.
On her eleventh birthday, Lilly’s family visits the Cattail Marsh to see the newly hatched cygnets. The family outing turns tragic when Dean Drake shows up with his shotgun. Lilly sees him kill her father, injure her mother, and slaughter the bevy of trumpeter swans. The sheriff, her mother, sister, and best friend all think Lilly is trying to make sense of a senseless accident by blaming Drake. But Lilly knows the truth. Left alone she must bring him to justice.
*I received an ebook version of The Swan Keeper from the publisher, Open Books. The decision to read was my own, and this review forms my honest opinion.