This book was a delightful library shelf find! It wasn't on the "Newly Released" display, which was empty the day when we returned books. Instead, we went shelf-pulling, and this gem landed in our bag on a total whim. But, once we read it, we loved it because it broke a few common MG conventions, and it did so exceptionally well!
Princess Andaryn's father returns from a stint in the forest with a new wife, who enchants all the men -- including Ryn's six brothers -- while treating Ryn, who's in her early teens, terribly.
Ryn gets them to see the truth, but not before the evil new Queen has Ryn in a tight spot, and with her brothers' lives on the line, grants Ryn's sacrifice of her voice in exchange for five years of safety for her brothers. The Queen then promptly turns the boys and young men into swans, who only change back into men one night a month.
Ryn is horrified, and it takes years for her to figure out how to keep track of them, who the new Queen is, what she wants, and how to defeat her: by weaving six tunics from nettles. It's hard, painful work, something she's never done (as a royal). She's misunderstood by virtually everyone because she can't talk and the other-worldly fae Queen pursues her relentlessly with her wolf-men, trying to capture her and her brothers.
Her oldest brother is married and the Queen tracks and kills his wife, but not before the woman hands her baby, Carrick, to Ryn to raise. Ryn raises and protects him. They escape to a land across the water, ruled by a very handsome Ri, and Ryn both protects Carrick and proves her worth to the Ri.
And through all this, Ryn grows up.
Now, this is almost unheard of for characters in MG literature, but it's handled so incredibly well in this story, it's worth mentioning.
There's even a light romance (!). The Ri had a bad relationship with his mother, who was overly controlling. Ryn is now a beautiful 18-year-old and catches his eye, but she earns his admiration, as well. He loves and honors her without ever asking her to break her vow to save her brothers, although misunderstandings along the way threaten their budding relationship. And of course, there's a showdown with the evil Queen at the end.
I won't spoil the ending. This was a spectacular read and superbly crafted. Enjoy!
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