The Year the Swans Came
By Barbara Spencer
Ruth and Maidy have been best friends for as long as they can remember. Stunningly beautiful, rich, and wilful, Ruth has always insisted she will marry Pieter, Maidy’s eldest brother, only for him to vanish from their lives late one night.
Is his disappearance linked to the arrival of the swans, feared as cursed and birds of ill-fortune? What will happen when they return six years later, on the morning of Maidy’s sixteenth birthday?
And who exactly is the enigmatic and mysterious Zande?
Follow Ruth and Maidy’s cursed tale of love as they discover what happened to Pieter, how the appearance of Zande will affect the rest of their lives, and just how much destruction Ruth’s beauty can cause.
“Maybe that’s what I should write about; the year the swans came, and my brother, Pieter, vanished...”
No one would speak of Pieter after that. For his younger sister, Margrit “Maidy” Bader, the loss of her brother became a silent heartache, a private grief. Was he dead? Maidy dared not ask her parents. She only knew that no one was allowed to sit in his chair at the table — it was waiting, as they all were waiting, for him to come home again.
The swans which Maidy had thought so beautiful with their polished silk feathers, but her mother irrationally feared, returned on her sixteenth birthday. Was her mother, right? Were the swans an ill omen? Something evil? Maidy thought not. However, their return would bring undeniable heartache to all those whom their spirits touched. For Maidy, her life would never be the same again.
From a daring rescue of a swan to the devastating truth about Klüsta— the island of a thousand rumours, The Year The Swans Came by Barbara Spencer is the hauntingly gripping, yet enthralling story of a secret that threatens to destroy not only the swans, but the Bader family as well.
With a lusciously detailed narrative that mesmerised me from the opening chapter, The Year The Swans Came is in all ways a work of exceptional scholarship. This book, these characters, captured my imagination, and I was swept away to a world that is vivid, evocative, and utterly irresistible. Words cannot express how much I loved this book. The brilliance is in the writing. The Year The Swans Came is in all ways, an absolute triumph.
With an elegant turn of phrase and a visceral understanding of human fragility, Spencer has presented her readers with some unforgettable characters. The heroine of this story, Maidy, is a character that I simply adored. Maidy reminded me a little of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. Maidy believes herself plain, unattractive even. She lives in the shadow of her best-friend — the very glamorous Ruth, who all the boys at college want to date. But like that ugly duckling, there is a swan, a beautiful, graceful, caring swan just waiting to fluff her feathers and step into the light. Maidy is entirely ignorant of how she is perceived by others, especially Zande, who is the male version of Ruth. However, her goodness is incorruptible — even Zande, who is free with his love, does not attempt to corrupt her. Maidy is an extremely likeable character and one I came to care about very much. This story is told from her point of view, which I thought gave this book a sense of authenticity, as well as a sense of realism.
All the characters in this book are fabulous, and each has their role to play. One of the characters that I took a strong dislike to was Ruth. Ruth is incredibly self-centred and a truly terrible friend. She is self-seeking and does not care for the pain she causes others. Ruth uses her good looks and her father’s money to get what she wants regardless of the consequences. Maidy slowly comes to realise the kind of person Ruth is, and as she does so, Maidy does not like what she sees. But even as they begin to drift apart, Maidy still cannot see how exceptional she is in her own right — Maidy still believes that Ruth is the one that all the boys want to be with, which isn’t true. Ruth is not quite an antagonist, I wouldn’t go that far, but her egotistical behaviours certainly demonstrates the goodness that is in Maidy’s soul.
I have to mention Zande — Zande, with his charm and easy smile which hide a lifetime of sorrow and a soul that is trapped. He is in every way a bad-boy, the one you don’t want your daughter dating. But, Maidy sees past the facade and glimpses a deep and terrible pain that she does not understand and can never understand. I thought Zande’s depiction was fabulous.
I could not but help the strong emotional reaction that I had for these characters, and I was impressed by Spencer’s scope and brilliance in their creation. Pieter, Hans, Tristan, Jaan, Zande, Ruth, and Maidy all bring something unique to this story. Wonderful, wonderful characterisation. It doesn’t get better than this.
Strangely, no dates are mentioned in this book, only that there had been a war and the community had been invaded at one point by the enemy — one can only assume it is set after World War II and that Ruth’s family are Jewish. But surprisingly, the era seems almost timeless. It matters not what the date is, only that the story is so incredibly captivating. There is magic in the words that Spencer has written, a swirling of emotions that swept me up into its warm embrace. However, as the story picks up momentum and races headlong towards a catastrophically explosive ending, I found myself screaming silently in my head the word NO! And by the time I read the last word and noted the final full-stop, I was sobbing quietly to myself. Spencer demands every conceivable emotion from her readers, and boy does she get it. Be sure to have a box of Kleenex with you because believe me you are going to need it.
The Year The Swans Came is something extraordinary indeed. This is a book that not only deserves your attention — it deserves it again and again until the spine of the book breaks and the pages start to fall out, and you need to purchase another copy. That, is how good this book is.
If you are looking for your next great adventure which will leave you gasping and begging for more then check out The Year the Swans Came by Barbara Spencer. You won’t be disappointed. I cannot wait to read the second book in this fabulous series.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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The Year The Swans Came
In 1967, Barbara Spencer hi-tailed it to the West Indies to watch cricket, the precursor to a highly colourful career spanning three continents, in which she was caught up in riots, wars, and choosing Miss World. Eventually, she settled in Somerset to bring up a family. In 2010, the publication of Running, her new teenage thriller, has taken Barbara countrywide. Passionate about the importance of books in today's society, Barbara is happiest working with young would-be writers and is frequently invited into schools to talk about creative writing.