The Emperor's daughter.
A shape-shifting dragon.
Six brothers enchanted as cranes.
And a small paper bird.
I love a good fairy tale retelling, and Elizabeth Lim's own magical version of Grimm's The Six Swans is a fun one. It centers around Princess Shiori, the emperor's youngest child and only daughter. She's betrothed to Lord Bushian's son, Takkan, although it's a marriage she's not excited about. She has another secret: she can do magic. She brought a small paper bird that she calls Kiki to life. But if anyone finds out, she'll be exiled. Because magic in the kingdom of Kiata is forbidden.
This story also has the requisite evil stepmother. Raikama is a sorceress in her own right, beautiful and powerful. And cruel. When Shiori discovers her secret, Raikama transforms her six brothers into cranes, curses Shiori to silence, then disguises her and hides her away on a far Northern Island. Shiori can't tell anyone who she is, and she doesn't know how to break her stepmother's enchantment and free her brothers. But she's not about to give up.
Besides her paper bird, Shiori has the help of a mercurial dragon named Seryu who can transform himself into a human boy. He has a penchant for rice cakes and might be the only one who can help Shiori learn to control her magic in order to break her stepmother's curse...if he ever shows up!
I'm glad Melody @ Melody's Reading Corner suggested we read this book for our next buddy read. It's an enchanting YA fantasy and I enjoyed it. Shiori and her little paper bird, Kiki, are spunky and captivating characters; I liked both them and all six of Shiori's brothers, though the brothers aren't in most of the book. I also ended up really liking Takkan; he befriends Shiori when he doesn't know who she really is, and offers her protection and help. I wish the dragon, Seryu, had been in it more, but this magical adventure is really Shiori's story. I look forward to reading the sequel, The Dragon's Promise, which comes out this August. Maybe Seryu will be in that one more.
P.S. Be sure to check out Melody's review and her questions for me about this fun read:
1. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of Shiori?
I think Shiori's weaknesses at the beginning of the novel were her impulsiveness, stubbornness and how argumentative she could be. Also, she was kind of judgmental when it came to Takkan, even though she'd never really met him. But she grew up over the course of the novel, and learned to be more thoughtful and less self-absorbed. I loved how determined she was...her stubbornness came to be a strength for her when she was trying to break the curse. And I loved how she cared about the other people around her, and how she never gave up. I also loved that she made such good fish soup.
2. What are the things (and/or characters) that you liked most about this story?
Besides Shiori, I liked Kiki, the little paper crane she brought to life, and Takkan the most. I loved Kiki's interactions with Shiori, and her unwavering support throughout the whole book. And Takkan had so many good qualities it was easy to like him; plus, he made up stories for his little sister and for Shiori. I really liked that about him.