Have you ever read the perfect book at the perfect time? This book was precisely that. I needed something sweet, something enchanting, and something with a happily ever after. And since I’d read Eva Ibbotson‘s YA historical fiction before, I knew it would deliver. But what I didn’t know was how well.
“Loneliness had taught Harriet that there was always someone who understood – it was just that so very often they were dead, and in a book.”
It’s 1912 in Cambridge, and nineteen-year-old Harriet Morton’s life is mostly devoid of real love and happiness. Between her uber-traditional academic father and prudish, disciplinarian aunt Louisa, all of Harriet’s desires and interests are oppressed. All but one: ballet. Since performing on the stage is prohibited, her twice-a-week classes appear harmless. But even so Harriet comes alive when she’s dancing. And there’s no way they could have known that Dubrov, a Russian ballet master, would scout Harriet’s class for potential corps ballerinas for his company, which will soon be leaving for a tour in the Amazon. It comes as no surprise then that when Dubrov selects Harriet out of all the girls, she’d willing defy her father’s wishes to join them in South America. Using her bright mind, Harriet draws up a scheme to runaway from home and the stuffy Cambridge man her aunt wants her to marry. Once her trip across the pond is successful, Harriet experiences many “firsts”. She performs in Swan Lake, explores the jungle, and becomes enchanted by the wealthy and good-looking Rom Verney, who owns the opera house. Sooner than she thinks, however, Harriet’s dream life is shattered when her intended fiance arrives in the Golden City and begins his search for her.
A Company of Swans did exactly what I thought it would: It charmed me. The story of oppressed girl seizing a chance for happiness and securing it after facing the consequences was what I wanted and what I received. There is much to say for and against authors who could be called formulaic. But sometimes it’s just what we need. I can’t tell you how much of a comfort it was to read something, for lack of a better word, so dependable. That description sounds unexciting and dull, but it wasn’t at all. There’s only so many ground-breaking, out-of-your-box books you can read consecutively. A comfort, escapist read can never be underestimated.
That said, Ibbotson’s writing never fails to please. Finding several quotable one-liners doesn’t happen often for me. I also enjoyed the rich characterization, particularly the fully developed cast of secondary characters, which is her signature. Almost every minor character is as real and tangible as the major ones. But Harriet and Rom also shined. The guts and courage Harriet mustered at times took me aback. Dark, mysterious Rom reminded me of my favorite fictional crush of the moment, one Nicholas Brisbane from the Lady Julia Grey series. Mmm, yummy! (did I just say that?) I’m utterly thrilled that there are a handful more similar books by this author yet to be read.