Goodreads: A Rush of Wings
Age Category: Young Adult
Rowenna Winthrop has magic in her veins, but her mother, believing Rowenna too headstrong and fiery, refuses to teach her how to use it. Then Rowenna’s mother dies and, in her place, comes a monster wearing her face. Only Rowenna can see the truth, so the monster transforms her brothers into swans, and curses Rowenna to be unable to talk during the day. If Rowenna wants to break the curse, she will have to learn how to use her magic before it is too late, and her brothers remain swans forever.
I have conflicted feelings about A Rush of Wings. The opening begins slowly, and the prose tries just a little too hard to sound lyrical. I set the book aside for awhile while I focused on reading other books that did not take as much effort for me to pretend I was enjoying myself. Eventually, however, a library due date convinced me to finish the book so I could return it. I found that the ending brings a lot more action than the start, and that kept me reading, even as I found the characterization to be wavery and the romance to be lackluster. Fans of fairy tale retellings will likely enjoy this one, but readers looking generally for YA fantasy might be rewarded with a more solid story if they look elsewhere.
Before I begin to piece together my thoughts on this book, we should give credit where credit is due. I think A Rush of Wings is an improvement over Weymouth’s last book, The Light Between Worlds, which certainly possesses more cringe-worthy prose as well as too many purposeful (and thus distracting) parallels to C. S. Lewis’s Narnia. Even though the story is a retelling, it feels bold, as if the author really wanted to make her own mark on the story. The Scottish setting helps with that, as does the character of Rowenna, who is apparently hot-tempered and untameable–but who loves her family with a fierce passion (that they often do not deserve). After the slow slog at the start of the book, I eventually did find myself really wanting to know what would happen.
Still, the book feels uneven at times, which is, I think, part of why I feel uncertain in trying to pin down what I really thought of the story. Rowenna’s character seems more fierce and proud at the start than she does at the end, when it would seem that an evil king maybe really did beat her down, at least a little. Readers are, I assume, supposed to feel as if Rowenna has found herself, because she refuses to keep doing harm, and thus controls herself and her magic. That does require strength! But Rowenna’s distinctive voice, and her fierce love for her (kind of mean) brothers fades away as the book starts speaking hand-wavy magical things like “being the light.” Rowenna supposedly finds herself at the end, but I the reader was not as certain I knew who she was.
Additionally, the romance is spectacularly weak in this book and, I have to admit, just a little uncomfortable. The love interest is a boy just as fierce and proud as Rowenna, and sparks fly when the two clash. Even so, they somehow fall in love (it is not really described how or when) and this is shown by Rowenna giving the boy orders and the boy, instead of arguing, meekly following. Um… true love is being ordered about by your lover without complaint? I cannot help but think how much more uncomfortable this would look to readers if the genders were reversed, and the protagonist were a male telling the girl to do things and her meekly obeying because she has been tamed by her love, or whatever. Sorry, but ew.
Finally, the magic system is not fully explained here. This will bother some readers, but not others. Just be aware that, aside from some vague explanations about certain people being connected to certain elements, the rest seems made up on the fly. Wards, blood sacrifices, and curses also appear, with no real reason why or how they work. Rowenna also seems tied to more than one element? She can hear the wind, but her name throughout the book is “saltwater girl,” so apparently she also has some affinity to the sea, which is why she feels darkness inside. Or something. Maybe I was not reading closely enough, but it seemed confusing.
The real strength of A Rush of Wings is Rowenna, and her desire to overcome all obstacles to protect her family. She willingly sacrifices herself in order to save them, even when they turn against her, even when they give her no thanks. There are good parts in this book, but also plenty of room for improvements in the next.