A Company of Swans: listed among Stephenie Meyer's favourite books
Defying her father, Harriet runs away to join the ballet on a journey to the Amazon. In a grand opera house, deep in the heart of the wild jungle, she performs Swan Lake- and falls in love with a mysterious British exile. But Harriet's father has tracked her down... and her new life is under threat.
In 1912, nineteen year old Harriet Morton is living with her father, a narrow minded and crotchety Professor at the University and her money-tight and strict Aunt Louisa in a dreary and oppressive household. Her one joy and escape from her controlled life at home is her ballet lessons, which her Aunt Louisa thinks are a waste of money. Then, when a Russian ballet master comes to watch Harriet's ballet class, she is singled out to be invited to become part of a ballet company performing in the Amazon. Harriet knows it is her one chance of getting away from the tedious life that her Aunt and the Tea Ladies have planned for her but knows her father would never approve. She loses hope of ever joining the company until she meets a bespectacled boy called Henry at an outing with the Tea Ladies to a dilapidated Yorkshire mansion. He begs her to find a mysterious man he calls The Boy who he is certain is in the Amazon and belives can save the neglected house. Unable to refuse this affectionate and earnest boy, Harriet takes the chance to follow her dreams and pursue her happiness.
I have read a few of Eva Ibbotson's adult books (that are now marketed at teenagers) before and A Company of Swans created a just as or even more enthralling world than her other books.
One of my first thoughts when I finished the book was 'what an intricately designed and very real world I was just left.' Through the meticulous description of the relationships between the large cast of characters, the flora and fauna of the Amazon jungle, the art of ballet and detailed plot, Ibbotson's writing created a world of a particular group of people and their connections that I fully believed was possible to have existed.
Setting and themes
As I mentioned previously, the plot of this novel was very intricate and followed the lives and relationships of a lot of characters but still kept the romance central. I found that the plot was very well paced, which gave time for you to absorb the unfamiliarity of Harriet's world. Ibbotson thought out this book very well and there were many small details at the beginning of the book that fell into place at the end. Her planning and skill also shows in the fact that something that could have turned into a complicated tangle fell into place effortlessly. The only pitfall of the plot was that some of the times Harriet and Rom were able to spend time together were slightly too coincidental but the beauty and cleverness of the storyline far outweighed that.
Verdict: This refreshingly enchanting story and light hearted romance set in the Amazon that verged on the fairy tale like was such a beautiful book with wonderful descriptions and the added magic of a ballet theme.
More: A Company of Swans was published in 1985 but went out of print for many years, the newest edition being printed in 2008. I was very surprised that a book as enjoyable and wonderful as this went out of print, however I have noticed that this often happens with undiscovered but brilliant books.
Here are the old covers for it:
I think that the right hand cover portrayed the ballet side to the story really well but I don't think that itwould appeal to such a wide audience as the modern re print and it makes it look as though the story is just about a ballerina.
What I like about the new cover is that it somehow manages to combine all the elements of the storyline on one cover. Harriet's personality is captured just right in the expression on the face of the model and the way her hair is pulled back from her face and up hints that she is a ballerina (along with the title of the book.) The swirls and other decoration symbolise the vibrant colours and beauty of the Amazon as well as the magic of the book and I find the butterflies to symbolise Harriet growing up into a young woman.
It's one of my favourite covers on my bookshelf, along with the other similar designs of Ibbotson's other books.