The Swan Keeper
By Milana Marsenich
From USA Today featured novelist and Western Writers of America Spur award finalist Milana Marsenich, The Swan Keeper is an historical, coming-of-age novel set in 1920s Montana.
On her eleventh birthday, Lilly’s family visits the Cattail Marsh to see the newly hatched cygnets. The family outing turns tragic when Dean Drake shows up with his shotgun. Lilly sees him kill her father, injure her mother, and slaughter the bevy of trumpeter swans. The sheriff, her mother, sister, and best friend all think Lilly is trying to make sense of a senseless accident by blaming Drake. But Lilly knows the truth. Left alone she must bring him to justice.
All you needed was love. If you had love, anything was possible. Or at least that is what Lilly used to think. She was eleven when it happened. It was on her birthday.
Lilly can still see him when she closes her eyes. She can see Dean Drake as he raises his gun and fires at the lake and the trumpeter swans that are upon it. It haunts her. Just as the swans haunt her.
However, the swans were not the only casualties that dreadful day. Lilly had seen what Dean Drake did. She knew. But no one believed her. And no one will listen.
If it were not for the swans, then Lilly knew she would never have had the courage to carry on. Pearl, an injured swan, needed her, as did the swans at the lake. She was the swan keeper now, and it was her duty to protect them, as it was her duty to bring the man who murdered her father and shot her mother to justice.
The Swan Keeper by Milana Marsenich is one of the most hauntingly beautiful books that I have ever read. From the first sentence, I was utterly captivated.
The prose is as elegant as a swan upon the water. Majestic. Timeless. Beautiful. Ms Marsenich's use of language enthralled me. It was like sipping the most exquisite wine — only this wine was made of words. Marsenich uses all the senses, from touch to taste, but particularly the sense of smell. Marsenich does this remarkably well. You know when the antagonist is near before he is even mentioned because you can smell him. The writing jumped from the pages, and I found myself in Montana in the late 1920s. Reading this book was as effortless as it was enchanting. I cherished each word, each sentence. This is the kind of story that you simply cannot put down until the end.
Lilly is such an imaginative child. Life for her is full of wonder and possibilities. Nature calls her. It talks to her in a way that it does not for most of us. The swans fascinate her to such an extent that she can imagine herself being one. They are her escape. They are her everything. She can think of no better birthday than a picnic by the lake. What happens next changes Lilly’s life forever, and the fact that she isn’t believed makes this story all the more heart-breaking. I adored the characterisation of Lilly. She is such a sweetheart and so incredibly caring, not only towards the swans but to her mother as well, who is nothing but a shell since the attack. Her young heart is terribly broken by what she witnessed and what she knows, but her determination and her drive to find tangible evidence that Dean killed her father shows her strength of character. Marsenich’s portrayal of Lilly was absolute perfection. Alongside this desperate longing for justice there is this vulnerable little girl, who is innocent, but beginning to understand about love for someone who is not a relative. Her relationship with Jerome — her slightly older best friend — gives the reader hope that in the future Lilly will be loved the way she deserves to be.
The antagonist, Dean Drake, is very manipulative, and his treatment of Lilly is nothing short of appalling. He is the nightmare that has stolen her dreams as well as her father and mother. Dean is the ruthless hunter whereas Lilly is the innocent swan. The two contrast each other very well. This book is very much about light and darkness. This is a story of an evil man and a pure and beautiful swan keeper.
If you are looking for your next great read, then The Swan Keeper by Milana Marsenich will not disappoint.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club Book Award.
Milana Marsenich lives in Northwest Montana near Flathead Lake at the base of the beautiful Mission Mountains. She enjoys quick access to the mountains and has spent many hours hiking the wilderness trails with friends and dogs. She has an M.Ed. in Mental Health Counseling from Montana State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. She has previously published in Montana Quarterly, Big Sky Journal, The Polishing Stone, and Feminist Studies. She has a short story included in The Montana Quarterly book: Montana, Warts and All, The Best From Our First Decade. Copper Sky is her first novel.