Hilde, a part-swan, part-human daughter of Odin, ferries souls along the silver road in the sky to the Other Wood. She envies her five sisters’ brighter gifts, but Odin chose her for this duty because of her strength, so she continues this melancholy work—until she meets the equally lonely Baron Maximilian von Richter on the shore of a lake.
From within his crumbling and solitary Bavarian castle, Richter dreams of a bigger life for himself, one filled with jewels and notoriety. When he invites Hilde into the glittering world of his imaginings, she trades her wings to become more human, eagerly learning the complicated waltz steps of 19th-century Europe. But when Richter proves to be more captor than liberator, Hilde begins to seek an escape. Allied with Franz Mendelsohn, a kind and talented artist who seems to see the truth of her magic, Hilde searches to reclaim the wings she once sought to give up forever.
With feather-light precision, R.M. Romero’s YA novel-in-verse A Warning About Swans (Peachtree, $18.99, 9781682634837) walks the thin line between fairy tale and allegory, selfhood and love, dreams and reality. This winding fable about living myths, set in postindustrial Europe, softens the tale of Odin’s daughters—known in many versions of mythology as the Valkyries—while respecting its origins.
As in her previous novel, The Ghosts of Rose Hill, Romero writes in clear, lovely verse. Unlike novels-in-verse that fail to demonstrate a strong understanding of poetry, A Warning About Swans lends itself perfectly to the form, maintaining a spare beauty and creating fully formed characters within the limited confines of a shorter text. Richter is believable as a terrifying representation of what men with unchecked power often do, while Hilde and Franz’s burgeoning love story feels multidimensional and authentic.
A Warning About Swans soars in its exploration of myths: their power, their failings and how they change alongside humanity yet stay with us throughout millennia. Romero provides a lovely example of how across all of time, some lessons stay true.