Swan Witch
by Betina Lindsey, fantasy (1993)
Pocket, $4.99, ISBN 0-671-75171-9


It's been five years since I read Swan Witch, and rereading it recently, I still find this book one of the most atmospheric, romantic, and compelling romances ever. And yes, the grand finale is still too melodramatic for its own good, which has me deducting some cookie points here.

The world where this fantasy romance is set is steeped in Celtic and Druidic lore and mythology, a world where magic reigns. Bron mac Llyr is a wandering enchanter-knight who has long given up the ways of the sword. After killing a boy in the battle field, he has given up the sword for a harp. He becomes a minstrel, singing songs of love that wooes the ladies. He also lost one hand - severed at the wrist - from a recent war. Therefore, he is unable to play the harp.

He travels all the way to the kingdom of Rath Morna, ruled by the powerful Druid Sheelin, in search of the mythical Swan Witch Ketha who can help him heal. As he stands before the gates of Rath Morna, he sees an alluring woman warning him with her silent lips, Be gone! See your fate Being a man, he proceeds nonetheless through the gate.

Only to be snared in Sheelin's games. Any man who walks in through Rath Morna has seven days to live like a king. By the end of the week, he must make Eithne, Sheelin's daughter, speak or he will face the chopping block. See what happens when you don't listen to your women.

Eithne, like her father is a powerful sorceress. However, she is also the daughter of Ketha, and hence she is a hybrid of Swan Witch and Druid. Her father tries to capture her magic for his own evil use, and since Eithne's power is transmitted via her voice, she refuses to speak. It is killing her inside to see men die for her insubordination, but she couldn't speak and let her father capture her magics, could she?

Well, Bron doesn't want to lose his head either.

Swan Witch is infused with so much atmosphere that it is breathtaking. There is magic and sexual tension behind every word and every action. Eithne, being a Swan Witch, can take on the form of a swan on a full moon's night. Her kiss also enchants. Is Bron's falling under her spell an enchantment or true love? He doesn't care. And the first enchanted kiss just takes my breath away - I have no idea how Ms Lindsey did it, but I still get the chills rereading the first kiss.

And how can I resist prose like this?

Light and color swirled around him. For a moment his awareness spiraled outward until it interlaced with the essence of Eithne. She stretched out her hands. He returned the chalice to her and she drank as well.

Around him, everything seemed shining. Eithne placed the chalice on a stone altar. She turned to him and showered upon him a gaze of voluminous love. He'd never experienced such opening, such overflowing, such radiance pouring from someone's countenance.

He felt power rising within him like a great sea swell. He reached for her hand and brought it to his lips, turned it, and kissed the palm.

He opened his mouth to tell her that she was very beautiful, but he made no sound. Even so, between them was such open knowingness that he knew she understood his thoughts without speaking them. He soul-gazed into the diamond clarity of her eyes and felt an incredible lightness of being... an incredible joy as if after a long, lonely journey he'd come home. He opened his arms to her and she stepped into his embrace. Aye, he thought... We've begun a dance and what a dance it is.

And Bron, ooh, what a man. Dark, ethereally handsome, and oh so hunky are token traits every romance hero must have, but Bron is a poet as well as a warrior. How can I resist? His slow wooing of Eithne, with words of love and poetry as well as magic and those naughty hands, make my toes curl. I usually scoff at the notion that romance readers want to be the heroine, since I never feel such inclination to be in the heroine's shoes, but now, I just want to shove Eithne away and be in her place. I want Bron's poetry and magic. When he looks at Eithne, when he speaks and touches her, ooh mama.

But hey, I love Eithne too, a woman who dreams of leaving her prison to see the sea. She is more of a symbol here than a character as well-fleshed as Bron, but it is easy to see why Bron is enchanted with her. What starts as a game, a duel of magic and an onslaught of seduction on his part soon become more - he wants to win the trust and love of this beguling woman who is a mix of innocence, cunning, wistful yearnings, and courage.

Ultimately everything comes to a grand duel of magic and stuff, but the ending is really ruined by overdramatic theatrics and way too much sugar. It almost ruined the magical, unforgettable first two-thirds. The rushed, tacked-on ending is a hge disappointment after all the build-up leading to it.

But despite the crappy ending, Swan Witch still enchants. The love scenes are so sensual yet poetic, and the sexual tension just sings. At the same time, the prose is lush and lyrical. Bron and Eithne are two magical, romantic characters whose waltz takes my breath away. The image of a swan flying to the moon has never been so beautiful. Aye, what a dance it is indeed.

Rating: 92


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