Maker of Swans by Paraic O’Donnell

It is no small matter, after all, to create something―to make it so only by setting down the words. We forget the magnitude, sometimes, of that miracle. 
In the dead of night, shots ring out over the grounds of a sprawling English estate. The world-weary butler Eustace recognizes the gunman―his longtime employer, Mr. Crowe―and knows he must think and act quickly. Who is the man lying dead on the lawn? Who is the woman in his company? Can he clean up his master’s mess like he always has before? Or will this bring a new kind of reckoning? 
Mr. Crowe was once famed for his gifts―unaccountable gifts, known only to the members of a secretive order. Protected and privileged, he was courted by countesses and great men of letters. But he has long since retreated from that glittering world, living alone but for Eustace and Clara, his mysterious young ward. He has been content to live quietly, his great library gathering dust and his once magnificent gardens growing wild. He has left the past behind. Until now. 
Because there are rules, even for Mr. Crowe and his kind, that cannot be broken. And this single night of passion and violence will have consequences, stirring shadows from the past and threatening those he now cares for. He and the faithful Eustace will be tested as never before. So too will Clara, whose own extraordinary gifts remain hidden, even from herself. If she is to save them all, she must learn to use them quickly and unlock the secret of who she is. 
It is a secret beyond imagining. A secret that will change everything. (Taken from Amazon)

The Maker of Swans was beautiful yet confusing. I loved the prose, which was creative and flowed like water, but I still can’t tell you what happened or what on earth any of it means. It actually left me feeling a little idiotic, like I’d missed all the clues to a corker of a mystery, to be honest.

Eustace is a butler with an unenviable task: keep his employer, Mr. Crowe, out of trouble. This wouldn’t seem too difficult except that the book begins with Mr. Crowe somehow shooting and killing a man, despite the fact that the man wasn’t killed by any bullets fired. The idea was intriguing but didn’t seem to really go much of anywhere. Eustace doesn’t seem all that surprised by Mr. Crowe and his behavior, but he nonetheless takes action to protect him and his ward.

Mr. Crowe’s ward is a girl named Clara. She doesn’t speak and is seen as having special gifts. She’s bright and notices things that are overlooked or ignored. I only got a vague grasp on how her special gifts work, but the concept was cool. The magic is based on words, if I understood it correctly, and we all know words are magic. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be readers.

She really doesn’t interact all that much with Mr. Crowe but is closer to Eustace. Mr. Crowe is more enigmatic a figure than a fully developed one, but it works. He is also gifted, but I’m not sure if he is gifted in exactly the same way as Clara, since the magic is kept intentionally undetailed.

The mystery and haziness surrounding the entirety of The Maker of Swans made this book both enthralling and frustrating. I would find myself reluctant to pick it up but engrossed whenever I did. It took me a lot longer to finish because I kept taking breaks to read more straight-forward books.

I was reminded a little bit of Susanna Clarke’s writing, particularly Piranesi. Just as in Piranesi, The Maker of Swans seemed more invested in atmosphere and language than in plot. That’s not to say the book didn’t have one; just that it was a meandering sort of story that didn’t answer all questions at the end. In fact, it left me with more questions than answers.

At the end of the day, The Maker of Swans left me with too many questions and not enough information to enjoy puzzling out the answers. I was entertained and confused in equal measure. It’s an odd feeling, and I still can’t tell you if I liked the book or not. If you like books with strong plots and well-crafted storylines, this is not for you. If you love words for their own sake, and are happily carried away by masterful prose, you might find The Maker of Swans bewitching.


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