A Rush of Wings is YA fantasy author Laura E. Weymouth’s most recent book (with a gorgeous cover in a different style than her other equally gorgeous covers). In many ways it resembles her second book, A Treason of Thorns in its historical setting (this time the Scottish highlands) more than her first, The Light Between Worlds, but there is some shared DNA with that one too, especially in its protagonist. While The Light Between Worlds offered a sort of justice for the Narnia character Susan Pevensie, who when retooled as Philippa Hapwell was allowed to don her makeup and clothes as armor against the world’s expectations, A Rush of Wings is, as I think Weymouth herself has called it, an ode to angry girls everywhere. Rowenna’s anger is her armor and her weapon, though one that could be turned against herself.
The story follows Rowenna Winthrop, the only daughter of the local witch (to use a more pejorative term). Her mother refuses to teach her how to use the magic of the world around her until Rowenna has more self control, until she can keep the anger that boils inside her at bay. But Rowenna feels her anger is justified–when the English invade, when the townsfolk whisper about her and her mother, when she is kept from learning ‘the craft’ she years to know. One night, her mother is killed–only to be returned to them one dark and stormy night. Rowenna’s family think it is a miracle, but Rowenna knows better, and beneath her mother’s skin she can sense the dark creature who has assumed her form, the same one who killed her mother in the first place. Rowenna and her brothers are cursed: every night, her brothers and the mysterious Gawen who has come seeking Rowenna’s help are turned into swans, and Rowenna becomes unable to speak. They escape and Rowenna tries to find a way to undo the curse, setting on a journey which takes her perilously close to the political upheaval of her time.
The premise is loosely based on the Six Swans fairytale, of which there has been more than one retelling. Weymouth’s version does not shy away from the darkness of the original, nor of Rowenna’s determination: the way to undo the curse is painful and cruel. There are only three brothers here, plus the mysterious Gawen, which is a sensible change: this way, we get a feel for all the brothers’ different personalities, and Gawen in particular is allowed to shine. The villain in Inverness is good, but the villain back home–the monster masquerading as Rowenna’s mother–is deliciously creepy. Despite her physical absence for much of the storyline, her presence remains, mostly through snippets of dreams and Rowenna’s connection to her home. It’s also nice that the two female teenagers are not pitted against each other as much as they might otherwise have been; Elspeth, whom Rowenna meets in Inverness, is a complicated character with her own goals, but they work together more than they do against each other.
What Weymouth offers is very different than the typical ‘voicy’ YA that is so common these days (which I also love!). Her prose is lyrical and the story has a definite fairytale feel, even more so than her earlier books, comparable to Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. If anything, I wished she’d had a higher word count to dig a little deeper into the story (but YA has its limitations). This is definitely dark and a little creepy, with some blood and gore, but there’s some romance to soften the edges (and Gawen is a delightful love interest).
I am also EXTREMELY interested in Weymouth’s next book, A Consuming Fire, the premise of which is “a girl goes on an adventure to murder the god who kill her sister”, set in a pseudo post-Roman Britain (or maybe a Britain where the Romans never left?).