Allen and Unwin
Published on June 27, 2018
About Swallow’s Dance
I wonder if the first day of Learning is always like this – do the girls on the hill always feel the ground tremble under their feet? Leira is about to start her initiation as a priestess when her world is turned upside down. A violent earthquake leaves her home – and her family – in pieces. And the goddess hasn’t finished with the island yet.
With her family, Leira flees across the sea to Crete, expecting sanctuary. But a volcanic eruption throws the entire world into darkness. After the resulting tsunami, society descends into chaos; the status and privilege of being noble-born reduced to nothing. With her injured mother and elderly nurse, Leira has only the strength and resourcefulness within herself to find safety.
I wanted to read Swallow’s Dance because something about the story reminded me of Tracy Higley’s City on Fire. Like City on Fire, Swallow’s Dance is the story of a family who flee from a natural disaster. Leira’s family loses everything when a tsunami and volcanic eruption devour her home and village. But Leira’s unconquerable spirit drives her onward, fighting to survive in places where her once prestigious heritage is spurned. Her strength and fierceness made me invest so much in the book. I found myself really wanting her to find peace and happiness.
Honestly, I found it easy to invest in all of the major characters. Even though Leira’s mom suffers a brain injury and barely speaks, she’s a colorful character and never has trouble expressing her emotions. Even the cranky Nunu won me over with her devotion to Leira and her mom.
The cultural details about the girls studying to serve their goddess and gathering saffron all added a richness to Swallow’s Dance. I don’t normally read historical fiction and I don’t know much about this time period, so I can’t weigh in on how accurate the details are, but it all felt very well-researched and I found it easy to get lost in the vivid setting.
I liked the way the story blended prose and poetry, too. I’ve never seen that done before, but often I didn’t notice the transitions. I read the poetry faster, so it really worked to have that in the higher action parts of the story, because it felt like things sped up since I was literally reading faster.
Historical fans and readers who enjoy female-centered books like A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay will love Swallow’s Dance.
All characters are Mediterranean.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
A couple very vague references to sex (like acknowledging that it’s a thing married people do which makes babies). Leira’s people wear ceremonial dress which leaves their painted breasts exposed.
Leira’s people worship an earthmother goddess personified by a volcano. Priestesses serve the goddess. Each town seems to have its own god and rituals. Some of these are described in more detail than others. At one point Leira witnesses a girl being carried off to be sacrificed to a local god.
Some scary or intense descriptions of earthquakes and injuries caused by falling rocks or buildings. Descriptions of the aftermath – references to bodies being found (no descriptions other than that they smell bad). Brief descriptions of slaves being beaten for disobedience.
Some references to ale being served as a beverage with food, not for the purpose of getting drunk.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.