For nineteen-year-old Harriet Morton, life in 1912 Cambridge is as dry and dull as a biscuit. Her stuffy father and her opressive aunt Louisa allow her only one outlet: ballet. When a Russian ballet master comes to class searching for dancers to fill the corps of his ballet company before their South American tour, Harriet's world changes. Defying her father's wishes and narrowly escaping the clutches of the man who wishes to marry her, Harriet sneaks off to join the ballet on their journey to the Amazon. There, in the wild, lush jungle, they perform Swan Lake in grand opera houses for the wealthy and culture-deprived rubber barons, and Harriet meets Rom Verney, the handsome and mysterious British exile who owns the most ornate opera house. Utterly enchanted by both the exotic surroundings and by Rom's affections, Harriet is swept away by her new life, completely unaware that her father and would-be fiancé have begun to track her down...Sadly (at least for me—it’s probably “happily” for you stalwart readers who’ve slogged through all my Ibbotson fangirling), this is my last Eva Ibbotson review. I’ve finally made it through all her books (at least, all her non-children’s ones). But really, since all good things must come to an end and all that, I’m really glad that A Company of Swans was my last Ibbotson book. It was such a perfect way to finish off.
Because this book was about ballet, and I’m secretly totally in love with ballet. It’s just so beautiful and graceful and really, really impressive. And Ibbotson describes ballet perfectly—she captures the grace and the passion, the etherealness and the hard work. I felt like I was touring with the company and watching the performances, all through the deftness of the author’s description.
As with Ibbotson’s other books, she gets the characterization down perfectly. She uses a light and humorous hand when it comes to developing her characters, but by the end, you feel like you know them. And more than that, like you want to be their friend. Harriet and Rom are one of my favorite Ibbotson couples—their romance is just sappy and dramatic enough to make you sigh without crossing the line into ridiculousness. And for once, Ibbotson manages to have some characters without redeeming qualities! Usually, her characters, no matter how grouchy or misguided, have some element of goodness to them—even if it’s buried deep down—but Harriet’s father and aunt were completely horrid. As much as it caught me off guard to find that in an Ibbotson book, it was honestly also a little refreshing.
It was also totally awesome that this book takes place in Brazil. Ibbotson is a master at capturing scenery—but typically her books take place in Austria or England. So it was fun to see her successfully tackle the lush tropics of Brazil.
I think what stands out to me overall about Ibbotson’s books—this one included—is their sense of optimism. And not only optimism about the big things—that everything will work out in the end—but about the small things as well. That there’s joy to be found in the simple and mundane, and that with the right perspective the everyday things can bring more happiness and contentment than grand gestures or big events. It's a lesson worth learning, and Ibbotson teaches it subtly yet powerfully.
Overall, as with all of Ibbotson’s books, I recommend this one whole heartedly. I have a terrible time trying to pick a favorite Ibbotson book, but this one is definitely in the running. I’ll be re-reading it for sure.
Rating: 4.5 / 5