**spoiler alert** Sword Mountain by Nancy Yi Fan is a surprisingly delightful children's book (fantasy genre). It is well-written and has amazing char**spoiler alert** Sword Mountain by Nancy Yi Fan is a surprisingly delightful children's book (fantasy genre). It is well-written and has amazing character development and a strong plot--both of which engaged me as the reader. I couldn't put this book down, and once I finished it, I was thinking about reading the other avian adventure books by Fan. (In general, I would rate this book as 4.8 out of 5 stars.)
This novel reminded me of the classic fairytale of Cinderella, a down-to-earth girl turned into a princess, except that the protagonist in Sword Mountain is Dandelion, an eaglet (a valley bird; think peasant here) who finds herself waking up at the beautiful kingdom of Sword Mountain. But before all of that happens, she was just a typical valley bird about to celebrate her birthday with her first flight until an archaeopteryx (a reptilian bird) ruins everything. Her parents died in the fight against the archaeopteryx that showed up at her home-cave. Like Cinderella, she becomes an orphan, but is saved by a disowned eagle prince named Fleydur, who decides to adopt her and makes her a princess. Of course, upon arrival at the palace, Dandelion faces adversity in many forms: such hostility of her status as a valley bird; the Queen's icy treatment of her; bullying and teasing at a "fake party" led by her assigned companion, Olga (eaglet); awful treatment by the new tutor (Tranglarhad, the owl); Fleydur's unjust imprisonment; and finding a way to protect Sword Mountain itself from evil anybirds that try to claim it.
As a children's novel, I really admire the many lessons craftily woven into the book. For instance, Dandelion learns the meaning of friendship and bravery and justice against evil and prejudice. She learns perseverance and standing up for herself when she is challenged. An example is a scene between her and the new tutor, Tranglarhad, when Tranglarhad wanted Olga to say that anybirds have "no merit," but she rose to defend Olga when Olga broke down crying.
The symbolism of flight is also a strong theme throughout the novel. It is represented by Dandelion's birthday candle that was extinguished by the archaeopteryx on her sky-born day. Throughout any form of adversity, Dandelion touches that candle in her pocket to give herself strength and will to move forward. Dandelion is not only a princess but also a warrior when she learns to wield a sword after her best friend, Cloud-wing (another eaglet), goes to Rockbottom Academy to be a full-fledged eagle warrior of Sword Mountain. The reader can note the similarities of Dandelion's perseverance and determination with both learning how to fly and wielding a sword. In fact, those qualities are found in the meaning of her name as well--the tenacity as a dandelion flower.
A dichotomy addressed in this book is tradition versus change. In the world of eagles and the Sword Mountain, rank/status is significant. Likewise, tradition and rules are heavily ingrained within this eagle culture. However, when Fleydur returns home and then later brings home Dandelion, both tradition and rules are challenged in more ways than one. If change is successful, the society is awarded with something beneficial for its members. In this case, Sword Mountain receives not only the gift of music but also the gift of unifying anybirds from everywhere by putting aside any formalities and prejudices (e.g., rank, prestige, etc.).
As mentioned previously, character development is fairly strong in this novel. As a reader, I learned to appreciate and love the uniqueness of each character, especially with the fact that there are many introduced in this book! However, it is wonderful to compare and contrast the personalities of Fleydur, Cloud-wing, and Dandelion--as they all know what it is like to be misfits or mis-perceived by others at Sword Mountain.
Although the book ended happily, I just felt that the ending was a bit rushed. Miraculously, the missing gem is found, the Stone Mountain King is alive, and Fleydur is freed from prison. Shouldn't the Queen offer an apology to Dandelion for treating her disrespectfully (but then again, I suppose the Queen was always like that)? Should the Queen also offer Fleydur an apology for "disowning" him in so many ways? What was in the will the King wanted to say/write? So what happens to Tranglarhad and the rest of the owls and archaeopteryx empire? Does Fleydur make up with the Queen or his brother after he was freed from prison? So many questions, yet overall, this book is generally worth reading as it is written beautifully in plot, character development, and style (even if there are a few errors).
Notes: This book was a Goodreads giveaway (an uncorrected proof copy, or ARC copy)....more