Swallow's Dance by Wendy Orr
Format: ARC Paperback
Publisher: Pajama Press
Number of pages: 360
Publishing: October 1st, 2018
Source: Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Opening Line: "Nunu says that when the goddess belches, it means change is coming."
One of the last books that I've read by Wendy Orr was Dragonfly Song, which is a lovely historical fantasy set in Crete during the Bronze Age and centers on a young girl who's only chance to be free is to become a bull-dancer. Swallow's Dance takes place some 200 years before the events of Dragonfly Song and according to Orr's website, she was inspired to write Swallow's Dance after an archeological dig in Crete.
At the beginning of Swallow's Dance, Leira and the other maidens of her village are participating in a ritual that will commence their journey to become women when a powerful earthquake strikes the village, destroying their homes and injures Leira's mother. To search out a new place to live and healer for Leira's mother, the family flees to Crete. Leira is from a noble-born family and her father is a renowned captain who travels around the world. Initially, the plan is for Leira to take over her brother's duties watching over their trade deals on the island while her father continues to sail in search of goods to trade. Shortly after their arrival, Leira is awakened by the loud sounds of a tsunami hitting the island. Following the earthquake and resulting tsunami, food begins to dwindle and there's an increased fear of an uprising within the city. Concerned for her safety, Leira takes her mother and Nunu (an elderly servant woman who tends to their family) and runs for the hillside. In order to survive, Leira alters her appearance and tries to become a servant girl, but will she be able to blend in with the rest of the refugees on the island?
Swallow's Dance is the fictionalized story inspired by the real events of a hurricane that occurred in 1625 BCE on the island of Thera (now known as Santorini) that resulted in a huge tsunami on Crete and the speculation of whether the people of Thera were able to flee to Crete before the city was buried. Like Dragonfly Song, Swallow's Dance is told through a combination of prose and free verse. It's a wonderful mix of survival and a coming of age story.
Leira is a resilient young girl who endures so many hardships once she arrives in Crete. One of her early concerns is that she will never be able to complete her learning to become a woman. An idea that resurfaces throughout the story. She's a maiden trying to trade among the sharks. At the same time, she is trying desperately to care for a mother who has sustained a horrible head injury that has resulted in Aphasia. At one point, she's even forced to give up her identity and turn her back on her people. Despite everything that she endures, she is still strong, fierce and strives to improve her living situation, to one day be free. You can't help rooting for Leira as she vows to honor her people and claim who she is.
One of my favorite lines from the story is when Leira takes her mother to a wise woman for healing. It's a sad moment because Leira has just started to realize the gravity of her mother's injuries and that she doesn't know who Leira is. The wise woman believes that an evil ghost has taken her mother's spirit away and in order to return her to who she was, they must surround her with their own memories through song to lead her spirit back to her body so she tells Leira to " Sing her life. Sing of the life and love that only you know, the secrets that tell her spirit that she is its home."