Nancy Yi Fan was eleven years old when she started writing the first novel in her Swordbird series, entitled Swordbird. I haven’t read Swordbird, nor have I read the second novel in the series, Sword Quest. And I had no idea that Ms. Yi Fan was a teen author until I finished reading Sword Mountain and read the author blurb in the back. Nancy Yi Fan’s writing matches that any adult fantasy author, and her deft handling of story, character, and theme outdo many authors with far more experience than she has.
Sword Mountain is the ancestral of the Golden Eagles, and as the story opens exiled musician Prince Fleydur is returning home to the Castle of the Sky as a hero. He and his brother, Prince Forlath, and their Eagle Army have defeated the archaeopteryxes and saved the kingdom. Unfortunately, not all of their enemies have perished, and not much has changed at the Castle of the Sky in Fleydur’s absence. The Iron Nest, the tribe’s ruling authority, still holds to tradition and a rigid social hierarchy, and Queen Sigrid is still enmeshed in her own selfish ambitions for her son Forlath. And nobody understands Fleydur’s love for music nor his compassion in rescuing an orphaned valley eaglet named Dandelion and bringing her to the Castle of the Sky to associate with the eagle nobility.
Dandelion becomes the heroine of the the story as she struggles to find her place and identity in a very rigid, rule-bound society. Fleydur is good, but a bit clueless, thinking that everybird, including the villains of the piece, means well and only needs a taste of music to make them understand the beauty of equality and freedom.
I liked the way this one was written. I liked the aphorisms at the beginning of each chapter. I liked the anthropomorphic birds who felt like characters from a human fairy tale, only with flying. I liked the strong, female protagonist who did the rescuing instead of being rescued. I liked the centrality of the two books, The Old Scripture and The Book of Heresy. I liked the themes of “hope and change”, slow, sure hope and change. I liked it all well enough that I’m hoping to go back and read the first two books in the series when Cybils season is over.
Sword Mountain is eligible to be nominated for the 2012 Cybils Awards for Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy. Nominations open October 1, 2012.