The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.
The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.
But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.
Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore was published by Feiwel Friends on October 9th 2018.
No trigger warnings.
When it comes to the magical realism genre there is no author better than Anna-Marie McLemore, and Blanca & Roja is another beautifully written story; full of magic and positive diverse representation. As with a lot of magical realism books it did take me a little while to get into the story, but like the rest of McLemore’s books once I was hooked I fell in love with every aspect of Blanca & Roja.
“There will always be two daughters. But we will always take one back.”
Blanca and Roja are del Cisne girls, they know that one day the swans will come back, and one of them will be turned into a swan while the other will remain human. The two have been raised to be rivals but they are also sisters who love one another. They tie themselves together as closely as they can in the hopes that when the swans do come back they will not be able to tell who is who and so will be unable to separate them.
Blanca has always been the ‘good’ sister, the one the del Cisne’s believe will be spared, but their words just made Blanca more determined to save Roja, more desperate not to lose her sister to the swans. Roja at times seemed almost resigned to Blanca’s attempts to tie them together; she seems to have already accepted her fate as the girl who would be taken by the swans, her family’s belief that Blanca would be the girl spared filling Roja with doubt making her wonder why she should try when it seems her fate has already been decided.
Roja however is a character with a fire inside her, when the swans do return she decides to fight for her life. Blanca and Roja become rivals in Roja’s mind, but in Blanca’s they are still sister’s first and as when she was a child she is determined to save them both and if she can’t then she’s determined to save Roja from the fate that’s already been decided for her.
“If I wanted to, I could believe it was our colours that decided Blanca would be the gentle sister, pure and obliging, and I would be the cruel one, wicked and difficult. She would be the blessed daughter, the one the swans would spare. And I would be the one the swans would take. But my sister saw our story ending another way.”
When the swans return it’s not just Blanca and Roja pulled into the story but Yearling and Page too. Yearling is desperate for an escape from his abusive family and the secrets they have, and that’s what the woods offer him. He want anonymity, wants to separate himself from his family’s name so he chooses his own. Page is a trans boy who still sometimes identifies as she/her, while his family supports him they can’t understand his desire to still be female sometimes.
The relationships between the four main characters were incredibly well-written; the unlikely friendship between Yearling and Page was one of silent support, they keep their secrets but they have each other’s back, and the romance between Blanca and Page was beautiful to see grow even in the face of the secrets Blanca kept from Page about the swan. It was the romance between Roja and Yearling that I felt the least connection with, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t well developed, the personalities of both characters complimenting one another.
“The story of the ugly duckling was never about the cygnet discovering he is lovely. It is not a story about realising you have become beautiful.
It is about the sudden understanding that you are something other than what you thought you were, and that what you are is more beautiful than what you once thought you had to be.”
With Blanca & Roja Anna-Marie McLemore has taken a classic fairytale and expanded the story, creating a tale full of magic and secrets with incredible female characters and a strong sisterhood at the very centre of it driving Blanca’s and Roja’s individual actions. I was invested in Blanca’s and Roja’s story from the beginning; watching them keep secrets from one another when the swans returned, seeing them fall apart but knowing that love they felt for one another after tying themselves together as child was still there.
“Remember what I always told you.”
I let my eyes fall shut. “I have teeth.”
I opened my eyes in time to catch his nod.
“So use them,” he said.
McLemore’s writing is beautiful, suited for the magical realism genre where there is so much magic in the ordinary, and of all her books Blanca & Roja is my second favourite. If you enjoy fairytale retellings or the magical realism genre, or if you’re just looking to start, Anna-Marie McLemore’s books are a great place to begin.
Have you read Blanca & Roja, or is it still on your TBR list?
What did you think of this book? Which relationship was your favourite to see unfold; the romance between Blanca and Page, between Roja and Yearling, the friendship between Yearling and Page or the sibling bond between Blanca and Roja?
Have you read any of Anna-Marie McLemore’s other releases, which is your favourite?