Reviews of Rafe Martin’s Birdwing

BirdwingWHAT IF... provides a firm platform for the author’s extended (358 page) incredibly imaginative back story for the old Grimm tale The Six Swans. . . . Throughout, Martin evokes strong human emotions. The scene where Rose and Ardwin confront each other depicts two very conflicted adults with mixed feelings of duty and choice, and the consequences of choosing. Such intense emotion is leavened, for example, in the humor of the innkeeper’s wife, a terrible cook with a direct link to Mrs. Malaprop. In all, a deeply satisfying read!”       —John Warren Stewig, Carthage College Center for Children’s Literature

“An unfamilar Grimm’s fairy tale comes to life in the story of Ardwin, the youngest of six brothers turned into swans. When the spell is broken on Ardwin, one wing remains, leaving the young prince to struggle between the human and animal worlds. Never expecting to find love, he must decide whether his wing is a blessing or a curse. His journey will keep you totally enchanted right up to the surprising end.”      —GIRL’S LIFE Feb-Mar 2006

“There are more questions than answers at the end of The Six Swans by the Brother’s Grimm: what happened to the witch that cursed the family? Can the family recover from the blame and guilt? What becomes of the littlest boy who still has a swan wing? Martin picks up these threads in this masterful story of Prince Ardwin, the youngest child, and his ultimate role in helping the entire family find peace. . . Martin’s intricate story traces the lives of each minor player and explains some of the mysterious workings of the major characters, including a deeper exploration of the motivations of the witch who sparked the chain of events. The depictions of the fated love of Ardwin and Alene, the princess with a tortured past whose life he saves, and Ardwin’s difficult struggle toward awakening into his own strengths are credible and powerful. A dramatic and philosophical work, this will encourage readers to consider the possibility that everyone carries blessings disguised as curses.”
STARRED REVIEW!     — The Bulletin of the Center For Children’s Books

“Rafe Martin is probably best known for his picture books, including The Rough-Face Girl, an Algonquin Indian version of the Cinerella story. An amazing storyteller, Martin pushes the boundaries for retelling fairy tales with this coming-of-age novel that will appeal to fans of Harry Potter or Philip Pullman. Birdwing focuses on what happened to the six princes transformed into swans in the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale after their sister broke the evil spell. While the boys were returned to human form once the spell was broken, fourteen-year-old Prince Ardwin retained a wing in place of one arm. Tired of being taunted because he is different, Ardwin sets out on an adventurous journey of self-discovery. The path he follows includes enough sorcery, fighting, magic, and enlightenment to satisfy any fantasy reader.”     —ParentWise Magazine

“In a magical tale woven by master storyteller Rafe Martin, characters have "fallen out of legend" into a tale of extraordinary beauty and philosophical depth. An evil queen, an enchantress, a winged warrior, a gray-eyed goose girl who’s really a princess, a snow lion, giants, mechanical men, and a sarcastic talking horse mix it up in a fairy tale adventure as inventive and soaring as Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials…Martin has made a fairy tale world completely believable and readers…will ponder deep questions of what it means to be human, whether differences are curses or gifts, and how to make one’s life a worthy story.”     —BookPage

“Remember the Grimms’ story "The Six Swans"? A wicked queen turns her stepsons into wild swans; the spell will be broken only if their little sister stays mute for six years and weaves each of them a nettle shirt. When the time is up, she has not quite finished a sleeve on the last shirt. The brothers regain human form, but the youngest is left with one arm and one wing. The end of that fairy tale is the starting point for this extraordinary novel. . . In the best fairy-tale tradition, "Prince Freak" sets out to discover how he must live. The marvelous thing about Birdwing is that, given its highly literary origins, it is so tough, colloquial, funny and moving. But then, having been sent back to the Grimms, you realize Martin has merely emulated his masters. A book for kids who appreciate the likes of William Mayne and Ursula K. Le Guin.”       —The Washington Post

“Once upon a time: Enchanted tales make up a large part of any child’s book collection. Characters like Snow White, Peter Pan and others draw children in with the promise of magical encounters and unexpected events. A new fairy tale may be the perfect gift for someone on your list. Consider "Birdwing" (Arthur A. Levine Books, $16.99) by Rafe Martin, an enchanting story of Ardwin, a boy who was rescued from a curse - but not entirely. One wing remained in place of an arm, and that wing leads Ardwin on an adventure, all the while questioning whether he is man or bird.”   — Named one of 12 Best Books for 2005 by Tribune Media

“Rafe Martin has written an absolutely faithful and exceedingly satisfying continuation of The Six Swans . . . Reminiscent of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Adventures, we travel with our good-hearted hero, Ardwin, on his coming of age journey as he struggles to discover whether he is man or bird, gifted or cursed. Along the way he encounters delightfully memorable friends (humans and beasts) and nasty foes who provide rich, but seamless, layers to the main plot. . . . Martin does a superb job of unfolding . . . the essential birthright challenge each of us has to come to terms with: who we are, who we are becoming, and how we fly.”   Rated: 10—RATING SCALE 10 = A desert island book for all time: Charlotte’s Web, Frederick, Bridge to Terabithia. NECBA New England Children’s Book Advisory

“Martin deftly weaves fairy tale into fiction . . . The many original characters and unusual adventure scenes ensure that readers will remember this well-paced fantasy.”     —Booklist

“An emotive fairytale extension thoughtfully explores the life of Ardwin, a prince with a swan’s wing instead of a left arm . . . The journey holds . . . surprises . . . [with] memorable images created along the way as Martin touchingly weaves together fairy tale, the wildness of animals and lyrical characterization.” (Fantasy, YA).     —Kirkus Reviews

“Birdwing is a fabulously imaginative continuation of a Grimm’s Brothers’ folktale. The highly readable and well-written story of a boy searching to find his place in the world is packed with adventure, moral dilemmas, true and false friendships, righting of wrongs, growing-up issues, plenty of danger, and a touch of the fantastical.”     —American Booksellers Association, BookSense 2005-6

“A marvelous, engaging rendering of the age-old story of a boy’s struggle to become a man and find his rightful place in the world. Magic, wise animals, loyalty, betrayal, love and war all come together in Ardwin’s search for the blessings of life. The writing is so engaging, the lessons so universal, and yet the story so unique in taking off from "The Six Swans" by The Brothers Grimm that readers will feel blessed with a rare glimpse into the meaning of life by the end. A book no one will be able to forget.”    —Fieldguide to

“Martin begins where the Grimms’ "Six Swans" concludes-with the release of the six princes from their evil stepmother’s spell, but with the youngest (here named Ardwin) left encumbered with one swan’s wing. When Ardwin learns that his father plans to accept neighboring King Ulfius’s demand that the wing be replaced with a golden prosthetic arm before Ardwin marries Ulfius’s daughter, Ardwin finds he’s not ready to give up his burdensome appendage-which confers such gifts as the ability to converse with animals. Pursued by minions of both kings, he sets forth on a quest, first back to the swans . . . on, in a Tolkienesque sequence, to the wizard Belarius (think Daedalus, Gandalf, and Prospero); and then to a gory heroic battle against outsized thugs who have kidnapped the goose-girl Alene . . . Ardwin’s homecoming occurs in several stages, with reconciliation its keynote; more important, he’s learned that, once controlled, his odd difference is empowering, not only literally as a weapon but as a source of creativity. Like Tolkien’s, Martin’s language segues agreeably from the courtly to the colloquial, enriching a somewhat message-laden ("Differences are good...I am not cursed at all, but blessed!") yet well-told tale.”    — J.R.L. THE HORN BOOK

“Ardwin grew up with this terrible burden and the others called him a freak, many people were afraid of him, and he came to see the wing as a curse. The wing gives him the power to speak to other animals, so Ardwin decides to leave the palace to find his own way. On his journey Ardwin faces many dangers but also meets special people and creatures who will help him along the way. Can Ardwin find the peace he searches for and find where he truly belongs? An enchanting tale of love, loss and understanding.”        —

“For the younger reader 12 and up, there’s a fantasy tale, Birdwing (Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic Inc) by Rafe Martin. It spins the story of a girl who rescued her six brothers from a sorceress who had turned them into swans. All are returned to human form, but one retains a single wing in the place of an arm. When his father, a king, decides to sever the wing, he must flee from him, as well as the sorceress who hunts him still. The theme of course is finding one’s true identity, but the story makes the journey a very interesting one.”       —

“...a wonderful escape for readers who love novels based on fairy tales. The characters are extremely well drawn and the intricate plot echoes the labyrinth created by the magician with the author serving as the glowing string to lead one through to the end.”