Review of “Blanca & Roja”

Blanca & Roja retells Swan Lake, binding two sisters to a curse that damns one and saves the other.


Blanca & Roja
Anna-Marie McLemore
Square Fish

Blanca & Roja is an exciting novel. But it is not without its problems.

What worked well was how the story built up the bond between the two sisters. There is a blessing and a curse on the del Cisne girls. Every mother will have two daughters, something their ancestor prayed for so desperately without thinking of the cost of her wish. However, when one girl comes of age, the swans will come and take them, leaving only one daughter behind.

Now, while Blanca and Roja fight for one another, their family tries to pit them against one another. Believing Roja will be taken, the family dotes over perfect Blanca, forming attachments to her while keeping Roja apart.

And when two boys thought lost in the enchanted woods enter their lives, the bond between the sisters becomes strained.

The dynamics and the bond between the sisters were well done. But what always bothers me (it’s my pet peeve) is when characters keep secrets from one another. Especially sisters. It also did not fit into the story. For example, Blanca acts on a hint that would save her, breaking her sister’s trust and heart and creating a rift between them. While it added tension to the story, it did not make sense to her characterization. As a reader, it took me off guard as much as it took Roja, and even when she explained her reasoning, it still bothered me. They are supposed to be two sisters who fight for one another, yet her actions create a rift between them.

Some Confusion

I was also a little confused regarding the setting. At times Blanca & Roja seemed to take place in an old town. When I say old, I’m thinking before modern technology. And then there were times when the world did seem more modern. Given the tone and the atmosphere, it was jarring and did not quite match up with the overall setting of the story.

There is also the LGBTQ+ aspect of the story. I love the diversity McLemore imbues in her story. I am familiar with her work and how she represents non-binary and transgender people. However, again, there was some confusion here. It came across well in the introduction of Page. Page often uses masculine pronouns (born a female) and does not mind “her” but asks people not to use “she.” Their identity was not the issue. The issue was who was talking.

Because of the narrative, when other characters talk about Page, given that there is another male in the story who uses multiple identifiers, it is confusing to figure out who was talking to whom. When characters have more than one identifier, what would have helped would have been a name drop to let the reader know.

As lyrical as the storytelling is, when the reader gets so lost in the making of the story, having multiple identities without context, namely name usage, often led to me having to back and re-read to figure out who was talking to who.

Final Thoughts

Blanca & Roja is a beautiful retelling, blending Snow White and Rose Red with Swan Lake. It could have used a little more clarification, but it is a pleasant read.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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