This, the first of a projected fantasy trilogy from newcomer Marillier, reworks and embroiders the fairy tale of the brothers who are transformed into swans by their evil stepmother; they can be returned to human form only by the agonizing labors of their young sister. In Ireland, patriarch Colum and his six sons and daughter Sorcha are beset by Britons in pursuit of an old blood feud. The brothers are variously gifted: Conor has druidic leanings, Cormack is the scholar, young Finbar has the Sight, etc. Then Colum's men capture a young Briton, Simon, from a raiding party, and torture him for the secrets he supposedly keeps; Conor and Finbar help him escape; and, later, Sorcha tends his injuries. Soon, however, the Lady Oonagh—clearly a witch—beguiles Colum and plots to drive the brothers and Sorcha away. They attempt to restrain Oonagh with magic, but Oonagh's too strong and transforms the brothers into swans. The Lady of the Forest tells Sorcha how she can free them—by hand-weaving each swan a shirt of barbs, and by keeping utter silence until the task is complete. In fleeing Oonagh's wrath, however, she falls in with a party of Britons looking for Simon. In distant England, meanwhile, Sorcha's mission seems more impossible than ever—and there’ll be many complications before matters are resolved in traditional style.