Title: Swallow’s Dance
Author: Wendy Orr
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 27th June 2018
Synopsis: Leira’s family flee to the island of Crete just before a huge volcanic eruption destroys their island and sends a tsunami to where they thought they had found safety. Another thrilling adventure by acclaimed author Wendy Orr.
I wonder if the first day of Learning is always like this – do the girls on the hill always feel the ground tremble under their feet?
Leira is about to start her initiation as a priestess when her world is turned upside down. A violent earthquake leaves her home – and her family – in pieces. And the goddess hasn’t finished with the island yet.
With her family, Leira flees across the sea to Crete, expecting sanctuary. But a volcanic eruption throws the entire world into darkness. After the resulting tsunami, society descends into chaos; the status and privilege of being noble-born reduced to nothing. With her injured mother and elderly nurse, Leira has only the strength and resourcefulness within herself to find safety.
A thrilling Bronze Age survival story from the acclaimed author of Dragonfly Song.
Ancient history, and in particular the Bronze Age and the Minoans, seems to be a period of history that novelists and authors don’t always use as inspiration, so it was a joy to be able to read Leira’s story.
Leira is a member of the Swallow Clan, a priestess to be living on Thera around 1625 B.C.E. Just as she begins her Learning to enter the world of a priestess, and eventually marry, Thera is rocked by an earthquake, and Leira’s world is shattered. Her family flees to Crete, and on the journey, her father enlists her help in trade and taking goods to market – where she begins to think about the seal stone her father discussed making for her. But all their dreams are shattered upon arrival at Crete, where they must work to survive, and no longer enjoy the privileges of their former life. They are refugees, fleeing the volcanic eruption that tore the middle of the island of Thera out, and caused a tsunami that would take many lives, and create the homeless refugees like Leira, and eventually, lead to the legends of a lost city called Atlantis.
Using the archaeological evidence and any other information available written in Greek, and translated or by historians who have excavated Thera and Crete, as well as the well-preserved frescoes of the Minoans, Wendy Orr has recreated the disaster that decimated Thera and that began the decline and end of the thriving Minoan civilisation on Crete.
Leira’s struggles are real – she is in a new world, without anything and thrust into things she doesn’t understand and has never done before. She is caring for her mother, injured in the earthquake that led to the volcanic eruption, and she has the woman who has worked for her family for years, Nunu, to help her and guide her as she adjusts to the new life. Nunu gives advice on what to do, and about the realities of their new life, but helps Leira understand – she doesn’t abandon Leira and her mother, seeing them as family.
Set in a time that is sometimes forgotten, and whose recorded history is uncertain because the language has not been translated yet, Swallow’s Dance is about a lost civilsation and its refugees seeking help, and being treated as slaves, sneered at and made to feel unwelcome, even though they are fleeing something that nobody could ever have predicted or prevented. It is perhaps even more interesting to read given the way refugees can and sometimes are treated in the world today still, illustrating that nothing has really changed, but that there are also good people, like Andras, the young guard Leira meets, and the women who work in the craft area, making pots, far from where she began in the fishing village and the purple works – who will help people when they need it most.
I really enjoyed this book – having studied the Minoans at school and in particular, Thera, it sparked my interest immediately and the history I knew informed my reading of this book, and helped me build Leira’s world.