This book is a fantasy story retelling the story of Swan Lake.
Baron von Rothbart is a powerful sorcerer, who captures young women he believes to have betrayed or been unfaithful, enchanting them to take the form of swans, so that they only take their human form in the moonlight. In reality these girls have committed minor sins compared to their husbands or fathers, often being mistreated, and married off to men against their will. The leader of the group of girls turned into swans is the princess Odette.
Odile is the sorcerer’s daughter, generally left in charge of the captured girls at the sorcerer’s manor. She is naive and trusting of her father, always seeking her father’s approval, and not realising his real treachery. She is learning magic herself, and sometimes takes the form of a black swan.
The Baron makes a promise to Odette that if she can win the love of a man, who will remain faithful to her for a month, all the girls will be freed from the spell.
Clothilde is the Queen Regent of a small European kingdom. The king had died some years previously, and Crown Prince Siegfried has not yet come of age to take the throne. Clothilde intends to hang onto the throne as long as possible, and encourages Siegfried in a life of wine, women and hunting rather than the responsibilities of state.
As Siegfried approaches his eighteenth birthday, the courtiers remind the queen that the prince must marry and be crowned. The queen arranges for the prince to meet several eligible princesses, and hopes this will distract him sufficiently to delay the coronation, with the intention of a fatal “accident” for him at some later date. Then Baron von Rothbart enters the scene. His stated plan is that the prince will meet his daughter at a lake on a hunting trip, and that she will be his ideal choice for a bride.
However, the baron’s treachery is beyond anything the other characters expect.