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The Swan Keeper

From USA Today featured novelist and Western Writers of America Spur award finalist Milana Marsenich, The Swan Keeper is an historical, coming-of-age novel set in 1920s Montana.

On her eleventh birthday, Lilly’s family visits the Cattail Marsh to see the newly hatched cygnets. The family outing turns tragic when Dean Drake shows up with his shotgun. Lilly sees him kill her father, injure her mother, and slaughter the bevy of trumpeter swans. The sheriff, her mother, sister, and best friend all think Lilly is trying to make sense of a senseless accident by blaming Drake. But Lilly knows the truth. Left alone she must bring him to justice.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Open Books (May 16, 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1948598035
  • ISBN-13: 978-1948598033
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces

The Swan Keeper Talk – Part 1


The Swan Keeper was a finalist for The Willa Award 2019 Original Softcover Fiction with Women Writing the West.


  • I also very much enjoyed Marsenich’s descriptions of the mountain countryI also very much enjoyed Marsenich’s descriptions of the mountain countryJanet Y via Amazon

    This story was difficult to put aside once begun! Eleven year old Lilly's dedication to the well being of the swans and her tenacity in bringing Dean Drake to justice for his cruelty and murder -- all this interspersed with her family relationships and her vivid imagination, drew me in and kept me turning the pages. Being a Montanan who lives very near the Mission Mountains, I also very much enjoyed Marsenich's descriptions of the mountain country. And I learned quite a lot about trumpeter swans. All in all, a fabulous book!! Thank you Milana Marsenich for another great piece of literary fiction.

  • I love historical novels that teach me something i didnt know. The swan keeper did that while keeping me entertained. Beautifully written.

  • Danger, suspense, and determination.Danger, suspense, and determination.Carmen Peone via Amazon

    Who knew the trumpeter swan was in such danger and in need of a swan keeper! And Lily is just the girl to do the job. She thought her eleventh birthday was to be one of the most memorable. It was, just not what she'd hoped for. Especially when dean Drake shows up, his shotgun blazing. All she wanted was to see the newly hatched swan cygnets. Not her father killed and her mother badly injured.

    No one believes she saw Dean shoot her father and the swans. Not even her sister, who ends up taking care of Lilly until their mother is healthy enough to return home. The Swan Keeper reads as an adult story with a young protagonist, making the story suitable for all ages. It is clear The Swan Keeper was well researched and I learned a lot about the trumpeter swan. I fell in love with Lilly's strength, persistence, and determination. A well-paced story, I highly recommend this book!

  • Author Marsenich does a magnificent job showing the extremes of an eleven-year old’s anguish and frustration. The family lived a meager, but loving life. Now the father is dead and their mother gravely ill. Although neighbors help, the greatest burden to keep the family going is carried by Lilly’s fifteen year-old sister, Anna. Lilly is obsessed with proving the killer’s guilt and spends most of her time in the hills and forests tracking down evidence.

    The young girl fantasizes a beloved swan protects her, giving her courage to carry on with her mission to fight for justice. Reality abruptly ends the fantasy when Lilly is face to face with the killer. Marsenich deftly takes the reader into the craggy Mission Mountains with its threats of extreme terrain, bears, and quickly changing weather.

    The Swan Keeper is listed as a coming-of-age novel, but this gripping story would be of interest to anyone who loves nature and who strives for justice.


  • So it’s a good thing Lilly is tough-minded and unafraid to fight for …So it’s a good thing Lilly is tough-minded and unafraid to fight for …Susan S. via Amazon

    The book evokes empathy on the deepest level possible. Marsenich captures both the magic and confusion of what it’s like to be eleven. She knows what it’s like to not be able to voice one’s truth – the frustration at not being found to be a credible witness to a crime. It is more than a little evident that this author has tremendous insight into human nature. I found myself getting frustrated—not with the book—but because I longed for Lilly’s mother, Nell, to get better sooner, and justice to prevail!

    Also contributing to this novel’s excellence is the vividly described Montana countryside. The author reels us into her created world and is able to capture what is most beautiful, and more frightening, about what it means to be human. Marsenich writes the way an Impressionist artist painted: in her portrayal of Lilly and Nell, she manages to blur the lines between the dream world and reality. We get a glimpse of what it might be like beyond this world.

    As much as this is a psychological novel, it is equally philosophical and poetic. It stays with the reader, long after the last page is turned!


  • Very powerful imageryVery powerful imageryThe Brown Bookloft via Amazon

    The imagery in The Swan Keeper is very powerful. It is swirl of white—the cold, the snow, Lilly’s hair, the swans, angels, dreams… The white and cold crept into my bones. But the coldest of all is the man in the dark green coat.

    This is the kind of book to read by a fire, under a blanket with a cup of something hot to drink. But I think it would not be the kind of book to read in a cabin in the winter forest, alone with nothing but the sounds of the night with my mind listening for the crunching of boots in the snow outside my window.


  • A Heartwarming Tale in Early 20th Century Montana. Milana is a gifted writer.A Heartwarming Tale in Early 20th Century Montana. Milana is a gifted writer.Paul Falk, Author/Reviewer

    Given a natural gift for storytelling, Milana Marsenich conjured up a compelling tale that took me back to a world of simpler times. Being a willing participant, I was swept away with the plight of a young girl on a dreamlike mission to become a guardian of wildlife. The narrative tugged at my heart and denied me any chance to glance away. I was all-in. The main character sat beside me as the storyline danced from page to page; she was well-drawn. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who would desire an exciting heartfelt read.


  • A beautifully written, poetic thriller set in 1920s western Montana. The Swan Keeper is a haunting ride as rocky as the steep Mission Mountains where the story takes place. Eleven-year-old Lilly is fierce yet fragile, not unlike the wild trumpeter swans she loves. Teetering alone on the brink of serious danger -- the kind of danger no youngster should ever have to face – she bravely defends everything she holds dear. Young Lilly must find a way to bring down the violent, destructive Dean Drake. Author Milana Marsenich has penned a dramatic page-turner brimming with authentic detail. She knows this Montana countryside inside and out, her vivid descriptions capturing the spirit of the craggy Mission Mountains. I highly recommend The Swan Keeper to anyone who enjoys reading gripping literary fiction.

  • Magic realism among the marshesMagic realism among the marshesAnne Schroeder via Amazon

    Frankly, I wasn't prepared for this story to be so outstanding. It reminded me of Annie Proulx's work. Lilly is a girl in the last stage of childhood, relying on fantasy and imagination when her fears overwhelm her. A metaphoric dance of childhood innocence juxtaposed in a fascinating world of Trumpeter swans and their offspring. I was enthralled with the characters, the plot and the imagery.

  • The Swan Keeper draws you in from the very beginningThe Swan Keeper draws you in from the very beginningCathy R via Amazon

    I really enjoyed this book from start to finish. Set in the beautiful Mission Mountains of Montana, the story introduces you to Lilly, a spirited young girl who shares her father’s love and passion for the trumpeter swans. On her eleventh birthday, Lilly’s world is shattered when she witnesses a senseless attack on her family, leaving her mother seriously injured, her father dead and several swans illegally slaughtered. After that tragic day, Lilly is determined to protect the trumpeter swans and to prove that her father’s death was no accident. Milana Marsenich beautifully captures the essence of a young girl who is forced to grow up too soon due to circumstances beyond her control. The Swan Keeper encompasses both beauty and evil and draws you in from the very beginning. It’s a book you won’t want to put down.

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