Posted on December 22, 2008 by alanajoli
Full disclosure: I love Richelle Mead’s stuff, so I was completely ready to be won over by the new series, “Dark Swan,” from the first time she posted an excerpt on her site. Both the excerpt and the novel, Storm Born, begin with shaman Eugenie Markham, also known as Odile Dark Swan, exorcising a shoe. What’s not to like? Eugenie is a lonely heroine working in a sort of mercenary line of demon slaying–taking calls, getting rid of spirits by banishing them either to the Other world or the world of the Dead, and getting paid. She doesn’t make friends easily, and has only her assistant Lara (most often a voice on the phone rather than human contact) and her roommate Timothy “Red Horse” (who masquerades as an “authentic” Native American, despite his Polish heritage). When she’s approached with a job to go into the Other World to rescue a girl kidnapped by the gentry, also called fairies or sidhe, she knows it’s beyond her experience. She also knows what happens to young women captured by the gentry, and in frustration, she throws herself into a one night stand. But even that simple act is complicated by the way that the Other world throws itself into her life–she discovers she’s being hunted by the gentry for reasons completely independent of the stolen girl, and that it has to do with the identity of her genetic father, whom she has never known.
Saying too much more about the details would give away a lot of the plot, which twists and turns and loops around on itself as Eugenie’s allies appear to be enemies and her enemies become helpmates–and bedmates. Eugenie is a very well drawn character–not quite as likable as Georgina from Mead’s “Succubus” series, but very sympathetic, and well aware of her own flaws. As she comes into understanding her own powers, and the discovery that she likes feeling powerful, she also struggles with realizing that she finds herself submitting to the men in her sex life. She willingly engages in some alternate sexual practices (indulging in bondage and submissive behaviors), then reflects on those encounters, wondering how that impacts her relationships outside of the bedroom. Add a prophecy and an inheritance she doesn’t want from the father she never knew, and Eugenie has a lot of soul searching to do.
One of the things that makes Storm Born work, and one of the reasons I’m not discussing the plot in too much detail, is that it’s so very much driven by Eugenie’s experiences. From the beginning, she doesn’t know what’s going on to change her life, and the changes that come aren’t obvious–they involve rescuing the girl, but become much more about Eugenie coming to an understanding of who she is and what that means for her life. Like the world of the gentry, which turns over on itself and constantly shifts and changes, the plot isn’t concrete, and its fluidity makes it an incredibly engaging read (if also a bit difficult to describe without spoilers). It’s also more morally ambiguous than Mead’s previous work; despite Georgina being a succubus, she has a firm moral center, and she wants to do the right thing. Eugenie starts from that place, but the nature of what is good and what is bad shifts under her feet so frequently that she has trouble pinning it down–and so do the readers. It means that Storm Born isn’t as lighthearted as the “Succubus” books, and in this case, the serious tone definitely works.
Review by Alana Abbott