Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review: "Swallowing Darkness" by Laurell K. Hamilton

Laurell K. Hamilton’s series about Meredith Gentry, a half-human princess of faerie, started with great promise in her 2000 novel “A Kiss of Shadows.”

Merry was living in Los Angeles, working for a detective agency, when she was called home by her aunt, the queen of the Unseelie Court of the sidhe, and offered the crown of the court if she could produce an heir. That’s when things took a bad turn.

The second book, “A Caress of Twilight,” was entertaining, but not nearly as good as the first. I slogged through as much of the third book as I could, but never finished it. The plot that had so intrigued me in the first book had become a thin excuse to get the characters from one sex scene to the next by the third.

I gave up on the series after that. But on the recommendation of a few people that I trust, I decided to give it another shot with “Swallowing Darkness” ($26, Ballantine), the seventh book in the series.

Mercifully, heirs-- two of them -- are on the way when the book opens, clearing the way for Hamilton to get back to the story. The book opens with Merry in the hospital, recovering after being kidnapped by King Taranis of the Seelie Court of the sidhe and hatching a plan to have him prosecuted by the human authorities rather than having her warriors handle it in the traditional sidhe manner and spark a war between the two courts on American soil -- a war that would violate the treaty with the American government and leave the sidhe exiled from the country.

A visit from her grandmother goes horribly awry, leading Merry to call on the ancient magic of the Wild Hunt to seek her vengeance. Ancient magics, long lost, seem to be popping up all around Merry, and all the various clans and royalty of faerie want their piece of it. All, that is, except her mad cousin Cel, who only wants the crown her aunt promised him before she discovered he was unable to provide a heir and sees Merry as an usurper.

Though I skipped three and a half books in the series, Hamilton does a good job of catching the reader up in the early going, and I don’t feel as though I missed much.
Most of this book is spent in faerie, rather than the human world, dealing with ancient races and magic, which gives it more of a traditional fantasy feel. It unfortunately lacks the courtly intrigue of the early books, as pretty much everyone here has declared their side and the hostilities are open.

Now that the plot has started moving again, it moves at a breathless pace toward the resolution of many of the points raised in the first book, and sees Merry coming fully into her power, restoring the historic magics of the sidhe and uniting at least a few of the fractured factions of faerie.

Though Hamilton now says the story, which began as an 8-book series, may stretch to 15 (rarely a good thing), the fairy-tale like ending of “Swallowing Darkness” at least hints that a chapter of the story is over. The book does, however, bring a welcome return to plot, and here’s hoping the next chapter will follow suit.

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