Monday, February 4, 2013

Black Swan Rising (Black Swan Rising #1) by Lee Carroll

Garret James is an ordinary New Yorker, with a very complicated lineage. On a day out, Garret stumbles upon Lee, the proprietor of a weird store.  Lee is not interested in her ability to make jewelery but he does request that she open a silver box for him. Like Pandora's box, when Garret opens it, despair enters the word putting everyone she loves at risk.

Garret quickly learns that as the Watchtower, it is her responsibility to stand guard between the world the humans inhabit and the summer country (the world of the fae). With four days left to save the world, Garret must learn fae magic, deal with the legacy of her ancestors and decide where exactly a billionaire vampire fits into the equation.

I struggled to get through the first eighty pages of this book and thought very hard about rating it a DNF (did not finish).  The writing is overly descriptive at times, to the point of downright annoying. Do we really need to know the last detail of what Garret is wearing, or the people around her for that matter? At times I just wanted to scream, "tell the damn story already."  The story did pick up briefly but unfortunately returned to it's meandering pace for a time again.  In it's best moments, Black Swan Rising was epic, but it was hard to bulldoze thorough the extraneous information to get to the good parts.

I truly like Garret the protagonist.  Unlike far too many protagonist in this genre, she didn't run around kicking ass and taking names.  Garret was simply an ordinary human thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Her power came from the elementals she met along the way, which really fit with the theme of a woman on a journey of self discovery.  To survive, Garret had to learn to trust her instincts because everyone around her seemed to have some sort of agenda. I did however find it troubling once again that Carroll employed the dead parent trope in order to build character for Garrett.  Why is it so hard to write an urban fantasy novel in which the protagonist doesn't have a tortured past?

Garret's love interest is a vampire.  I was quite pleasantly surprised that he sought consent before feeding from her and consent in their love making.  Rather than having the usual perverted ancient vampire crushing on a teenage girl, Black Swan Rising suggested that the relationship between Garret and Will Hughes is based on an attraction he has to the descendants of Margarette.  This explains Will's emotions but it doesn't really explain Garret being caught up with a person she has just met.  This also means it's far more likely that Will has feeling for Garret only because of her resemblance to her ancestor.  

It's clear that the authors did historical and mythological research to write this book; however, the attribution of human evil to magic is problematic. 
I don't think that you will want to live in the world that Dee will create with the power the box gives him. Even without the ability to open the box Dee has wreaked havoc over the centuries - he was with Cromwell in 1649 and he blighted the Irish Potatoes in the 1840's. It was one of his henchmen who shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and he sat beside Hitler whispering in his ear. (page 101)
I suppose I should just suspend reality but I find this passage extremely offensive.  Carroll appropriated historic events in which people died to tell their story and thus did an injustice to the victims  People died in the potato famine because Irish landlords wanted to take the land back from the renters. It wasn't just the famine that caused the deaths but outright class warfare.  Hitler was the archetype of the death of millions across Europe, not because of magic, but because of Anti-Semitism and a failure on the part of world leaders to act. These events should never be shifted for the sake of a plot point.

Carroll did have well realized Black and Jewish characters in the story, which was a relief for me, considering that there is a penchant in urban fantasy to set stories in diverse locations like N.Y.C and have them be completely White. I was however irritated that once again Voodoo was cast as evil.  In an exchange about some of the demonic occurrences we had this:
'Back in the islands we call it voodoo wind,' Angelique answered in a soft but somehow emphatic voice. 'It is creepy but I haven't run into anything today until now.' (pg 242)
It is always irritating that whenever there is something dark or associations with evil, voodoo somehow often gets brought into the equation.  We don't see such constant associations with European based mythology.  This has everything to do with that voodoo is practiced by Black and Brown people.

Though Carrol did a reasonable job in terms of racial inclusion, when it came to sexuality, there was absolute erasure. There were no GLBT characters and I find that preposterous particularly given that Black Swan Rising is set in N.Y.C. With only straight stories being told, or more precisely a story that at least in some part featured a straight romance, this erasure screamed that the only love that matters, is when it happens between people of the opposite sex.  How exactly can you write a story in N.Y.C of all places and not think to include one single GLBT character?

Black Swan Rising's major issue is pacing.  At times, it was filled minute details that the reader did not need to know and the over description was annoying.  When it was good and the plot was moving along, it was absolutely gripping. I am curious about the world that the authors created, but if it comes with the same heavy handed writing style, I don't know that I can could bare anymore.  If you have to force your way through large swaths of the book to get to the good parts, clearly something is lacking.

Editors Note:  A copy of this book was obtained through Netgalley.