Black Swan Rising
Published 2010 396 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
Jeweller Garet James isn't the same as everyone else. She just doesn't know it yet. With her fair share of problems – money (lack of), an elderly father, a struggling business – Garet should be just like any other young, feisty, single New Yorker. If only it was that simple...
It begins with the old silver box that had been soldered shut. All Garet has to do is open it. A favour for the frail owner of the antiques shop. Who wouldn’t help?
Only it’s then that things start to change. Garet doesn't notice at first, the shifts barely perceptible. But the city in which she grew up is beginning to reveal a long-hidden side – darker, and altogether more dangerous: parallel world of chaos, smoke and blood. And now it’s out of the box... and it has no intention of going back in.
Black Swan Rising is the debut urban fantasy novel from Lee Carroll. Lee Carroll is the pseudonym for award-winning novelist Carol Goodman (author of several literary mysteries) and Lee Slonimsky, her poet husband. The story follows young jewellery designer, Garet James, who discovers not only that a hidden supernatural world exists in New York but that she comes from a long line of women who are duty bound to protect humans from the dark side of the supernatural world. This may sound like a typical urban fantasy novel but Black Swan Rising is written in such a way to make it vastly different to the genre’s usual offerings (don’t worry – this is a good thing!)
For starters, Garet James makes a realistic if slightly remote heroine. Unlike a lot of urban fantasy protagonists she doesn’t suddenly turn into a moronic twit upon the realisation of her magical powers. She doesn’t wear leather pants, wield unlikely swords and shoot big guns (or arrogantly shoot her mouth off either.) While this comes as something of a relief to the urban fantasy fatigued reader her initial bafflement at the magical weirdness she can suddenly see quickly relaxes into a restrained, almost stoic, acceptance – making Garet’s narration of the tale seem somewhat remote and detached in places.
In addition to having a subdued heroine (subdued by urban fantasy female protagonist standards anyway) Black Swan Rising also differs to most other urban fantasy novels in terms of its pacing and fantasy action. The book is slowly, if evenly, paced throughout and has none of the racing at break-neck speed from one supernatural crisis to another that is the staple of this genre.
Again in a departure from the genre norms Garet isn’t tripping over studly men who want to get into her pants in every chapter. She has a romantic interest in the shape of Will Hughes, a vampire hedge fund manager, who has been tied to Garet’s family ever since he became a vampire. Will is a handsome billionaire vampire (seriously, what’s not to like?) who knows about her secret heritage and although he’s technically one of the dark creatures she’s supposed to protect humans against, he offers her aid against her enemy. Not surprisingly Garet is attracted to him – but this part of the storyline doesn’t really read like a romance, it’s just part of overall plotline and not the focus of the story.
For die-hard urban fantasy fans this treatment of genre conventions could be a turn off but for the less prescriptive reader (and indeed the cross-over reader who wouldn’t normally pick UF) there is a lot to like about Black Swan Rising. The imaginative melding real life places, economic strife, historical characters and fae mythology give the book a first rate setting and an overall air that alternates between mysterious and sinister. John Dee (real life Elizabethan philosopher) has been conscripted into the story and plays the part of an evil alchemist who wants to unleash the demons of Despair and Discord upon the world. His sinister supernatural fog that rolls into New York to do his evil work is guaranteed to linger long in the imagination after the book’s last page has been turned. The blending of fae characters into modern day New York is another strong point of the novel – my favourite character being the dragon that lives under City Hall, hoarding information rather than gold in these modern times.
Black Swan Rising is an unusually written urban fantasy – it ignores a lot of the genre conventions – but somehow it rises above these limitations and delivers a unique, imaginative and above all enjoyable tale of vampires, alchemists and fairies in New York.
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