Saturday, March 27, 2010

Swallowing Darkness (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton

I had this book checked out for a long time before I was actually able to bring myself to open it up and start reading. It's gotten to the point where reading one of Hamilton's books is a chore for me, which is sad, because I used to really enjoy her stuff. The very first signing I ever went to was one of hers, and, even though I was loopy from sleep deprivation (I had done an all-nighter on my part of a group project, just so that I'd have the time to go to the book signing), I loved every minute of it. Ms. Hamilton was so nice that my mom, who I'd dragged along with me, decided to try her books out, and she fell in love with them, too. Now, though, we can't even talk about the books together - it's too embarrassing. Actually, I'm not even sure if my mom still reads Hamilton's new books, or if she's quit like I should have by now.

I know from things Hamilton has said at her signings (I've gone to one of her signings since she started writing her Meredith Gentry series) and during interviews that her Meredith Gentry series, unlike her Anita Blake series, has a set ending. I was kind of hoping that this was the last book, despite the various things left unfinished by the end of it. I just checked her site, though, and it looks like there's at least one more book to go. Darn.

Synopsis:

I couldn't remember what had happened in the previous book, but that's okay, Hamilton made sure that wouldn't be a problem - all the pertinent bits get mentioned, often multiple times. Princess Meredith is in the hospital, recovering from being raped by her uncle, Taranis, king of the Seelie Court. She doesn't actually remember any of it, but it's still horrible for her that he did it. To make matters worse, although all her other men are alive and unhurt, Frost is now a stag and won't change back into a man for a long time, longer than Meredith expects to live. There's some good news, though - she's pregnant, and neither of the babies are Taranis's.

You'd think that pregnancy would spell the end of Meredith being able to have multiple lovers, since the Fae (or is that only the Sidhe?) are expected to marry whoever it is that gets them pregnant. You'd be wrong, though, because, through the wonders of magic, each of Meredith's babies has multiple fathers. It baffles and bothers the hospital staff, and even Meredith's beloved Gran doesn't like all of the fathers of Meredith's children, particularly Sholto. This has the possibility of making things very uncomfortable between her and Meredith. However, when a spell makes her a danger to Meredith and her various lovers, Meredith's Gran is killed, effectively neutralizing any future familial strife.

Meredith calls the Wild Hunt and hunts down and kills her cousin Cair, who put the spell on Gran on the understanding that she would get a chance to bear the child of and marry a Seelie Sidhe, thereby truly becoming part of the Seelie Court. Meredith finds out that Mistral is in danger, so she goes to save him. Then she finds out that Doyle is in danger, too, so she goes to save him. Then she finds herself having to deal with the sluagh, who have decided that Sholto may have become too Sidhe for them. Someone else tries to take his place as king, but the power of the Goddess swoops in, and Meredith and several of her men are given terrible weapons that prove they are Goddess-chosen and meant to have the positions of power they've been given.

Although that problem is now taken care of, another one has cropped up - there are Seelie Sidhe outside the sluagh mound, claiming that Meredith is being held prisoner and must be saved. Meredith decides that the best way to deal with the problem is to invite human soldiers over to be her escorts. She figures that even her uncle Taranis wouldn't be so crazy as to break the treaty the Fae have with American humans by starting a war with the sluagh right in front of them. It seems like a nice idea, but Meredith forgot that her cousin Cel is, in fact, completely and utterly insane. He doesn't care what kinds of problems he causes - all he wants is the throne, and Meredith stands in the way of that.

Cel and what few followers he still has start killing people. Meredith, terrified that she'll lose even more men (remember, Frost, 'though not dead, is basically gone), wades into the fray. Once again, the power of the Goddess comes to the rescue, and Meredith finds herself miraculously healing lots of human soldiers, who all become intensely loyal towards her. She and the soldiers are also joined by a bunch of Red Caps. By the end of the battle, Meredith and Queen Andais learn that Cel personally killed Essus, Meredith's father. Meredith kills Cel, officially bears the crown of the Unseelie Court, and then chooses to give up her crown in order to save Frost, who sacrificed himself for her. Meredith and all her men go back to L.A. where, for now at least, things are safer for them.

Commentary:

I'm so glad I finally finished this book - now I can get it out of my apartment. I really shouldn't check out any more of Hamilton's books, although I'm sure I will anyway. But, who knows, maybe I won't - I think I might be to the point where I don't really care how the Meredith Gentry series ends or what happens to Anita Blake next.

Unlike some of the earlier books in this series, this particular one doesn't have a whole lot of sex in it. There's some talking about sex (for instance, an awkward conversation in which Meredith tells Mistral she doesn't want him to kneel before her, except under certain circumstances, and, because Mistral doesn't get it, Doyle must explain that she's referring to oral sex), accidental Red Cap groping, accompanied by a Red Cap hard-on, and one actual sex scene involving Meredith in a threesome with Ash and Holly. That leaves an impressive number of pages for actual plot. Unfortunately, it seems as though all the sex in the previous books really did serve a purpose - it obscured how boring and mechanical the plot was. With nothing to hide behind, all that comes to the surface in this book. One of Meredith's men ends up in danger, and Meredith and the power of the Goddess move in to save him. Repeat. Sprinkle in lots of long, excruciatingly detailed conversations in which characters explain things to each other so that everything is always very clear. If the explanations involve sex, that's great, right? Sexy. Yup. And if you don't think so, you're a prude.

The one bit that I thought had promise was Gran's reaction to some of the fathers of Meredith's children. All the other problems in the book were magicked away so often that "the power of the Goddess" became something of a joke, but Meredith loved her grandmother, so emotional strife with her would actually have to be worked through for things to really work out. Or so I thought. It turns out that, what the power of the Goddess can't fix, death can.

One other thing that kind of, well, pissed me off about this book was Meredith's attitude towards her relationships (which, since Anita has the same sort of attitude, is part of my general problem with Hamilton's recent works). First, there's the whole "love" issue. Meredith frequently notices how sad several of her men become when they realize that they'll never be her "one and only." At one point, if I remember correctly, Meredith thinks of it as a queenly thing - she can't love just one person, because, as a queen, her love has to be spread out more. And yet, by the end, it's clear that, at the very least, she loves Doyle and Frost more than her other men - but she also loves her other men. Lucky her, rather than having to choose between any of them, she gets to have all of them. Even luckier, none of them rebel too much, which brings me to the next thing about this whole situation that pisses me off.

At one point, Sholto does rebel. Faerie handfasts Meredith and Sholto - even though several other men are also the fathers of her children, Faerie only handfasted Meredith and Sholto at that point. Sholto, Doyle, and Mistral all point out that this means that Sholto is now Meredith's husband, and it is technically his right to choose not to share her with the other men. It's their people's law. However, it's not a law Meredith particularly wants to follow, so she refuses to listen and cites a legend about a goddess that she thinks proves Sholto doesn't have sole rights to her. Also, in her words to Sholto: "...you wouldn't like what would happen if you tried to make me be monogamous with just you" (p. 163). I really, really wanted to smack her after she said this. She's allowed to sleep with multiple men (and, in the case of Ash and Holly, even men who aren't the fathers of her children), and they're supposed to put up with it. Plus, I'm pretty sure she wouldn't react pleasantly if any of them decided they wanted to sleep with other women in addition to her.

I can't really say that I hated this book, I think because I was so relieved that it wasn't filled with horribly detailed sex scenes (the suggestive title was worrisome). I disliked it, though. If I do read the next book, it'll only be because I want to appease the part of me that forces me to plod through terrible things just so I won't have a partially finished story nagging me in the back of my mind.

My read-alikes list could be better - I know there are plenty more books out there featuring the Fae and court politics, but I can't seem to think of any. As always, if you think of more, or better, read-alikes, feel free to mention them in a comment.

Read-alikes:
  • Darkfever (book) by Karen Marie Moning - This is the first book in a series. MacKayla Lane travels to Ireland to track down her sister's murderer, determined not to give up despite the difficulties she encounters. She begins to learn about a hidden side of the world, a dangerous side filled with vampires, Fae, and other beings. She discovers that she can sense these beings and finds a mentor in the mysterious and unwelcoming Jericho Barrons. Those who'd like another dark fantasy book featuring magic and the Fae might want to try this.
  • Full Moon Rising (book) by Keri Arthur - This is the first book in the Riley Jensen Guardian series. Riley Jensen and her twin brother are half vampire, half werewolf. In Riley, the werewolf side is pretty strong, but she does have a few gifts courtesy of her vampire side. In this fast-paced book, Riley's twin goes missing and a naked vampire turns up on her doorstep. Riley and Quinn team up to find her brother and end up uncovering lots of scary stuff about clones of supernatural creatures (cloned vampires are only the tip of the iceberg). Those who'd like something else that's a bit dark, with supernatural complications and lots of sexy male characters (and a good deal of sex), might want to try this.
  • The Queen's Bastard (book) by C. E. Murphy - In this fantasy set in something like Elizabethan Europe, Belinda is the illegitimate child of Queen Lorraine. When she is older, she becomes a spy and assassin for the Queen and secretly learns how to use her magical abilities, which allow her to make herself invisible and affect others' minds. During the most recent mission she's been sent on, she finds herself falling in love with the man she's supposed to be gathering information from. In the end, Belinda must decide whether she will act according to her duty or according to her heart. Those who'd like another dark fantasy (at times very dark) featuring magic and court politics might want to try this.

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