Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll

Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll

Published by Bantam Books/Transworld, May 2011

ISBN: 978 0 553 82557 2

442 pages

Review by Mark Yon

A debut Urban Fantasy, written by husband-and-wife team Lee Slonimsky and Carol Goodman, this one is generally well written and engaging.

One of the basic ideas of UF is that the protagonist realises that there is a world beyond the normal/mundane. Whether it is China Mieville (where the two overlap) or Stephenie Mayer (mystical creatures intermingled with humans who are unaware) this ‘big secret’ is what makes a lot of UF fun. 

That also applies here. At first, all seems rather normal. We have young twenty-something Garet James, who makes jewellery and runs an art gallery with her aged father in New York. In the global recession things are tough. It is looking like Garet’s gallery (and home) could be repossessed.

Things soon begin to take a detour into the strange, however. By accident, Garet wanders into a jeweller’s, where she is given a silver box that matches a swan signet ring given to her by her dead mother. It has been soldered shut. The jeweller asks for a favour and offers Garet a thousand dollars to unseal the box, which she can have as long as he can have the contents. Garet agrees, needing the money and being intrigued by the contents. 

Garet opens the box but the contents appear to be nothing but charred paper, with one name being readable: Will Hughes.

That night her home/workshop is burgled. The box is taken and her father shot.

Revelations show that the casket, far from being empty, contained the demons of Despair and Discord, which Garet has now unwittingly released upon the world. It is up to her to remove them in the next seven days, which she must do by finding the person who now has it, 16th century necromancer John Dee and closing the box.

Further revelations along the way reveal that Garet’s deceased mother was a member of The Watchtower, a secret society dedicated to protect humans and guard the link between the world of humans and the world of the Fey. Sadly, her death in a car accident occurred before Garet was able to take on the training that would have allowed her to take her place of destiny.

At this point she encounters Oberon, King of the Fairies, who introduces her to those who educate Garet in the ways of magic and the four elements – air, earth, water and fire –  so that she can take on John Dee. To complicate things however, Garet also meets charming, debonair Will Hughes, a vampire who she seems to know more about than she should.  

In such a short summary, what can sound like a trite mish-mash of ideas actually works pretty well. The book at first comes across as a Young-Adult urban fantasy. Though it is not, the main character seems rather naive and well-suited to such an epithet.  There are adult themes and it must be said that there is sex, though it is limited to one brief scene. Garet is an engaging character and her explanations, not to mention her constant surprise at things, cover up some of the improbabilities fairly well. There’s a nice use of contemporary events, Barack Obama’s inauguration, the impact of 9/11 for example, and some lovely set pieces too. Garet’s education of the magic of the four elements reminded me a little of Wart’s similar education by Merlin in TH White’s The Once and Future King, though much more contemporary.

The use of some of New York’s iconic places as a background did this little harm either. There’s some lovely travelogue detail around the city, which evoked a great sense of atmosphere and setting. All of this of course makes the fantastical seem more acceptable. The trick here is to make the impossible seem credible and on the whole the authors do this – until almost at the end, when we go that one step too far, for me anyway. However, up to that point, the general impression is one that is generally entertaining. 

In the end the reader gets pretty much what’s expected, though things are perhaps a little too quickly and conveniently tied up, apart from the obligatory set-up for the second book.

Though there are minor missteps, this was a surprisingly pleasant read, better than I thought it was going to be. The journey has been fun.  I look forward to reading the sequel, The Watchtower.

Mark Yon, October/November 2011 

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