Before I start this review, let me just start out with a word of advice to any wannabe authors out there: Always assume your readers are stupid.
That being said, I’ve finished Book Five in my reading challenge! Today, I’d like to talk a bit about Swallowing Darkness by Laurell K. Hamilton.
This book was the one I chose for “a book you abandoned.” A while ago, I found this book at the thrift store for fifty cents and I figured I may as well buy it, and then if it sucked, it was only fifty cents. I started reading it, but then stopped and never picked it back up. And now I’ve finally read to the very last page.
So now that I’ve finished this book, what are my final thoughts on it?
Well, Ms. Hamilton didn’t assume that her readers were stupid, for one. This book is apparently the seventh in a series called the Meredith Gentry series, but one wouldn’t know that just from looking at the cover. It doesn’t say anywhere on the cover, or even in the book, that this is the continuation of a series. So a reader like me, who finds this in a bookstore without already knowing about the existence of the book, would not have that prior understanding of “I need to go find the earlier books in the series before I read this one.”
It can be done, that a book later on in the series is the first one a reader starts from. I’ve done it myself before, with the Sano Ichiro series of novels by Laura Joh Rowland. In that one, the first book I read in that series was The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria, which was actually the sixth book and not the first.But in that case, it worked fine; even though the cover didn’t say anything about being part of a series,it could have been a standalone novel, and I didn’t feel like I was missing something because the parts of the plot that relied on what had happened in previous books were given a proper explanation – not in terms of info-dumping, but just enough so that the reader was reminded of them and understood what was going on. But in a case like this, where elements crucial to the plot rely on a reader having already read previous books in the series, it’s vital that the cover indicate that it’s part of a series so that the reader can find Book One and start from there, instead.
It wasn’t until I had gotten about halfway through Swallowing Darkness that I started asking myself, “Hang on a second, am I missing something here?”and I had to hop on the Internet (which is a no-no in terms of an author; you don’t want your reader getting distracted from your book to go jump on the Internet for any reason whatsoever, because then the reader will never go back and finish your book – they’ll get too distracted by Facebook or Twitter) and double-check that there were other books in the series before this.
So why am I complaining so much that the author/publisher didn’t print “Book Seven in the Meredith Gentry series” somewhere on the cover to make it blaringly obvious? That is because there were so many aspects of this book – elements that were crucial to the overall understanding of the plot – that required a thorough explanation. For example, the difference between the Seelie and the Unseelie, and how they were different from the sidhe, and what exactly the slaugh were. And I would have liked more explanation all around about how faerie is connected to the US, and why it’s important that brownies are considered lower life forms and aren’t considered Seelie, as this was another crucial plot point of the book.
The premise behind the book is: Meredith Gentry is the last remaining princess of faerie, a land of mystical creatures that is only slightly removed from the world we know… or so I think. I’m still not too sure of how exactly faerie is connected to the real world. At one point, Meredith calls the human police (from faerie) to get an escort home, but it’s not apparent how exactly the police got there or how they get home. Apparently they just ride in some armored Humvees from faerie, and then they’re suddenly in Idaho, and while I’m sure this was probably covered in an earlier book, it would have only required one sentence extra to explain this crucial plot element for those of us who jumped in the series later. For example (and I’m just making this up off the top of my head), “It was only a short car ride from faerie to Cahokia, Idaho, and in order to keep the residents of Cahokia from wandering into faerie accidentally, there were seals placed all around the mound, which I dissolved so that the army could come rescue me.” That’s all it would have required.
The kingdom of faerie and the United States have made a treaty to allow the nonhuman creatures a chance to live their lives in peace. But now Meredith’s traitor uncle has taken the throne and raped Meredith, claiming to be the father of the twins she carries. But she was already pregnant before her uncle raped her, and the fathers of her children are her royal guards. (No, that’s not a typo. Each of her guards has slept with her and contributed parts of his DNA to one of the babies.) So now she must run for her life, and for the lives of her lovers, to claim her throne once and for all as Queen.
If my only complaint had been that this book wasn’t properly labeled as part of a series and that I didn’t know the difference between a Seelie and a brownie, I wouldn’t have even bothered mentioning it here in my review. But I found more faults with this book than just that.
The author failed to help me to connect emotionally to any of her characters. True, I did read this book all the way until the end, but I had to force myself to finish it because I wasn’t emotionally invested in Meredith or her plight. The premise seemed interesting enough, but a premise isn’t enough to keep a reader interested for 365 pages worth of a story. Personally, I’m of the assumption that even if a book is part of a series – for example, this was book seven – you shouldn’t automatically assume that your readers will care about the protagonist. Even if a reader had been following the series from Book One, it’s important that you reconnect the reader with each new book, because even the most devoted of readers will still forget what happened to the character from book to book. So when I reached the climax and then the denouement, I understood how the situation was bittersweet and I realized the kind of sacrifices Merry made, but I didn’t care about her. I wasn’t clutching the book to my chest and screaming “NO! Merry, you had it all within your grasp! Now Doyle might be dead!” like I do for books that draw me in and keep me hooked.
And then I just had trouble following the plot as it was and recognizing the logical progression from one scene to the next in some places. For example, at one point, she’s having a threesome with goblin twins, and I’m just like “Wait, where did this come from? She was just on the battlefield. And where did that Goddess go?” At multiple points in the story, I had to go back and read specific passages again in order to figure out what was going on.
In conclusion, I’d have to give this book three out of five stars. The author never got me to connect to the main character and the plot felt a bit rushed at times, in addition to not helping the reader understand the crucial differences between Seelie and Unseelie and slaugh and brownie and what exactly qualified as sidhe.
Oh, and I should add in here a warning that this book (and probably the series in general) contains sexual content, so this probably wouldn’t be a good book to give as a gift to a child.
Well, that is all for now, my readers. One more book to go and I am halfway finished with my reading challenge.
May your swords stay sharp! 乙女