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Friday, December 30, 2011

'Shadow Heir' Dark Swan #4 by Richelle Mead

From the BLURB:

Shaman-for-hire Eugenie Markham strives to keep the mortal realm safe from trespassing entities. But as the Thorn Land's prophecy-haunted queen, there's no refuge for her and her soon-to-be-born-children when a mysterious blight begins to devastate the Otherworld...

The spell-driven source of the blight isn't the only challenge to Eugenie's instincts. Fairy king Dorian is sacrificing everything to help, but Eugenie can't trust the synergy drawing them back together. The uneasy truce between her and her shape shifter ex-lover Kiyo is endangered by secrets he can't--or won't--reveal. And as a formidable force rises to also threaten the human world, Eugenie must use her own cursed fate as a weapon--and risk the ultimate sacrifice...

It’s not many people that can say they hold the fate of the world in their hands. But for Eugenie Markham such proclamations would be true . . . except the fate of humanity rests in her womb.

Eugenie is daughter of the Storm King. Ancient Otherworld prophecies predict that Eugenie’s first-born son will bring the human race to its knees and raise the Otherworld atop of the food chain once again.

Five months pregnant with twins, a boy and a girl, Eugenie is starting to feel the weight (figuratively and literally) of her decision to keep the babies. Their father, kitsune Kiyo, is hell-bent on killing his son before he is born. Maiwenn, queen of an Otherworld province, has raised an army to hunt Eugenie down and kill her before her babies are born. And Fairy King Dorian has pledged allegiance to her unborn and will sacrifice anything to see Eugenie and her babies safe.

With assassination attempts and increasing violence plaguing her kingdom, Eugenie makes a difficult decision. To leave the Otherworld and her kingdom behind, and take her chances in the human realm . . .

‘Shadow Heir’ is the fourth and final book (for the foreseeable future, at least) in Richelle Mead’s urban fantasy ‘Dark Swan’ series.

I have been most excited for the conclusion of the ‘Dark Swan’ series for quite some time. Richelle Mead excels at cliff-hangers and nail-biting twists, and that was especially true of her third book ‘Iron Crowned’. Gauntlets were thrown down, fate kicked into gear and Eugenie’s story became intensely twisted. This year has been a big one for Ms Mead, with her ‘Georgina Kincaid’ series coming to a definite conclusion, and her first ‘Vampire Academy’ spin-off book whetting reader’s appetites (and, oh yeah, she had a kid to top it all off . . .) so ‘Shadow Heir’ feels like a fitting finale to a fine year.

I must admit, early on in ‘Shadow Heir’ I found myself biting my lip and worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this ending ... Because very early on in the book, Eugenie leaves the Otherworld in favour of human medicine and the safety of anonymity to have her children. Eugenie’s departure was especially frustrating because it meant few scenes with King Dorian. Now, I have been a BIG Dorian fan since the beginning of ‘Dark Swan’. He’s an egotistical, beautiful red-headed Fairy King who’s quick with the one-liners and wickedly deceptive. I love him. But he and Eugenie have had a rocky relationship from the start . . . which was put on permanent hiatus when he tricked her into taking the Iron Crown (and all but beginning the Storm King prophecy!).

At the end of ‘Iron Crowned’, tensions between Dorian and Eugenie were electric. For starters, she is carrying her ex-boyfriend (Kiyo’s) children after she ran back into his arms upon learning of Dorian’s deception. Kiyo turned out to be an infanticide freak who would do anything to kill his and Eugenie’s babies if it meant stopping the Storm King prophecy, which marks Eugenie’s first-born son as the destroyer of humanity. Still, Dorian persevered and pledged allegiance to Eugenie and her unborn babies – he even wanted to be a prominent fixture in their lives, regardless of who their natural father is. When ‘Shadow Heir’ begins there is still plenty of crackling chemistry between Eugenie and Dorian, tempered by Eugenie’s lingering mistrust and awkward pregnancy situation . . .

A bizarre thought came over me, one that made my heart stop for a moment. All this time, I'd assumed Dorian just found me entertaining in his usual perverse way, that he’d liked my attentions and the prestige of being connected to my children. But I'd figured any romantic attachment had died after the Irown Crown. Now . . . now I knew I was wrong.
“Dorian . . . are you upset because. . . ” The words came out awkwardly as I found the courage to speak them. “Are you upset just because you won’t see me? Because . . . you’ll miss me?” It was a pathetic way to phrase it, but we both knew what I meant.
He glanced back at me over his shoulder, a smile on his face but sadness in his eyes. “Eugenie, do you know what I love about you?” I waited expectedly since Dorian used that rhetorical question in nearly every conversation we had, and his answer was always different. His smile grew, as did the sadness. “I love that that is the absolute last conclusion you came to.”


I will say that I shouldn’t have worried about a potential lack of Dorian in this finale. Sure, he’s physically absent for the first half of the book, but he’s never far from Eugenie’s thoughts. And in the second-half, a very Narnia-like occurrence in the Otherworld means he and Eugenie have to join forces once again. And when they do, Mead gives readers what we have all been hoping for – romantic tension, epic declarations of love and Dorian’s signature wit (Thundro – Ha ha!).

This is a Richelle Mead book, and even at the end she likes to pull punches and swipe the rug out from under reader’s feet. There is a HUGE double-twist towards the end of the book . . . HUGE, and clever. I didn’t see it coming (I mean, I’d hoped . . . but I didn’t know how it would work). Richelle Mead handles this curveball with utter aplomb, making the race to the finish a complete, surprising pleasure.

Now, as to the ending . . . I will say that I was a little bit frustrated. But I think a lot of how the book ends has to do with Eugenie’s new outlook as a mother. And, fair enough, that’s not necessarily something I can completely comprehend (except in an abstract, round-about kind of way). For some people that ending will dampen the rest of the book, but for me I liked the open-endedness of the end. Because Ms Mead has said she isn't entirely sure of how many books will be in the ‘Dark Swan’ series, only that the likely number is four. And, to be honest, now that she has a baby of her own (art imitating life indeed!) I would think her big priority would be on family and the new Vampire Academy spin-off series (admittedly, her real money-maker). And that’s fine. I actually think it might be nice to revisit Eugenie & co. in a few years time, to make the events and character progress authentic.

5/5

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