Top critical review
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on November 5, 2008
For her last few books, Laurell K. Hamilton has been toning down the sexual content in favor of what can be loosely termed "plot."
Well, turns out there are far worse things than endless sparkly-magical sex scenes. After the shattering cliffhanger ending of the previous book, the seventh Merry Gentry book "Swallowing Darkness" promptly goes on a road tour of Faerie instead of sticking to an actual central plot. It feels like Hamilton has gone as far as she can, and is flailing around instead of getting out of the water.
In the aftermath of being raped by her uncle, Merry is recovering in the hospital... and despite all the moping about how doctors "can't undo the damage," she gets over the rape by cuddling her favorite boytoy.
After ordering her various fey boytoys not to attack Taranis, she receives a visit from her feisty brownie grandma. Unfortunately there's a malign influence warping Gran's thoughts -- with disastrous and fatal results for three people close to Merry. Enraged, she and Sholto summon the Wild Hunt and set out to destroy the conspirators.
But it turns out that the conspiracy goes far further than Merry expected -- and that certain Golden Court sidhe are trying to weed out the stronger boytoys. And of course, divine magical favors just rain down on Merry whenever she sneezes. To keep her entire harem (half of whom I've forgotten) safe, Merry decides to take drastic steps in the human world... but only finds a new conflict with her cousin Cel.
Having knocked up her heroine -- which is supposedly the series' goal -- Laurell K. Hamilton seems to be at a loss for what to do to keep the series going ahead. So we end up with a bunch of vaguely connected crises, punctuated by interludes of Sparkly Magic From Goddess-Merry, magic horsies and lots of sparkly magic roses. It's a little like being alternately choked with flowers and clubbed with a rock.
"Swallowing Darkness" does manage an impressive amount of plot, including the resolution of couple half-forgotten subplots -- and a surprising twist during Merry's stay in the sluagh. Unfortunately most of the plot is just Hamilton slapping in new random problems whenever things get too peaceful. Whoops, somebody's suddenly dying! Eek, a traitor! Yikes, a royal challenge from out of nowhere!
Nor does Hamilton's writing help, since she seems to be bored with her own story when she isn't trying to channel Patricia McKillip's lush prose. Her incredibly stilted, rambling dialogue ("We ride." "To save your Storm Lord." "To save the future of faerie"), repetition (everybody seems to have "moonlight skin") and awkward descriptions ("Gold like the metal of a piece of jewelry") hamper the story even further.
And as with all Hamilton's fairy novels, we get hot pale supernatural men who all worship the heroine, dumb blinkered mortals, lightweight Wiccan theology, Christian-bashing, oral sex worship, and lots of nasty and/or crazy women who simply can't measure up to the heroine. Yes, even a sweet li'l old grandma, who is reviled for daring to hold a grudge against her mother's murderer.
But the book's biggest weakness is Merry Gentry herself. She floats through the book in a cloud of Convenient Magical Powers and occasionally pauses to cold-bloodedly kill people. Everybody is awed by her even if she kills them -- and she declares herself to be a goddess as well. It gets rather nauseating to have a heroine who is such a blatant self-insert.
"Swallowing Darkness" has some shreds of good plot in there, but they're surrounded by jack-in-the-box disasters and a main storyline that is being stretched way too far. And it's not over yet....