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Summary: reasonably enjoyable if there is nothing better, lively, trashy fantasy
"Swallowing Darkness" is the seventh Meredith Gentry novel and the first one I read. Despite that I had no problems at all in following the plot - even though there isn't that much obvious exposition in the novel.
Meredith NicEssus is a faerie princess in a slightly alternative world (i.e. US) where faeries are known by the humans - a treaty allowed them to settle in the US three hundred years on the condition that they don't engage in war or make humans worship them.
The faerie courts are obsessed by purity of blood and even more so by purity of looks and Meredith, who is mortal, curvy and has not just human but also lesser fey ancestors, flees the Faerie and starts working as a private investigator in the human world. But her disguise ends when Meredith investigates a man using magic against humans. Her aunt, the Queen of Unseelie Court of Air and Darkness sets a contest between her son and Merry. The Sidhe are dying out, the old magic is disappearing, and some revival is desperately needed. The previous six books, apparently, chronicle Merry's adventures as a private eye, evading death and trying to get pregnant.
"Swallowing Darkness" starts with Merry in a human hospital, pregnant with twins genetically fathered by all of her harem of at least five guards, having just been raped by her uncle and the King of the Seelie court. A visit from her brownie grandmother proves rather disastrous and starts Merry on a rampage tour of the whole Faerie, during which she unleashes more and more amazing magic, dispatches quite a few major enemies and gets crowned (twice).
From what I gathered from my brief survey of the previous volumes of the series, the other Merry Gentry novels had plentiful descriptions of magical, shimmering sex executed in lush prose worthy of Diana Gabaldon and other writers of bodice-rippers, bonk-busters and female-aimed erotica.
"Swallowing Darkness" reads as a lively fantasy adventure romp, with sinister plots, court politics, blood and guts aplenty. There are some (but not a lot of) sparkly (and ludicrously extended) sex scenes and masses of magic.
It would all be brilliant, thrashy fun, if it wasn't marred by the way it's written. There is an overwhelming amount of detailed purple-prose description which frankly seems like pure padding. While grand Dali-esque visuals of writhing wild magic may occasionally impress, providing a detailed description of face, body and clothing of every other character that turns up (especially the fey males) is simply very, very boring.
The language doesn't exactly soar either, with a plodding, unbelievably wooden dialogue, frequent repetitions that should have been edited out, a surfeit of unnecessary adjectives and and occasional but very grating clash of modes (as a single example: "my mother's emotional ambivalence towards me" doesn't fit with high epic style of the sequence in which it's included, but there are many others).
Still, "Swallowing Darkness", while by no means the best in its sub-genre, is not entirely dreadful either. I wasn't tempted to seek out previous books from the series nor other novels by Laurell K. Hamilton (she also authored a long series about Anita Blake, the vampire hunter), but I read this one in two days while recovering from a 'flu and it was fun.
As a fantasy thriller it could easily provide an evening or a plane journey of trashy entertainment, especially if urban fantasy with sexy, arrogant fairies is Your Kind of Thing.
This review was originally written for www.thebookbag.co.uk.