Storm Born

by Richelle Mead

Cover image

Series: Dark Swan #1
Publisher: Zebra
Copyright: 2008
Printing: 2011
ISBN: 1-4201-2460-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 374

Buy at Powell's Books

I read this book as part of the Dark Swan Bundle omnibus, which is what the sidebar information other than the cover image and page count is for. Each book had separate covers on the Kindle, and the page count is taken from the paperback edition since the Kindle version doesn't have page numbers. Ebooks make this all much more complicated.

This is the first book in an urban fantasy (well, paranormal romance, apparently, but I find it hard to tell the difference) trilogy by the same author as Succubus Blues, but in a much different universe. I picked it up because that book was reasonably good and creative, I heard a few interesting things about this one, the three-book bundle was cheap, and I wanted to see how Mead handled another non-vampire urban fantasy setting.

Eugenie Markham is a shaman. Or at least that's what the book claims; so far as I can tell from what she actually does, she's more of an exorcist who doesn't use religion, which isn't exactly what I understand shamans do, but I'm willing to handwave through that. She's a loner, doing contract missions to get rid of intruders from the Otherworld (a version of fairy, although they apparently didn't live there originally) and without apparently many other interests. Apart from her secretary or dispatch person, who she only interacts with by phone, a fake-Native-American roommate, and her parents, she doesn't seem to have any friends or social life, or really much existence outside of her job. That job starts getting significantly more difficult and dangerous when suddenly all the Otherworld creatures seem to know her real name instead of the Odile nom de guerre she uses (hence the series title). Stronger Otherworld creatures start gunning for her outside of missions. And they all seem to want to get into her pants.

I was rather disappointed in Eugenie. She seems to have little depth beyond the stock first-person urban fantasy protagnist mold, mixed with a hefty dose of denial. There are none of the great interpersonal interactions here that were in Succubus Blues; Eugenie's life doesn't seem to provide any hooks on which to hang some. One reads this story mostly for the world-building.

That world-building, if you get past Eugenie's supposed job, is promising. There's a separate Otherworld that's become a type of fairy, and to which one can travel in either spirit or body. It's populated by a huge variety of mythical creatures, mostly drawn from fairy lore rather than the typical vampire and werewolf set. Indeed, there are no vampires or werewolves here at all; the only shifter is a kitsune, which is considerably more interesting.

The magic system starts out rather mundane. Perhaps this is my fault as a reader, but I've never seen a description that treats a wand like a gun that works for me given all the connotations that are attached to wands. Eugenie uses silver, iron, and wands and has to swap materials based on what she's fighting (which is mildly interesting the first few times), but otherwise the magical weaponry compares unfavorably to deeper treatments such as Dead Witch Walking. But once the Otherworld gets involved, Mead starts integrating her elemental magic system, and we get more details of Eugenie's bound spirit servants, it gets deeper. I can't say there's anything here that's entirely original, but she puts the pieces together in a satisfyingly complicated way.

The plot, though... well.

I'll be blunt: the entire book is about attempted rape. That may or may not bother you, depending on what triggers you have and how you approach fiction. But I'm about as immune to the problems with that as any reader, being male and devoid of any negative personal history around such things, and it was so everpresent that it was seriously bothering me. That's a bad sign. Damn near everyone Eugenie encounters in the entire book wants to have sex with her, and most of them are quite happy for it to be nonconsensual and violent. And while the final outcomes of those events are arguably spoilers, this is not just verbal threatening.

What makes this considerably worse is that one of the main romantic figures in this book, and one of the few ones who isn't trying to rape her, is an actively dangerous and uncertain man with a love of bondage, to which Eugenie reacts in a way much closer to the protagonist in BDSM porn than anything that would seem to be indicated by her character elsewhere in the story. Which, if you're reading BDSM porn, is perfectly fine, but when put into the same story where trying to rape the protagonist is a major plot driver, this gets into creepy and disturbing territory rather fast. It's kind of hard not to read this story as an extended examination of exactly how Eugenie is going to lose control of her sexuality. There are, to be fair, several scenes that run counter to this, and it's not quite as bad as that summary implies, but like I said, it was bad enough to bother me.

There is other stuff going on in the plot, but it's fairly unoriginal stuff about secret pasts and hidden powers, and much of that was already done better by other series. (I'm thinking, in particular, of Laurell K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry series, although that has less of the hidden past aspect.) Mead does an okay job with execution, apart from Eugenie being remarkably obstructionist and irritating about many of the things she discovers, but it needed more originality to make up for some of the squick factor for me.

Unfortunately, the writing, with a few exceptions, also isn't helping. I very much enjoyed Mead's take on elemental magic, and some of her descriptions of how Eugenie starts exploring it are quite good. But the rest of the time the prose clunked. Despite being written (well, at least published) after Succubus Blues, the writing is noticably worse here. It's a bit too cliched, a bit too wooden, and the sentences seem to be throwing their meanings at the reader rather than flowing smoothly with the story.

I wanted to like this more. Kitsune are underused, I enjoyed Mead's fairy and particularly some of her descriptions of elemental magic, and one of the romantic plots seems like it has some promise. It's not very original, but the background is the sort of thing I like reading about. But the plot just has way too much sexual assault for my taste, and the direction Eugenie's love life went started to squick me. I may read the next book to see if the plot problems get fixed (although unfortunately the driving factor for this rape fervor hasn't gone away by the end of this book) since I own it already, but I can't recommend this one.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Reviewed: 2011-09-30

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21