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Thorn Queen by Richelle Mead

01/11/2010. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Thorn Queen (Dark Swan series book 2) in the USA - or Buy Thorn Queen (Dark Swan series book 2) in the UK

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pub: Thorn Queen (Dark Swan series book 2) by Richelle Mead. Bantam Books/Transworld. 480 page paperback. Price: GBP 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-553-81987-8.

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There are some terms used within the fantasy genre which instantly evoke a country of origin for the folklore that contains it. Dream-time tells the Australian aboriginal version of creation and the landscape within which the rock paintings were executed. Anansi the spider is the African spinner of tales. Luagh and Finn fight amid the Duns of Erin. Animal-headed gods stalk the sands of Egypt while many-armed deities slaughter demons across India. Arthur and Merlin have become the symbol of England and Fenris the wolf stalks the icy lands of Northern Europe. In recent centuries, not only have we had access to more ideas and the tales from different cultures, but people have travelled and settled in other continents. Their mythical creations have followed them and been incorporated into fiction, not always successfully.

While vampires might have originated in Eastern Europe, they have spread. They turn up all over the place and seem to have infected all parts of the world. At present, they seem to be particularly prevalent in North America. Not surprising perhaps as many Eastern European have migrated to the USA and Canada, taking their vampires with them. Faerie, too, seems to have extended its boundaries. Once Ireland was the best place to seek access into the Otherworld, although enclaves of similar habitats turn up in many isolated places in Europe. The fireside winter tales have crept into fiction and where an author confines themselves to one cultural root, very powerful stories can result. Now, however, there tends to be an overspill with elements from different sources sitting uneasily together.

‘Thorn Queen’ is the second in Richelle Mead’s series featuring Eugenie Markham. She is a shaman (Native American culture) which is appropriate as she lives in Tucson. She has been trained by her stepfather to banish troublesome visitors such as ghosts and nixies back into the Otherworld where they rightly belong. In the first of the series, ‘Storm Born’, she discovered that her mother was kidnapped and raped by one of the shining ones or gentry (Sidhe to the Irish) and her father was the Storm King, a powerful wielder of magic. As a result of her adventures in this book, she has inherited, by force, a kingdom in the Otherworld and its welfare is tied to her happiness. There is also a prophecy that a grandson of the Storm King will conquer and rule both the Otherworld and the human one. As a result, she is being pursued by others trying to father a child on her or her half-sister, Jasmine, who is missing.

Eugenie’s love life is complicated. Her live-in boyfriend is part kitsume (Japanese fox spirit), part human and can shape change. His ex is a queen of the Otherworld and pregnant with his child so he keeps running off to visit her. Eugenie is also attracted to Dorian, the Oak King, and they did have a fling in book one. He claims to be besotted by her and his current concubine is insanely jealous of any other that Dorian may even glance at. Leith, son of the queen of the Rowan Land also has designs on Eugenie, in a dangerous, puppy-dog way.

This novel does not have the coherence of her other series featuring the succubus, Georgina Kincaid. One reason is the mixture of sources for the supernatural/fantasy elements which do not sit comfortably together. Another and perhaps more serious reason is the time the characters spend in the wishful Otherworld. The strengths of the ‘Succubus’ novels lie in the idea of supernatural beings interacting with the world as we perceive it and with humans. The initial conception of the ‘Eugenie Markham’ novels of a shaman hunting down and banishing supernatural intruders from other worlds is an intriguing one but in ‘Thorn Queen’ the emphasis has shifted from the original idea. Too much of the plot has become predictable. It also seems like a rushed job. Individual scenes succeed each other at a very fast rate leaving little time to savour the situations and to see the characters as in-depth creations. The tone is too much like the re-telling of folk tales, all action and little substance. Even the sex scenes seem shallow. This is a case of should have done better. With more time taken to craft the scenes and develop both the setting and the characterisation, it would have been a longer book but as so much is crammed into this one that perhaps two volumes would have been beneficial. On the plus side, this is a quick easy read suitable for readers who prefer action over emotion.

Pauline Morgan

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