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The Black Swan
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books, 400 pages

The Black Swan
Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey was born in Chicago, Illinois, and attended Purdue University. She worked as an artist's model and a computer programmer before turning to writing full-time.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Owl Flight
SF Site Review: Storm Breaking
Mercedes Lackey Tribute Page
Mercedes Lackey Bio
Mercedes Lackey Tribute Page
The World of Velgarth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Robert Francis

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Mercedes Lackey's latest book, The Black Swan, is a re-telling of the folktale which was the basis for Tchaikovsky's ballet, "Swan Lake." If you're anything like me, that blurb didn't tell you a thing about the plot, except that there might be swans and a lake somewhere in the book. Not a problem. Hey, I've even read other fantasy books derived from folktales which had been made into operas, such as Tom Holt's incredibly funny Expecting Someone Taller (Wagner's 4-part opera collectively known as the "Ring of the Nibelungen") and Flying Dutch (Wagner's opera "The Flying Dutchman"). However, in Holt's case, he was telling stories based upon the characters immortalized in the operas, but set in a present-day plot.

The Black Swan is a tale of urbane madness, filial duty, greed, loyalty, and ultimately, redemption. In it, we meet Odile, the daughter of a sorcerer, who strives to become as proficient in the arcane arts as her father, in order to win if not her father's love then at least his approval. Odile's mother apparently died when Odile was very young, perhaps providing the catalyst which set Odile's father on his quest to magically punish women guilty of the sin of betraying their fathers, husbands, or sons. Odile's father, Baron von Rothbart, abducts these faithless women, and binds them into the form of swans during all hours except those nights when the moon is in the sky. Odile is frequently charged with watching over the captives when in their human forms, and it is during this duty that she begins to understand that her father might not be entirely rational, and also might not care for his daughter as he should.

Also present is the Prince Siegfried, a wastrel about to reach his majority and inherit the kingdom from the Regent, his mother. We learn that the dissolute Prince's vices and failings have been carefully nurtured by his mother, so that she might retain control of the kingdom. The Queen Regent is a perfect target for the Baron, and the Baron also has designs on the Prince, whom the Baron plans to use as a dupe in a ploy that would consolidate his hold over the captive swan-maidens.

The Baron's daughter Odile is also slated to play a role in his plan. But what the Baron doesn't, or can't, understand is that dissolute Princes can learn the error of their ways, and make amends, and that "dutiful" daughters can learn the difference between being used and being loved, and can take control of their own minds and lives.

Mercedes Lackey is very good at building empathic bonds between her characters and the reading audience. You might not always think that their actions make sense, but you care about them, nonetheless. In The Black Swan, Lackey also demonstrates an ability to have characters convincingly grow and change. Granted, Herald Talia, first shown to us in Arrows of the Queen, grows quite a bit from abused farmgirl to Queen's Own Herald. Other major characters of her stories, such as Grand Duke Tremane, Kerowyn, Vanyel, Elspeth, and Karal could be said to grow, but more often than not what one sees is a pre-existing trait (usually nobility and goodness) flower under adversity (usually at least in part self-inflicted). But in The Black Swan, the changes that the main characters Odile and Siegfried undergo are somehow refreshingly different from what I have come to expect from the 19 other Lackey books I've read.

Mercedes Lackey has a well developed and steadfast following, and I am sure those who number in that group will rush out to buy, read, and enjoy The Black Swan. It could be one of her better works. For those who have not read much or any of her earlier books, The Black Swan offers a chance to read sort of a "bridge" Mercedes Lackey book -- it is a good story that contains many of the best elements that Lackey puts into her works, without a lot of the "let's find some more ways to suffer nobly for a good, if misunderstood, cause" that pervades many of her other works. If you like The Black Swan, then I suggest you go back and try some of her earliest works, like the original Heralds trilogy, Arrows of the Queen, Arrow's Flight, and Arrow's Fall, or to the stories of Kethry and Tarma -- such as The Oathbound or Oathbreakers.

Copyright © 1999 by Robert Francis

Robert Francis is by profession a geologist, and, perhaps due to some hidden need for symmetry, spends his spare time looking at the stars. He is married, has a son, and is proud that the entire family would rather read anything remotely resembling literature than watch Jerry Springer.


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