The Black Swan
Ana Seymour is a new author for me. I’d seen her name on the spine of numerous Harlequin Historicals, but I’d never read anything she’d written so I was glad to have the opportunity to try her out. Unfortunately, I was not overly impressed by The Black Swan, her debut book for Jove. This was a fast read with a few enjoyable scenes, but it failed to fully engage my interest.
Cormac Riordan is a man with a problem; specifically a curse. It’s said that, due to an ancient calamity, the Riordan brides are doomed to die within a year and a day of the wedding. Since Cormac’s own mother and his two stepmothers all died in childbirth within this timeframe, he’s a true believer. Cormac’s father has arranged an alliance with a neighboring family to make peace within their part of Ireland, but Cormac is determined to stay far away from his bride until the year and a day have passed.
Claire O’Donnell has had a crush on Cormac since she was a little girl. She is excited at the thought of marrying him and very much looking forward to the wedding night. So when he abandons her without explanation before the marriage can be consummated, she is quite put out. She goes to her hot-headed family and complains, and they take issue with the Riordans. Out of this conflict comes a lethal injury, and Cormac returns to help set things to rights. Claire also insists that, since her wedding precipitated the difficulties, she must be the one to negotiate with Cormac’s family. She goes to help sort things out and winds up staying.
The Black Swan was faintly reminiscent of Julie Garwood’s The Bride. It contains some of the same elements: the arranged marriage, the clannish family, the strong, silent-type hero, and the spunky heroine who, given access, rearranges everything at Riordan Hall, including and most especially, her husband. It had a fast-moving plot that revolved around Queen Elizabeth I’s attempts to deal with the “Irish Problem.” I liked the way Seymour portrayed the Irish families as many different individuals with differing ideas about how the English should be dealt with. I also thought there were some fun scenes involving Claire’s attempt to educate herself about the ways of men. But I had a few major problems with this book as well.
First, while I found the heroine to be fairly likable in most ways, I thought that she was rather callous and selfish in the way she handled her husband’s fears and superstitions. Cormac was legitimately afraid for her. He truly believed that she was in danger and that pregnancy would be a death sentence for her. So what does she try over and over to do? Why, seduce him, of course. Even after he admits his fears to her, she continues to try to get pregnant. Claire also has a number of foolish and dangerous escapades, repeatedly and directly defying Cormac’s orders. Now I know that some of Cormac’s fears were (perhaps) irrational, but I think that a loving spouse needs to have a healthy respect for a loved one’s phobias, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. If my husband were afraid of heights, I wouldn’t say, “Why don’t we look into buying a condo in that new skyscraper they’re building downtown?” And I wouldn’t suggest that we vacation at the Grand Canyon. That would be sadistic. But that is just what Claire does. She deliberately does things that she knows will freak Cormac out. I was rather surprised that the poor man didn’t have a nervous breakdown with what all Claire put him through.
Secondly, the relationship between the two of them see-saws between extreme lust and extreme annoyance, especially on Claire’s part. Cormac is rather dictatorial, and he never bothers to explain anything to her, so she is always getting irritated with him. I thought this was rather justified on her part. But then the second that she sees him again, she ignites with attraction, no matter how long she has been stewing over one of his orders or failures to communicate. For most people, exasperation rather effectively cancels out sexual desire, but not for Claire. One moment she’s angry, the next boiling with desire. I didn’t think this rang true to life.
Finally, the external conflict, the British occupation, seems a little too peripheral. It seems to be included only to keep Cormac and Claire apart for a good portion of the book. The deep emotions that the English encroachment stirred in the Irish are noticeably absent here. People get upset, but not incensed. And Claire has no reaction to the occupation at all except to fear its consequences for her family and her husband.
The Black Swan had some good and bad points. Seymour has writing talent, and this book was a quick and easy read, but it also had characterization problems that kept me from fully enjoying it. Still, if you really liked The Bride, you might find it somewhat worthwhile.