Paraic O’Donnell follows up the Victorian spiritualism of The House on Vesper Sands with another historical mystery, but where I was expecting (and hoping for, honestly) a continuation of the former, The Maker of Swans jumps head-first into the 20th Century and dares the reader to catch up.
A butler tries his damndest to keep his employer safe, sane, and sober- but the draws of the Jazz Age have the lord of the manor playing with a dangerous mix of ennui, hedonism, and well- some sort of magic. The M-word is never spoken, but there are people who can do things that are unnatural and powerful. These people must adhere to a code- and this code is blasted to bits within the opening pages.
Am I being obtuse? YES. I could have easily become aggravated with the vagaries and wink-winks of this novel, but O’Donnell is in on the joke. Nearly every conversation is veiled in nods and secret handshakes, but the characters are well aware of the roles that they serve. For example:
I have explained only that we were forced to act as we did. It was not my place to say more. No doubt there is more that she wishes to know, now that she has the means to ask.’
“The means?’ Chastern says. ‘Ah, yes, of course. How obtuse of me.
This line hits fairly soon after a massive event and change of pace; I had been ready to complain until a wink was thrown my way.
Also: this is a novel where SO many pieces of glassware are thrown against SO many fireplace walls! Don’t let the faded grandeur and the ultra-serious whispers and plotting throw you- The Maker of Swans is a delicious melodrama. Drunken jazz singers lounge about in wrinkled silks. Poets draw pistols. Gore is sudden and gruesome.
The stakes are high, the consequences are dire, the secrets are ancient and convoluted, but there is cheeky fun to be had on nearly every page.
Also: how cheeky to use a David Mitchell pull-quote on a cover adorned with swans!
I received this ARC from the Tin House Galley Club in exchange for a fair and honest review