Reaching the end of series, whether of three books or fifteen can provoke mixed responses. A well-written, nicely shaped set of novels about a group of characters can provide immense satisfaction as they come through the myriad of obstacles put in their way. The reader can hope the rest of their lives runs more smoothly, after all, good novels are packed with mental and physical conflict. At the same time, the prospect of not meeting up with them again can be touched with the same sadness as moving away and losing touch with friends. Occasionally, it can be tantalising as the end point seems to have so much potential and you want to know what happens in the rest of their lives. At the same time, peering into their future may be an intrusion into a privacy they have earned through the privations you have shared with them.
‘Shadow Heir’ is the fourth and final book of the ‘Dark Swan’ series, featuring Eugenie Markham. She started, in ‘Storm Born’, as a shaman trained to dispatch ghosts and demons from our world back to where they came from. There are Otherworlds that parallel our own and beings can cross between them via gates which may be permanent or temporary. Then she discovers that her biological father was a king in the Otherworld and that she has inherited his kingdom. With that comes responsibility and a prophecy, one that says that the Storm King’s first born grandson will conquer the human world. Some think that would be a good idea, Eugenie doesn’t. Neither does she want the attentions that some of the monarchs and their minions pay her with the intention of creating this heir.
At the end of the third book, ‘Iron Crowned’, Eugenie finds herself ruler of two kingdoms and pregnant with twins. At the start of ‘Shadow Heir’, the focus has switched and there are those who think the babies should be aborted to thwart the prophesy. This includes Kiyo, the babies’ father. Eugenie is adamant that the children will be born and that the care she and they will get will be from modern human medicine. After the latest attempt on her life, Eugenie is determined to find somewhere peaceful and safe where she can complete her pregnancy. To this end, the only person who knows where she is, is her stepfather, Roland.
Fortunately, this book is not all about the trials and tribulations of impending motherhood. Once the babies are born, Eugenie is plunged back into the problems of the Otherworld. The ruler of one of the other kingdoms has caused a blight to fall over all the other kingdoms not allied to it.
Although the book starts with action, the period of producing the babies is calm and reflective and ultimately not what most fantasy readers crave. Once she gets back to the problems of the Otherworld, the tension mounts. Eugenie and a disparate selection of the cast need to travel across a snowy landscape fraught with hazards in order to solve the problems that beset them. There is always a certain amount of predictability in a series like this, especially when it is told in first person but Richelle Mead has also a number of surprises to spring upon the reader.
Although immensely enjoyable, the series moved away from its original premise of a strong woman battling Otherworld denizens to make our world safer to place more emphasis on events in the Otherworld. While many readers would welcome this, it does mean that some of the originality is superseded by what some may consider as generic fantasy. Nevertheless, there are always regrets at reaching the end of a series.