Thursday, December 29, 2016

Swans in the Mist by D.E. Athkins

He could not imagine her, could not even see her except through the eyes of his dark madness (168).

I've owned my copy of this book since I was in high school, which doesn't sound too impressive until you realize that that was ten years ago. (Fun fact: my nickname for this teen horror writer back when I was in high school was "Deathkins." Because her stories always involved death. I know, I know, I'm so original.) My bookshelves have undergone several purges over the years, but SWANS IN THE MIST always made the cut because it's such a weird book.

A very weird book.


Lyda is a seventeen year old girl whose older, glamorous model sister has gotten married. It's the classic story: pretty young thing meets suave older guy. Except not quite. Because Lilli's new husband, Jason Ducat, is more than a little creepy. His daughter, Victoire, acts more like a jealous girlfriend than his offspring. He doesn't allow Lilli, Lyda, or Victoire to wear makeup or perfume. He caresses a pocket watch whenever he's in thought. And he gets much too close to Lyda.

At first, Lyda tries to get along with Jason and his creepy family for Lilli's sake. She's only visiting Northwind for a short while before she goes back to school, and she misses her sister. But the more Lyda finds out about the family dynamic, the more she wants to leave. Jason has two children, Jon and Victoire, from two different wives. Both of those wives are now dead. He likes to go hunting, and he takes the whole family with him. And on more than one occasion, Lyda is almost positive that he's been watching her sleep. She's more than happy when it's time to go back to boarding school.

Except girlfriend just can't catch a break, because she's summoned to the dean's office to find out that her sister is dead...and Jason is now her legal guardian. That's when things get especially creepy.

He drugs her and then locks her in a tower. Every day, he visits her to give her lessons on how to act like what he considers a proper woman. Humility and obedience.

"Here you will learn what is really important: obedience, courtesy, respect, humility, neatness. Above all you will learn to be a dutiful daughter, to never give me cause to worry, or to be jealous the way" - he caught himself up, paused, and then concluded. "The way some people have" (144).

He gives her a notebook, which he calls the Book of Obedience, and forces her to write her "sins" in it every day - or she doesn't get food or water. Lyda's new father figure is determined to mold her into the perfect daughter, and if she resists, he's made it clear that she will die.

Did he sense it? Revel in it? Enjoy her submission and revulsion? (170)

SWANS IN THE MIST is so messed up, so cheesy, so over the top. You know what you're getting into with that purple cover with the bad Photoshop, and it just goes down hill from there (or uphill, if you're like me and find that kind of thing amusing). Deathkins likes to use bizarre slang, like "yo bro" or "meow mixing it up" (for cat-fighting) that gives the book a weird, sitcom-y feel. The plot is so insane, and it's precociously creepy. I mean at one point, Lyda actually catches Jason banging the housekeeper against the wall. It's not descriptive, but it's obvious what they're doing. At the same time, the story line is tense, and Lyda is a likable enough character that you're constantly rooting for her. She's resourceful, clever, persistent. You know if anyone can outmatch Jason, she can.

SWANS IN THE MIST kind of reminds me of those lurid Gothic novels from the 60s and 70s. Even the title kind of feels like it could be one of those Victoria Holt knock-offs (and I love me some Victoria Holt). I've kept this book because it's so weird, and there really isn't an audience for it because it's simultaneously too adult and too childish; like V.C. Andrews, if V.C. was a little less explicit and melodramatic. If you come across a copy of this, it's certainly worth the read.

3 out of 5 stars

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