In Raven de Hart’s alternate universe, an individual reaches an age of “choosing” when their human self merges with a spirit and they are able to shift into the animal manifestation of the spirit. Lord Isaiah was chosen by Hunger, a coyote, whereas Zayne was chosen by the Swarm: feared, strong, and murderous hornets. Unlike other spirits who talk to their hosts, often offering guidance, the Swarm are cruel and relentless. By their choosing, Zayne has been unwillingly entered into a contract in which the Swarm demand to be fed once every day, either with blood, violence, or murder. Otherwise, Zayne will die himself and the Swarm will move on.
The Swarm’s daily demands mean that Zayne is leaving his home for Sorngard, where not only will he be anonymous, but it is a place ravaged by war, giving Zayne a viable excuse to fight and kill. However, the news that the Swarm is in Sorngard soon reaches Lord Isaiah and he offers Zayne shelter and an escape from the illegal fighting rings in which he has become involved.
However, Isaiah has an ulterior motive: to try and convince Zayne and the Swarm to join his fight against the powerful Lord Davis and his spirit, Pestilence. This will not be an easy task and as the two men become better acquainted, Isaiah realizes that there is more to Zayne than the Swarm and their mutual attraction may be a complication neither man needs.
Although the blurb of Swarm was interesting, I did not know what to expect from de Hart’s dystopian novel, yet Swarm completely captivated me. I found de Hart’s writing compulsive and when I reached the end of a chapter, I just wanted to continue reading.
Swarm is original, though still with familiar elements that will not alienate readers. The romance between Isaiah and Zayne is slow-burn and de Hart gives her readers the opportunity to connect with these characters.
Swarm also has the ‘shifter’ aspect, but it is unlike the majority of shapeshifter novels. Hunger, Cognizant, Pestilence, and the Swarm are separate entities and de Hart does an amazing job of creating these spirits as characters in their own right. Hunger and the Swarm, in particular, are hardly ever quiet and their voices punctuate Isaiah and Zayne’s respective narratives. I did not find that this interrupts the story; instead, their presence adds a depth to Isaiah and Zayne’s profiles and the plot itself.
Isaiah is completely accepting of Hunger’s voice, often welcoming the advice they offer. On the other hand, Zayne constantly fights the Swarm’s cruel voices and need for death.
Hunger is perhaps my favorite ‘character.’ Despite the name, Hunger does not encourage war or fighting. In Isaiah’s case, the hunger is for justice and peace and when Zayne arrives in the house, sex. There is a certain light relief that Hunger provides with his sarcastic humor:
Isaiah sighed. “That was a brilliant idea you had. Go apologize to him.”
Well, since when did you listen to me? I’m a mangy little dog.
He walked back into his office and threw himself into the chair, snatching up the wine bottle on his way down. “I can’t let him leave.”
Because you want to bone his tragic little heart out.
Conversely, the conversations de Hart reveals between Zayne and the Swarm are almost painful to witness,
Weak! Pointless! Waste of flesh!
The buzzing grew louder and louder still, vibrating Zayne’s bones. He dug his fingers into his legs for support. They didn’t normally do this. Not this intense. Not over threats of a new chosen.
Give us the girl! Let her fight! Let her have power! You can die!
“No, damn it!” The words shot from his mouth before he could even attempt to hold them back.
However, de Hart carefully ensures that her reader realizes that whilst Isaiah and Hunger’s relationship is symbiotic, the Swarm are parasites and though Zayne has to meet their demands to live, he is not like them. Instead of feeling anger or disgust towards Zayne for the murders he has committed, we empathize with him because we understand that at times he has shed his own blood to save innocent lives.
It is true that on his move to Sorngard, Zayne enters the fighting rings in order to kill, but after he is taken in by Isaiah and learns about the dire situation of Isaiah’s people, Zayne begins to use the Swarm’s power to benefit others. This is first evident when he chooses to steal medical supplies to help those suffering in the infirmary of Isaiah’s home. This does not mean that Zayne no longer kills, but he now appears to be in control of the Swarm and we are unable to condemn him because he is helping others.
Swarm is raw, gritty, and at times, tense, but I loved the way in which de Hart builds the relationship between Isaiah and Zayne, particularly because of the way Isaiah separates Zayne, the man, from the Swarm and allows him to grow in confidence. For those who know de Hart as an author of erotic stories, the lack of sex in Swarm may disappoint, but I enjoyed the time de Hart takes with her characters and development of the story.
Swarm belongs in a genre that is not enjoyed by everyone, but this was a novel that I devoured and was only sorry when the story came to an end. Swarm is very deserving of a full 5 stars!