Black Swan Rising, Lisa Brackmann, 2018

…And once those black swans start flying…you don’t know what’s coming home to roost. Lisa Brackmann

Spoiler Alert

For the Political challenge, I chose Black Swan Rising, a tale entrenched not only in the world of politics but behind the scenes of the sensation driven media. The story follows two protagonists into the world of domestic and cyber terrorism.

            Young and ambitious, Casey Cheng bides her time as a tv journalist in the steppingstone market of San Diego. She’s recovering emotionally and physically from injuries sustained at the hands of a gunmen while covering an event. In effort to make sense of it she decides to turn a negative into a positive by researching the deceased gunmen and his motives. Nabbing an interview with the shooter’s mother gives Casey access to his lair. There she finds a graphic novel that inspired him and a growing movement of angry men bent on taking back the country using her shooter’s name as a rallying cry. She becomes obsessed with finding out the truth.

            On the other side of town, recent college grad Sarah Price is a campaign worker for Democrat Matt Cason, a war veteran with a temper.  As the campaign’s social media coordinator, Sarah must balance the publicity needs of Cason with her desire to keep her past hidden. When violence erupts at an event, Sarah is forced into the spotlight, where her secrets come back to haunt her. She’s obsessed with hiding the truth.

            Casey and Sarah’s paths converge intermittently about halfway through the 400+ page book. Yet, they never really join forces. Each woman maintains her own storyline as they follow their respective career paths. It’s like Brackmann created two separate novels with the other character making occasional cameos.

            Though I liked following the two intriguing characters, Brackmann’s attention to both isn’t distributed evenly. At the beginning, we’re introduced to Sarah and she feels like the main character. It’s jarring when Casey takes over about forty pages in. The story bounces back and forth between Sarah and Casey, as well as secondary (they’re too important to be minor) characters without any real rhyme or reason. Sarah’s storyline resolves almost 100 pages before the book’s ending, though she’s still around (and plays a very important part at the book’s climax).

            Characters in the book are either compelling and real or barely existent. Those real ones come complete with histories, vices and personal agendas. Casey feels most fleshed out, but that proves to be problematic because some of her habits—risk-taking for one—become exhausting.  Brackmann does an excellent job portraying the way a Type-A person like Casey would react to being felled by a gunman. The idea that she would morph her healing into a career move seems apropos. Why should someone else benefit from her pain?

Sarah’s troubled past was more interesting to me and I wish more had been done with her. Still, it’s fitting, given the character’s desire to shut that part of her life out. Sarah’s got a survivor’s mentality so it makes sense she wouldn’t dwell on the secret she’s trying to keep hidden. The characters of Matt and Lindsey Cason are a study in the pressure media scrutiny can put on a marriage that’s already cracking.

            My only complaint about the book is the wedged in romantic feelings Casey and Sarah’s characters have for colleagues. It’s as if Brackmann felt obligated to give these young women men to fixate on in sporadic bursts. Casey kinda sorta develops a crush on her cameraman but loses interest so quickly it’s hard to understand why it was mentioned. Sarah kinda sorta has a thing for the charismatic, troubled and married Matt Cason. It’s clear she isn’t interested enough to derail her career or his marriage over it. Then, suddenly, she’s pursuing an available colleague. Honestly, it felt like the author decided to drop those storylines and just forgot to delete all the sentences pertaining to them. It doesn’t take away from the overall enjoyability of the book. It’s just a tad distracting.

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