Laura Thomas’s Shadow Swans is by no means a romance novel. It is a love story. It is also a story of change, of the deliberate destruction of all that comes after a coming-of-age.
Ruby Cooper is a 22-year-old millionaire; she created a social networking website for computer geeks. She chooses to make her home in an abandoned building and rails against the mundanity and passivity of the lives of all the people bustling about her in New York City. One day, she simply remains on the subway platform for hours rather than continue her commute to the office. And there she meets Credenza (Den), who changes Ruby’s life. Den lives underground in the subway tunnels and has never been outside–owing to an allergy to the sun or simply from her mother’s fear and years of being told she’ll die should she attempt it. Also, she’s read that it’s not so great in the exposed world, either, as Ruby well knows.
Despite Den’s rough exterior, Ruby is immediately attracted to her, and their friendship grows slowly and cautiously.
Ruby’s trips into the tunnels are reminiscent of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, with steam coming from New York City’s underground systems in the modern day rather than in a steam-powered alternate past. But the foreignness and fear are the same as Ruby encounters giant rats and cockroaches, pitch black, and all make and matter of hopeless souls.
Beyond these adventures, Ruby and Den embark on an even riskier journey, and, as Ruby explains after first meeting Den, “On that particular day in February, my writing was filled with wildly optimistic dribble that failed to portend the untamed tornado that my life would soon become.” There is dark foreshadowing throughout, so it is not a spoiler for me to tell you there is no happily-ever-after ending.
Yet, in the meantime, the two fall in love and live with every ounce of their beings, refusing to settle into the societally accepted status quo.
I would have liked an author’s note about what research Thomas did and what parts of the book are based on reality or even rumor. I’ve been intrigued by the so-called mole people ever since I first heard the phrase when I moved to NYC ten years ago.
Although Ruby and Den could have been developed more fully and the plot often stretches believability, the author allows readers to escape from mundanity if they are willing to suspend disbelief to experience the somewhat far-fetched adventure she’s created for the protagonists. Thomas beautifully captures the tenuous exploration between two people from different worlds, who are both dissatisfied and seeking yet afraid to let down their walls for the other to bulldoze in.