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The Swap


The Swap

Following the highly acclaimed release of THE PARTY, Robyn Harding returns with THE SWAP. This sexy and edgy thriller combines her talent for writing different perspectives with morally gray situations for a suspenseful read that will have you questioning everything you thought you knew about friendship and betrayal.

Low Morrison is an unusual teenager. She does not have friends, hobbies or extracurriculars, but she does have an eccentric, polyamorous family who seems to have forgotten her in search of their own pleasures and growth. So it would not be unfair to say that Low can be a bit obsessive in her hunt for something to call her own. When she sees Freya, a curvaceous blonde who holds the world just far enough away to create an air of mystery around herself, Low knows she has to meet this ethereal beauty and befriend her. It’s not a crush, exactly, but something a bit more than admiration and a bit less than lust.

When she learns that Freya will be holding pottery classes at her home, Low quickly signs up, and the two become fast friends. Over intimate pottery lessons, the former Instagram influencer Freya tells Low about everything --- from her complicated relationships with her parents to her former professional athlete husband’s fall from grace, and even her dissatisfaction with their marriage and life in Hawking, an island on the Pacific Northwest known not for celebrity sightings but for farms and an endless dreariness. Low is instantly enamored, and self-centered Freya is equally fulfilled by the teen’s adoration. But Freya has another friend in town, local shop owner Jamie, and Low is not quite ready to share her new best friend.

"There is a definite mystery at the heart of the novel, but Harding also raises several thought-provoking questions about love, fidelity and friendship that makes it an interesting conversation starter."

In an effort to get even closer to Freya, Low takes up working for Jamie as a shop assistant. And spying on Freya and her husband. And moving into their studio in secret. She’s not stalking, she swears, but she can’t help it if she sees and notices things. One night she sees something truly incredible: Freya and her ridiculously handsome husband, Max, invite Jamie and her husband over for dinner, and the four take mushrooms to relax and boost Jamie’s spirits after suffering yet another unsuccessful brush with pregnancy. Bolstered by the drugs and the island’s encouragement of free love, the couples swap partners. Though the swap is more or less consensual at the time, Freya, like Low, has been playing her own games with her friends and their perspectives, and the swap starts to unravel their careful camaraderie. Only one person knows the truth --- or thinks she does. But is it Low, who watches everything unfold, or Freya, who sets the swap in motion?

Harding alternates perspectives rapidly in THE SWAP, and the sudden switches add to the pacing of the book, but they also provide some wonderful potential for character development. I love reading about a scene from one character’s point of view and then watching them react from another’s perspective, and Harding lays out each scene so carefully that you really do get the full picture from every side. Both Low and Jamie are perfectly developed, and I loved their interior battles with acceptance, jealousy and guilt. Harding is not afraid to play with relationship dynamics, but I think she has done something really special here by leaving out Freya’s perspective and allowing readers to fall in love with (or hate) her on their own.

Harding is well known for her ability to alternate perspectives and write complicated, heavily layered characters, but her talent is on full display with Freya. Fueled by good looks and a scintillating personality, Freya is the type of woman who makes everyone --- and I do mean everyone --- fall in love with her. Both Low and Jamie are instantly bonded to Freya, despite the pain that comes with being her friend or lover. She is simply intoxicating, and though you can sense that something is going on beneath the surface, Harding withholds just enough information about Freya to keep her equally alluring to the reader. Add to that the inconsistencies within her relationships, and you get a spellbinding mystery centered on one endlessly entertaining person and one sexy, debaucherous night.

Though THE SWAP is not your average murder mystery/thriller, Harding keeps the tension taut throughout, with Low growing increasingly resentful and Jamie increasingly fearful until the pace reaches breakneck speed and tragedy seems inevitable. Though Freya is easily cast as the villain, I loved that Low had some dark issues as well; Harding perfectly writes her loneliness and desperate desire for something of her own. You want her to win just as much as you want her to get some help and move on from these toxic people and their convoluted affairs. In a skill that is rare in authors of adult fiction, Harding is astoundingly adept at writing teens; Low is neither too sophisticated for her age nor too angsty.

There is a definite mystery at the heart of the novel, but Harding also raises several thought-provoking questions about love, fidelity and friendship that makes it an interesting conversation starter. Is swapping partners healthy when there is an unequal power balance, or is it just a sexy way to pass a night? Can one friend think too highly of another, or is that just the way some friendships are? Harding explores toxicity in all relationships in a way that is smart and observant, but equally fun to read. THE SWAP is an excellent dose of escapism, perfect for readers of CAPE MAY, STRANGER IN THE LAKE and A STRANGER ON THE BEACH.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on July 2, 2020

The Swap
by Robyn Harding