Review: Anne Bishop, the Black Jewels Trilogy

Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy is a dark and engrossing guilty pleasure. The individual books are Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, and Queen of the Darkness.

As the titles suggest, there are two key traits of the story's world. First, women "naturally" dominate society, both because of innate magical power and because of cultural and gender preferences. Second, dark is good: magical strength is measured by a person's Jewels, and the darker the color, the stronger the wearer; the Blood, the magic-users, honor the Darkness as a sort of religious force (a common oath is "Hell's fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful"), and so forth.

The story's conflict is caused by two power-hungry women, Dorothea and Hekatah. Because they are from a very long-lived race and are in positions of power, they have over time completely perverted the normal relationship between the genders, in which women rule but men are respected partners. Their plan is simple but viciously elegant: encourage people to see strong Blood males as dangerous, allowing them to be enslaved; encourage the weaker males to fear and despise strong Blood females, allowing them to be raped, broken, and stripped of their power; and all that's left are unthreatening females and males who subscribe the new hierarchy. (The Blood are also nobility, and their relationship with the non-Blood is similarly perverted.)

Into this situation is born Jaenelle, who is Witch, the living myth, dreams made flesh. Here, the dream is getting rid the taint caused by Dorothea and Hekatah; the flesh is a child who is extremely, frighteningly powerful and loyal. Her birth family thinks she's mad and puts her in an asylum, which is actually a private feeding ground for sadistic pedophiles. In-between stays, she pops into the lives of the other major characters, befriending them. Some of these friends are demon-dead (like zombies, only with all their personality intact), assassins, other Blood children, unicorns, etc. A particularly important friend is the High Lord of Hell, Saetan; his sons are Lucivar and Daemon (the names are most distracting, unfortunately, though I eventually got used to them). Respectively, they become Jaenelle's adopted father, adopted brother, and lover (when she becomes an adult). The three books trace her growing up and the continued threat of Dorothea and Hekatah.

These books remind me in some ways of early Mercedes Lackey (the Arrows trilogy and the Vanyel books, particularly). There's the young, powerful, plucky person who's misunderstood at home and finds an accepting community; the nasty things that happen to the main character along the way to full power; the unfolding of an interesting world and magic system. However, lots of bad things happen in this series; imagine the bad things in the Vanyel books and the Arrows trilogy taken together, and then doubled or tripled. Though much of the sexual violence takes place off-screen, there is no doubt about what's happening. This is why these books are a guilty pleasure for me: so much nasty stuff happens that I shouldn't be entertained... They also aren't exactly subtle.

On the plus side, though, some vivid characters and a seriously engrossing plot combined to keep me up late reading some nights. The world, its cultures, and its magic are all fascinating, though the books could really use a map. There are also plenty of lighter moments—especially in the second book—to balance out the darker events. Finally, I like the concept of Witch, dreams made flesh; it's a variant on the "predestined savior" archetype that cleverly explains just how Jaenelle is so perfectly suited to overcome the challenges before her: the dreamers dreamt her that way.

Overall, I can't exactly recommend these books, but I did enjoy them.

(There is also a stand-alone set in the same world, The Invisible Ring, which isn't as interesting.)

%T  Daughter of the Blood
%A  Bishop, Anne
%C  New York
%D  1998
%G  0-451-45671-8
%I  Roc
%P  412pp
%S  Black Jewels
%V  Book 2
%O  paperback 

%T  Heir to the Shadows
%A  Bishop, Anne
%C  New York
%D  1999
%G  0-451-45672-6
%I  Roc
%P  482pp
%S  Black Jewels
%V  Book 2
%O  paperback 

%T  Queen of the Darkness
%A  Bishop, Anne
%C  New York
%D  2000
%G  0-451-45673-4
%I  Roc
%P  430pp
%S  Black Jewels
%V  Book 3
%O  paperback

Copyright 12/19/200 by Kate Nepveu. Originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written.


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