Seraphina’s Lament, by Sarah Chorn

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Publication date – February 19, 2019

Summary: The world is dying.

The Sunset Lands are broken, torn apart by a war of ideology paid for with the lives of the peasants. Drought holds the east as famine ravages the farmlands. In the west, borders slam shut in the face of waves of refugees, dooming all of those trying to flee to slow starvation, or a future in forced labor camps. There is no salvation.

In the city of Lord’s Reach, Seraphina, a slave with unique talents, sets in motion a series of events that will change everything. In a fight for the soul of the nation, everyone is a player. But something ominous is calling people to Lord’s Reach and the very nature of magic itself is changing. Paths will converge, the battle for the Sunset Lands has shifted, and now humanity itself is at stake.

First, you must break before you can become.

Review: I’ll start off by saying that Seraphina’s Lament is a very hard novel for me to review. Mostly because while the story itself is fascinating, the characters interesting, most of what I want to do is gush over Chorn’s writing style.

But one step at a time.

Seraphina’s Lament takes place in the Sunset Lands, a place that was previously a monarchy but that had its ruling power overthrown in a revolution. Now in charge is Premier Eyad, head of the collectivist government, maker of the laws that have resulted in overfarming and the resulting famine. As with most people who attained power in such a way, he’s paranoid about counterrevolutionary elements, and oddly sees “failure to grow food where food won’t grow” as a punishable offense. People are fleeing, to escape a life of starvation and cruelty. But problems in the Sunset Lands run deeper than that. An army of skeletons approaches Lord’s Reach, dying people infected by hunger until their very humanity has been eaten away, led by what was once a man and who now calls himself the Bone Lord. Magic in the form of elemental talents seems to be dying, except in those for whom it grows wildly and out of control. Old powers stir. People are changing, becoming something new, something different.

And before you become, you must break.

While the book is named for one of its characters, the story goes far beyond Seraphina herself. She is a slave, owned by Eyad, scarred and in chronic pain and possessing a fire talent that seems to be growing in strength. There’s Neryan, Seraphina’s twin brother who escaped slavery, possessing a water talent that is Seraphina’s opposite and complement, bent on freeing his sister from bondage. There’s Vadden, who grabs the title of My Favourite Character from early on and keeps it through the story, determined to remove Eyad from power and atone for the wrongs he committed in playing a part to overthrow the previous government and pave the way for Eyad to take the abusive stance he has. Every single character is broken in some way, holding themselves together against overwhelming odds, and none of them are perfect, which is what makes them all so compelling to read about.

I mentioned Chorn’s writing style, and it’s that which makes this book really memorable, at least for my part. Her writing is incredibly evocative, poetic, concerned with metaphor and simile that sets the mood in a way that physical descriptions can’t always manage. Instead of mentioning the phase of the moon, for instance, you get lines akin to, “The moon was a scythe meant for killing,” a description that conveys the phase to the reader anyone (for those looking for clear imagery to picture), and also sets the tone of the scene without any further words. The book has been categorized by many as being grimdark, and that word alone tends to conjure images of blood and violence and death, and yes, those things are definitely present in Seraphina’s Lament, but in ways that are more horrifying (at least to me) than someone being hacked to death with swords and axes. Instead, you have chilling depictions of people eating their recently deceased neighbours, sometimes children, acts born of starvation and desperation in a dying land. Much of the poetic prose is beautiful, which serves as a counterpoint to the events that, inspired by history, horrify and disgust.

This is the sort of book that largely defies proper description, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that to really understand it, you have to read it. Reviews and summaries really only scratch the surface, and I know I’m failing to really do Seraphina’s Lament justice here. Chorn is a rising star in the grimdark world, a star worth tracking, and I, for one, am excited to see what she’ll do next.

(Received from the author in exchange for review.)

Deep Dive! Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop – Chapter 7

Welcome back to my deep dive exploration of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. This week, we’re looking at chapter 7 of the first novel, Daughter of the Blood. Trigger warning: discussion of pedophilia, hints of child abuse.

Daemon has been dismissed.

Not permanently. But he’s been given a day off, as, according to Philip, his services won’t be needed. Something’s going on, but nobody will say what. Even the servants he usually gets along well with are frazzled and snappish. Daemon decided to wander around town that morning, mostly in bookshops because Daemon’s awesome and loves books, killing time before he figures it might be safe to go back to the house.

When he does, his own temper rises, because there’s a different presence there. One that’s both new, and yet very familiar.

Jaenelle is home.

This is Daemon’s first time seeing her, and understandably, he’s unnerved. Not just because Jaenelle is obviously malnourished and unhealthy, worn down, but because he truly and unmistakably gets confirmation that his earlier suspicions were correct.

Witch is indeed still a child.

He makes a cursory greeting before high-tailing it out of there, thoroughly disturbed by his emotions. He still knows, deep within himself, that he is made to be Witch’s lover, but now he finds himself wondering if that makes him a pedophile, as evil as his cousin Kartane (whose disturbing predilections were discussed in chapter 5). He is incredibly relieved to find out that he did not, in fact, get an erection. Though that doesn’t diminish how he feels about her.

I am very well aware that this is one of the things that really turns people away from these books. On the surface, it’s easy to just see a grown man lusting after a child. Only it’s not really that simple, and Bishop tries to really establish that clearly.

He could take some comfort that he didn’t want the child’s body, but the hunger he felt for what lived inside that body scared him.

Daemon doesn’t want Jaenelle’s body when she’s prepubescent. He doesn’t want Jaenelle’s body when she doesn’t want his, let alone when she’s not capable of making an informed choice, or when doing something might completely break her and rob her of all the potential that lies within her. Daemon, as he is, with all the skills he has, could easily seduce Jaenelle right then and there, if he wanted. And he doesn’t want.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t recognize what she will become, the entity and essence that lives inside that body, and it doesn’t mean he can’t or doesn’t want that. There’s a difference between spiritual love and physical love, and though it seems really corny to phrase it that way, that’s honestly, the best way I can think to describe it. We tend to think of spiritual love as implicitly non-erotic, but there’s no reason it has to be, and more than physical love having to erotic.

I don’t know if I can describe it any other way. I guess, in a pinch, it’s just something I’ve had an easy time seeing a distinction between, so the idea of Daemon having the hots for the essence that resides in Jaenelle without having the hots for her body is something that doesn’t seem contradictory.

But I can very easily see why it would be a contradiction for a lot of people, because let’s face it, most people who say they’re in love with someone who’s a child… they don’t make that distinction. They justify to themselves in myriad ways why it’s okay for them to do things to and with a child that should. Not. Be. Done. They’ll use the notion that they want who the person will become as an excuse to do things to the person as they are now, and that’s very far from okay. “When you use the language of the enemy, expect to be treated like the enemy.” If you say something that many abusers have also said, right before they abuse, well yes, people are going to assume you’re also an abuser.

So while I don’t have a problem with Daemon’s desire for Witch while Witch is still growing up, I can understand why people do have a problem with it, and why that would turn them away from the series as a whole. After all, if this is the first Black Jewels book you read (and it probably is, given that it’s the first book of the core trilogy), and what you read isn’t to your taste, nobody can blame you for deciding to not continue with it.

~*~

Even if Jaenelle’s family seem a bit perturbed by her being home, the kitchen staff sure seem happy to have her back, and Daemon discovers the next morning when he goes down to breakfast. Jaenelle and Wilhelmina are in the kitchen, having already eaten breakfast, leaving only a single nutcake left on the table when Daemon arrives.

Jaenelle takes it, only to be scolded gently by the cook, who asks her what Daemon’s supposed to eat for breakfast now. Jaenelle, full of contrition, hands it over to Daemon, who refuses and says he’s not hungry anyway. The liar. He just wants to make some sort of impression on Jaenelle, and I think half the kitchen staff knows it!

Image from finecooking.comThe mood is broken, however, when Cook mentions that they’ll be having leg for dinner, and Jaenelle goes pale and appears terrified. Daemon attempts to rescue the situation by asking if Jaenelle doesn’t like lamb (because I guess people refer to a roast leg of lamb as just “leg,” which was a new one for me when I first read this book), and Jaenelle seems to realise then what Cook was talking about. The tension is broken, though Jaenelle’s reaction makes Daemon wonder what other kind of leg Jaenelle misunderstood they would be eating that day.

Daemon accompanies both Wilhelmina and Jaenelle on a morning walk, ending in the alcove where he previously found the blooming witch blood flowers. They remain for a while, before Wilhelmina is called away for her morning lessons, leaving Jaenelle and Daemon alone in the alcove together. Jaenelle, somewhat eerily, tells Daemon that if you sing to witch blood in just the right way, the flowers will tell you the names of those who were killed.

“As long as Chaillot stands above the sea, the ones they were planted for won’t be forgotten. And someday the blood debt will be paid in full.”

Jaenelle is not a normal child.

As they walk back to the house, Jaenelle confides in Daemon that she doesn’t take lessons the way Wilhelmina does, because their governess has determined that Jaenelle has absolutely no talent for Craft, even the most basic of things, and isn’t worth teaching.

As in the previous chapter, we see another large rift between Jaenelle and her family, and some of the people who serve her family, We know good and well that she can do amazing things, things beyond the comprehension of even the most powerful people. But at home, she’s seen as a little girl who not only has no Jewels of her own, but also can’t even manage the most basic of basic Craft, which is something even Blood with no Jewels should be able to manage. For them, it would never be much, but it’s still part of what makes them Blood, Jeweled or not. But nobody can see that Jaenelle has any talent at all.

This is more understandable than their assertion that she’s mentally ill because she tells fantastical stories, mind you. Craft is like any other thing one learns, really. You start off basic, and you move to more complex things once you’ve mastered those basics. Jaenelle, though, can’t do the basic stuff, so why would anybody think she could handle anything that required more skill?

Image found on RedditBack in chapter 2, Saetan theorized that for Jaenelle, expecting her to do the small things people tend to start out with is like handing a toddler a pen and expecting them to write well, because it’s small and simple. They won’t be able to do it. They’ll probably have a hard time even holding the pen properly But give them a huge sheet of paper and thick crayons she can wrap her fist around, and suddenly she’s capable of doing something after all. Power, Craft, is like the writing implement. Jaenelle does things with tremendous power, but a lack of finesse, because she’s channeling so much of that power without the learned experience to control and refine it. It’s not that Jaenelle is incapable, not by a long shot. Instead, it’s that learning the most basic things most people start with requires a degree of control that Jaenelle has yet to master.

So to all appearances, Jaenelle would look like she has no talent for Craft at all, because she hasn’t mastered the basics even when she’s done things that make the High Lord of Hell feel a bit faint. And you can’t quite fault a teacher for lack of imagination of dedication in that regard, because really, nobody in their right mind would say, “Well, you can’t manage to light a single candle, so let’s see how you do at creating a fireball big enough to engulf your house.”

But that this attitude is understandable, even sensible from many viewpoints, does not diminish the fact that it’s another sore spot for Jaenelle, one more thing she knows her family just doesn’t understand about her.

~*~

Daemon was sent to Chaillot as a gift, a sex slave for Alexandra to do with as she pleased.

While Alexandra isn’t a cruel woman, not by the standards that Daemon is used to, she definitely wonders about Daemons bedroom skills. She knows his reputation, of course, both the good and the bad. She’s not really sure she wants to dance with the more volatile side of his personality.

But it’s been a long time since she’s had a lover, and women have desires of their own, so she summons Daemon to her bed.

She waited, unwilling to dismiss him, too frightened to demand.

In the end, this scene doesn’t really amount to much. It changes nothing in the story. It could have been edited out and nothing would really have been lost.

But it does serve a purpose, though you have to look a little below the surface for it. In summoning Daemon, in deciding she was going to use him in that manner, she took her first serious step into the trap that Dorothea had set for her. Alexandra may not be a strong Queen, but her continued influence has been helping to stave off Hayll’s conquest of Chaillot. Though Daemon is technically a sex slave, it’s pretty easy to not, you know, demand that he have sex with you. It’s very easy. I’m doing that right now. Witness me not telling anyone to bone me!

Alexandra doesn’t speak a word to Daemon during that short scene, nor he to her, but wordlessly, their positions are reinforced. She holds the power over him. And she will use it to get what she wants, even if what she wants is a passing fancy to be satisfied by an unwilling man.

In that wordless action, Alexandra affirms to Daemon that she, in no way, can be trusted to be his ally.

~*~

Jaenelle returns to Hell after a long absence. Saetan is both pleased to see her, and yet appalled by her appearance, commenting that she looks like she’s been very ill. And yet, for all that, Jaenelle is more concerned with Saetan’s weak leg, as he’s limping again, and offers her blood to help him heal. He tries to refuse, saying that she certainly needs it more than he does, but it occurs to him, almost too late, that Jaenelle’s offer isn’t just because of his leg. That’s part of it, yes, but the other part comes from her fear of rejection.

After spending so long in Briarwood, being told that people like Saetan are just figments of her sick imagination, it’s not surprising that Jaenelle would crave acceptance. Doubly so when so much of Briarwood is about giving men the opportunity to do horribly inappropriate things with young girls, and use the fact that they’re “mentally disturbed” to dismiss any accusations the girls may make. Her own family rejects so much of what Jaenelle is. If Saetan rejected her too, it’s not difficult to imagine that starting Jaenelle on a dangerous slippery slope of hatred and confusion.

Sometimes you have to do things you don’t much like, to avoid even worse consequences.

In the meantime, Jaenelle reveals to Saetan, in no uncertain terms, that she has no idea what a Gate is. A Gate is something people typically move between Realms. That Jaenelle has never seen one before, yet still manages to Realm-hop with ease… It’s best that Saetan not think too hard about it.

Anyway, they go through the Gate to the Hall in Kaeleer, and when Jaenelle is told that’s where they are, she marvels that there really is a Shadow Realm (another term used for Kaeleer). This again gives Saetan pause, because he’s known for years that Jaenelle has friends in Kaeleer, that she’s visited them and talked about them before.

He doesn’t dwell on it much at that moment, but I think it’s worth pointing out that this is a strong indication that Jaenelle, at this point, is actually rather ignorant of what she’s been doing from a very young age. She wasn’t exactly aware that she was crossing to different Realms, nor that such a thing was difficult for most people to do. She knew only that she felt calls from different places, and went to them, and made friends there. They were all, for her, mentally filed under Places I Can Go, and so she didn’t think about them beyond that. For all the ease of her getting there, they might as well have been in Terreille the whole time, and if nobody pointed out that she wasn’t there anymore, how would she have known different?

Jaenelle is a master at doing impossible things just because nobody has told her yet that they’re impossible.

It’s at this point that Jaenelle is introduced to Helene, Housekeeper of the Hall in Kaeleer, and honestly, “introduced” is a very mild word to describe what happens. Jaenelle and Saetan hear approaching footsteps… and suddenly Jaenelle changes from a young girl to a terrifying predator, dark power spiralling inward instead of outward as is typical, the air freezing, and Saetan knows that unless he can pull Jaenelle out of this sudden and baffling protective/aggressive reaction, Helene will die as soon as she walks through the door.

He manages. Barely. He manages to appeal to a sense of Protocol, to the intricate dance of give and take among the Blood, to stay Jaenelle’s hand.

Jaenelle’s justification for this behaviour? Helene was a stranger.

This doesn’t sit right with Saetan. After all, Jaenelle had met and befriended plenty of strangers in her life. And she certainly hadn’t acted so terrifyingly cold to any of them last time Saetan had seen her. This is new. And, Saetan reflects, prompted not by Helene’s arrival, but by the sound of her footsteps echoing down a hallway, an unfamiliar person, and unfamiliar situation. He wonders what could have happened to Jaenelle to connect those things with something that would make her turn so predatory against a stranger, and so protective toward him.

He coaxes Jaenelle into eating a somewhat mountainous offering of food, and once she’s eaten her fill, she offers her a surprise: a suite of rooms he’s had prepared for her. A place for her to stay when she’s at the Hall, a place that’s all hers, to decorate and personalize as she sees fit. Her home away from home, in a manner of speaking.

A locked door connects to another suite of rooms that will eventually be her consort’s. But there’s no need to tell her that now.

aceflagI do wonder sometimes what the Blood would make of asexual people such as myself. I mean, it’s bad enough here, in this world, with people not understanding how I could just… not want to bone people. For a culture where so much revolves around sexuality, and in a much deeper way than it often does in this world, I feel like the idea that I don’t feel much sexual attraction at all would just baffle people on some fundamental level.

And yet, as I said in my introduction-to-this-deep-dive post ages ago, Daemon is the very definition of demisexual, which isn’t exactly a typical sexual presentation either. And a certain character is introduced later who is established to not have a sexual interest in men; most people interpret her as being attracted to women, though personally, I prefer to think she’s as asexual as I am. Absolutely nothing in the books contradicts either interpretation. It’s presented as an oddity, but she’s not hurting anyone, she’s not lacking anything in her life because of it, and aside from a necessary Virgin Night, it doesn’t really matter. She is who she is, and people accept that, even if they may not understand it entirely.

~*~

After Jaenelle has left, Saetan goes seeking some new names that Jaenelle casually dropped in conversation, and stumbles across Jaenelle’s family. At least, he thinks it’s her family. There are strong hints, but it’s impossible to be entirely sure, because Jaenelle is not registered as Blood, even though they find that Wilhelmina definitely is.

There’s confusion about this until Saetan bitterly reflects that a family might see no point in registering a child as Blood if they’re not even strong enough to wear a Jewel.

And Jaenelle’s family definitely think she’s not strong enough for a Jewel. Or to handle basic Craft. Nor do they take any of her claims about her abilities remotely seriously.

Saetan does ask the Keep’s librarian and Seneschal if they know anything about the Blood spiraling inward to their core, the way Jaenelle did. It’s unusual, since most of the time, power radiates outward, often as a warning to any who might approach, to tell them that there’s someone nearby who shouldn’t be messed with. An inward spiral, though, is strange, and something Saetan has never encountered before.

Draca, the Keep’s Seneschal, of ancient and reptilian descend, has indeed heard of it, and explains it to Saetan with, of all things, a container of water and some sequins.

Draca’s demonstration not only ends up answering Saetan’s question, but gives the reader a more complete understanding of how the Blood relate to and access their power. When Draca slowly lowers a stone into the water, that’s how most Blood reach their power, however deep that power might be. The sequins (representing the Blood in the surrounding area) in the water don’t react, because there’s control. If someone makes a fast or uncontrolled dive to their core, there are ripples in the water, the sequins react, they move about, and some end up sinking due to the disturbance. It’s fast, it’s messy, and there’s backlash, but it can still be done is the need is great.

Then comes the spiral. The stone descends in the water in a circular motion, creating ripples, catching sequins in its wake, causing disruption all around as a miniature whirlpool is created in the tank. No sequin escapes, everything is caught up in the disturbance caused by the person who spirals down to their core. The stone’s final ascent out of the water pulls some sequins along with it, removing them from the tank entirely. In the end, devastation is what remains.

Draca says that the Blood don’t spiral. Isn’t Jaenelle Blood, though?

“Sshe iss Blood, and sshe iss Other.”

Jaenelle may be Blood, but she is also Witch, something that, by necessity, stands a bit apart from the Blood. The usual rules don’t always apply to her. Her very nature is different from those around her, and no matter how much they love and accept her, there is a part of her that will always be somewhat beyond their comprehension. She is who she is, a part and apart.

And, like the spiraling stone affected the sequins in the water, she has the power to end the Blood.

 

Deep Dive! Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop – Chapter 6

Welcome back to my deep dive exploration of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. This week, we’re looking at chapter 6 of the first novel, Daughter of the Blood. Trigger warning: none explicitly, but mentions of things that tie back to child abuse.

I think it’s fair to say that every post in this series from here on out will have a trigger warning on it. At least for the first book. Later books do contain some dark and heavy content, to be sure, but they’re not quite as bad as the first book.

…Most of the time.

~*~

People sense something coming, some dark energy rolling its way to Chaillot. Something with chilling portents attached to it. Lucivar feels no threat from it. Surreal is disturbed, but content enough that whatever it is isn’t coming for her. Cassandra sees terrifying visions prompted by this feeling.

This dark energy is, of course, Daemon, on his way to the court that Dorothea has decided to assign him to this time. He has no idea what awaits him there.

axeSaetan, meanwhile, has every idea of what awaits Daemon in Chaillot. What he doesn’t know is what Daemon’s reaction will be. Daemon, after all, is an extremely powerful Warlord Prince, complete with a Warlord Prince’s temper and potential for violence, and Saetan has seen all too clearly what a person can be pushed to do when torture or freedom are on the line. Daemon is a threat to Jaenelle, and a threat to all that Saetan holds dear. His heart full of pain at the decision he’s about to make, he sends for an executioner to do the terrible task of killing his son.

Saetan’s honestly one of my favourite characters in this entire series, for a variety of reasons. I’ve wondered before why Saetan didn’t decide to kill Daemon himself here. On one hand, it would of course be really easy to say that he’s because he knows he lacks the power, or because the act would be too painful, and yes, those are good reasons. But Saetan wears Black Jewels just like Daemon does — though Daemon’s are a touch darker, it’s established — and they’re both Warlord Princes, so honestly, in terms of pure power, Saetan would be the best one for the job. He’s no professional killer, but killing is not something that’s unknown to him. And while it would break his heart beyond repair to do it, Saetan also seems like the type to feel that facing his son directly, even if he doesn’t think Daemon would understand the significance, would be more honourable than sending somebody else to do the deed.

Honestly, when I put all the pieces together, it’s another one of those decisions that might well have come about before other aspects of Saetan’s personality had fully formed in Anne Bishop’s mind. Bishop works wonders with creating the world and the layers of society within it, but it’s not like everything is flawless. Nothing ever is.

Frankly, I want to see an alternate spin-off in which Saetan does decide to face Daemon directly, and they’re forced to confront each other and themselves over the issue. It could well be that this is exactly why Bishop chose to have Saetan choose someone else, though. If she did know the characters fully at this early stage of the trilogy, she might have been very well aware that Saetan personally taking a hand in the matter might have thrown off the entire course of the story she wanted to write. Sometimes authors bend to the whims of their characters, sometimes characters bend to the whims of their authors.

~*~

Daemon arrives in the city of Beldon Mor, in Chaillot. He thinks to himself, while getting a short tour of the city, that it must have been a lovely place some decades ago, but now it feels to him like in a few decades more, it will be nothing but a younger copy of Hayll’s capital city, complete with all the things that annoy him. No place can stand in Hayll’s shadow for too long without succumbing to its influence.

Sometimes I wonder just how much Daemon knows that he’s part of that. He’s not a foolish person, he’s sharp and intelligent and has had centuries to figure things out. He gets sent to places Dorothea wants worn down. Ostensibly a gift due to his sexual reputation, people are usually somewhat pleased to have him there, at least to a degree. But the volatility of his temper also makes him dangerous, often deadly, and who else would a frightened Queen turn to than the person who loaned Daemon out to her in the first place: Dorothea. Dorothea can control Daemon as much as anyone can, and Dorothea can take back her gift and remove the threat, and who wouldn’t be grateful for that sort of kindness, especially if they don’t know that Dorothea sent Daemon as a double-edged sword in the first place?

It would be easy to say that Daemon could undo Dorothea’s plans by just being kind to people. But that implies that he’s not kind, and he very often is. He’s just kind to the people who are kind to him. And to people who are downtrodden and abused and unappreciated, people who are beneath notice until someone decides to abuse them. And it’s beyond unfair to expect Daemon to be kind and gentle to those who want to abuse him, to use him as a glorified sex toy.

It’s a vicious cycle that has no easy solution.

But this trip, Daemon suddenly notices, promises to be different from other times. Because suddenly, he senses her presence.

He has no idea who she is, no idea what she has to do with this place, but she’s there, and that makes Daemon suddenly very interested in sticking around for a long time.

There are two men Daemon is introduced to: Philip Alexander, who doesn’t get much in the way of character development so far; and Robert Benedict, who immediately comes off as a creep.

Then there are the three women of the house. Alexandra Angelline is the Queen of Chaillot, ultimately the woman’s he’s been sent to temporarily serve, though it’s not like other women can’t request the use of Daemon, er, services. Alexandra is the one who has largely resisted Dorothea’s advances on Chaillot, though there are signs that her resolve is weakening; Dorothea’s desire to eliminate strong rivals shows in Alexandra’s incomplete training as a Black Widow; had Alexandra been both a Queen and a trained Black Widow, she would have been a bigger threat to Dorothea in the end. Not much of a bigger threat, mind, since Dorothea has plenty of power at her disposal, but enough to make people fearful and to actively try to keep Dorothea’s attention away from them. If that meant weakening one of their own assets in order to appear less threatening, then so be it.

It makes you regret never knowing what kind of woman Alexandra could have been, had Dorothea not held so much power and influence across so much territory.

Leland Benedict , Alexandra’s daughter and Robert’s wife, doesn’t make too much of an impression of Daemon, except to make him a bit wary of her shyness.

The ones who began shyly curious tended to become the crudest and most vindictive once they discovered what kind of pleasure he could provide.

Then there’s Wilhelmina, just barely a teenager, poised to become rather beautiful when she reaches full maturity. Daemon notes that she looks rather underfed, though, and too thin, and we get a little more info about Blood physiology. Darker Jewels might be linked to greater power, but that power isn’t without a price, and it needs nurturing and feeding. The darker the Jewels, the more drain they place on a person. Someone with dark Jewels can drink someone under the table as their bodies burn off the alcohol with ease, and they need more food to properly nourish themselves.

Daemon wonders if her Jewels are darker than most of the women in her family wear, so they might not realize the demands her own metabolism are making on her body. Menstruation causes women to have different needs than men, so maybe men can be forgiven for not seeing it, but honestly, I’m not letting that one slip by. Philip wears the Grey. He might not realize the additional demands on a woman compared to a man, but if Daemon can recognize it without personally having a period, then Philip ought to be able to see it too.

Then again, I suppose he may, but he might not be in much of a position to do anything about it.

But more importantly, at least to Daemon, is that none of these women are the presence he still senses, the presence he seeks. None of them are Witch.

That night, he wonders just who Witch is, where she might be. He still senses her, he knows she’s still in Beldon Mor, or at least came there often enough to leave a psychic trace. But he knows nothing but that. Not her name, not her exact location, not her age…

Sweet Darkness, heed the prayer of one of your sons. Now that she’s so close, let her be young enough to want me. Let her be young enough to need me.

As the days pass, he searches the house for signs of her, goes everywhere he’s allowed and even a few places he probably shouldn’t be, and yet his search is mostly fruitless. Until he finds a mostly disused library on the second floor of the house. Her psychic scent is strong in there, but it puzzles Daemon, because while he finds that “dark, sweet scent” enticing, it also lacks a certain muskiness that witches tend to have, one that Blood males often find quite arousing.

Confused, Daemon at least is sure that she visits there often, that she must live in this house. But the only place he hasn’t looked by that point is the nursery, which seems an odd term these days to apply to the area of the house where a teenager and her governess live, but eh, fancy high-falutin’ places gotta have fancy high-falutin’ names. He’s been told that area is off-limits to him, because what use could children have for a sex slave, but Daemon decides to break the rules and go there anyway, to check for more signs that Witch is near. He doesn’t want to invade anyone’s privacy, but he’s running out of places to search, and the need to find her is strong.

Then, in the very last room he checks, her scent washes over him in an unmistakable way. It’s like someone has tried to clean it away, but it can’t quite be eliminated. He worries that the owner of the room will be angry at his intrusion, since his very male psychic scent will be obvious to anyone that walks in, but that’s not enough to stop him.

And he’s even more confused when he enters a room that is very obviously made for a young girl. There’s no child there, but he’s intruding on a child’s space, and he feels an unseen presence in that room that is not pleased at the intrusion. He apologizes and leaves, hoping he didn’t make a grave error in judgment.

And contemplates how the pieces of this puzzle aren’t adding up. Witch’s psychic scent wasn’t on anything childlike, like toys, but it was on the bed, on clothes. He was previously told that there was another child in the family, a girl who was ill and wasn’t there, and Daemon wonders if the woman he seeks is a Healer and companion to this absent sick child. He can’t be sure. All he can do is wonder, and wait.

~*~

We switch our point of view back to Surreal now, who hasn’t played much of a part in the story up to this point. I remember when I first read this book, I wondered what the point of her character even was, since everybody else seemed tied to Jaenelle in some way, an obvious way, but Surreal was just… there. Living her life, without any connection to Jaenelle at all. She knew Daemon, but they’d had a falling out. She has an interesting history, but aside from her dead mother talking to Saetan in one scene, there wasn’t even much of a tie to other characters. Why was Surreal even in this story?

Honestly, as far as “purpose” goes, Surreal… doesn’t really have one. She’s a great character, I enjoy reading from her perspective, and she plays a part in the story, but she doesn’t do much that couldn’t be done by somebody else. It puts her in a weird position, honestly. Far be it for me to say that a female character needs some sort of special purpose in a story, but I don’t think it’s wrong to say that any character needs a purpose in the story, regardless of gender. Especially a major character that shows up and gets as much development as Surreal. Pretty much the entirety of her character arc could be told in a stand-alone side-story, and not much in the core trilogy would really change. It’s kind of odd that Surreal largely seems like an accessory to a lot of the male characters in the Black Jewels trilogy.

Which, honestly, happens that novels with this kind of representation are a dime a dozen. This would be unremarkable, were it not for one little thing:

This whole series is about a matriarchal society, was written by a woman, and has so many strong women in the story. Surreal is a strong character, but what she adds to this particular story is very small compared to other characters who spend as much time on the pages as she does. It’s so weird.

Anyway, Surreal does do things, so let’s go over what she’s doing in this section of the story.

Surreal fancied a nice long walk to see a Sanctuary known as Cassandra’s Altar, but was disappointed to see that it was basically just a ruin. It makes her reflect on her long lifespan, and how more likely than not, she’s going to see things crumble and turn to dust and end up remembering things from her youth that shorter-lived races wipe from their history entirely. It’s sobering, if nothing else.

But the Sanctuary isn’t empty, though it’s in poor repair. A Priestess is there, who offers Surreal guidance. It’s after Surreal looks inside herself and asks to know who her mother’s people were that she begins to see the Sanctuary not as a ruin, but as a place that somewhat sneakily holds a lot of power, and is more significant than she gave it credit for at first glance. The Priestess mentions a price, but refuses to take Surreal’s coin.

The Priestess leads Surreal deeper into the Sanctuary, to her kitchen, which looks far more well-tended than the outer area. Almost like this particular woman didn’t want to draw too much attention to herself or her living space, leaving the surface to decay while she lived comfortably within. Random bits of exposition get dropped, such as a comment about how there are 13 Dark Altars in the Realm of Terreille. No purpose to this except to give a little more information to the reader, really.

Anyway, the Priestess (who is Cassandra, I should say; it’s decently obvious in the text itself, though I was being a bit vague on her identity for a bit due to Surreal’s point of view), says that she can tell Surreal some information about her mother’s people, but the price is information in kind. She wants to know Daemon’s exact whereabouts within Chaillot. Surreal balks at this, because you don’t mess around where Daemon is concerned, even if it’s just about finding his location. Cassandra says she’s certain Daemon’s around Beldon Mor, but for reasons she refuses to elaborate on, she can’t go near the city herself, so she cannot be sure.

Surreal presses for information on why Daemon’s location is so important, and Cassandra reluctantly admits that Daemon might have been sent to kill a certain special child, and she doesn’t want to see that happen. Surreal handwaves the concern by saying that Daemon wouldn’t hurt a child, but Cassandra points out that he might be forced to, if someone who holds Daemon’s leash (ie, Dorothea) wants this child dead.

Which makes Surreal start to wonder just what she’s stumbled across. She came here to rest and recuperate from stress and nightmares, and she’s found herself in a situation where there’s some child powerful or important enough not only for Dorothea to possibly consider a threat, but to possible send Daemon to do the deed. This is far above her pay grade, and she knows it.

Surreal leaves the Sanctuary without any of the information or peace she sought, saying she’d return if and when she got the required information about Daemon. She makes no promises. She’s too smart for that.

~*~

The executioner that Saetan sent to kill Daemon returns, only to beg Saetan’s forgiveness. He could not do what he was hired to do. He could not kill Daemon. Not because Daemon was too powerful to be defeated, or too careful to be found, but because he’s currently within a city surrounded by a psychic mist that Guardians and demon-dead cannot penetrate.

A mist that Saetan knows well, since it’s the same mist he earlier discovered hiding and protecting Jaenelle from discovery. Not because Jaenelle fears Saetan or people like him,  but because (or so Saetan thinks) Jaenelle fears that something in her life might cause her relationship with Saetan to snap if he ever found out about it. Saetan knows that the mist surrounds Beldon Mor, but that’s as close as he can come to discovering Jaenelle’s exact location.

Regardless, Daemon is safe, provided he remains within Beldon Mor.

~*~

Daemon is rather good at making friends with servants. It’s not surprising. They tend to fear him at first, like anyone who knows his reputation or at least can sense the depth of his power, but since he’s generally nice and polite to them (and isn’t forced to serve them), he typically gets along with them pretty well. It’s easy to forget that Daemon is more than temper and power and reputation, until you see scenes with him interacting with servants. Then he goes from someone you might need protection from, to someone you’d go to for protection.

I kinda love that about him.

Part of Daemon’s new life in Beldon Mor involves general escort duties for Leland, but Leland suggests that he start to take walks with Wilhelmina. Wilhelmina, you see, if unreasonably terrified of men, and Leland thinks that if she gets used to a Ringed man, someone who won’t hurt her, she’ll get over that fear.

It says a lot that it’s not considered odd for the only non-threatening male presence to be one that is a slave who can be put through excruciating pain if he should transgress. Now yes, it has already been established that before a woman loses her virginity, she’s at risk from the men around her, because they could all too easily break her and rob her of any power she might have otherwise held or gained. Women in this world typically have safe escorts to keep unwanted male attention and advances at bay, and it’s not because women are the weaker sex who can’t handle themselves, but because women need to be kept safe to reach the potential they’re born to hold. So it makes a degree of sense that the family can’t just assign any random servant to escort Wilhelmina on her walks, because they need to be trusted to a very high degree. And family members, who are typically seen as safe escorts, aren’t always available.

But still. “You’re safe because if anything happens to her, if you do anything to her, you’re an object that has no real rights and I/we can punish you,” shouldn’t be the prime reason someone is safe.

But this is the world that Dorothea has helped create, slowly and subtly, over the centuries. A world in which women abuse their position over men, men resent it and lash out at women, and women use that violence as justification for their abuses.

BETCHA CAN’T SEE ANY PARALLELS TO THIS IN THE REAL WORLD!

Ahem, outburst aside…

Wilhelmina often walks with Daemon by a certain part of the garden, an overgrown alcove, but she never goes into it. That is, until today, when she works up her courage and tells Daemon that she wants to go there.

Daemon’s heart lurches when he sees what’s in the alcove. A thick bed of red flowers with black-tipped petals, known as witch blood.

Witch blood only grows where a witch’s blood was spilled in violence, or where a witch who met a violent death is buried.

Wilhelmina says that her sister planted all the flowers, for remembrance.

Daemon can easily pick up that strong psychic scent he’s been seeking the source of since he arrived.

There is so much in that small alcove that raises so many questions, and Daemon only gets the answer to one. He asks Wilhelmina where her sister is now, and in tears, Wilhelima says that she’s in a place called Briarwood.

Daemon doesn’t know the significance of that. Saetan does, but he’s not there.

Later, Daemon finds out from the cook that Briarwood is a hospital for emotionally disturbed young girls. That Jaenelle has been going there intermittently since she was five years old, when the family got tired of her stories about unicorns and dragons being real. Since then, her claims have gotten more odd, which just furthers the family’s belief that Jaenelle is unbalanced, and that the imbalance comes from being the only one in the family who doesn’t wear Jewels.

The reader, of course, knows better. Of course Jaenelle wears Jewels. She has 13 Black Jewels, for crying out loud, which is more than a person has ever, in all of history, held. Far more than a child should hold.

But this is where we start reading a bit more between the lines. It’s obvious to us that Jaenelle’s fanciful stories of mythical creatures and “invisible” friends in other realms are true, because we have seen Jaenelle. We’ve seen her in Hell. We’ve seen Saetan verify some of her claims. We’ve seen Jaenelle talk about getting her Jewels.

But this is the first time we see that not only does her family not know she got a Jewel at her Birthright Ceremony, but that they can’t even feel it.

Think about it. The Blood can always tell what Jewel a person wears. Each Jewel has a psychic feeling about it, each person’s strength is tangible. Even if you wear the White and the person next to you wears the Black, you can still tell that. At the very very least, you should at least be able to tell that the person next to you has so much more power than you, that their power is deeper than yours.

Jaenelle’s family cannot even fathom the depth of Jaenelle’s power. It’s like they look into a chasm, and because they cannot see the bottom, they insist the chasm isn’t there. It might almost be kinder to Jaenelle to say that her family is denying that part of her, but they’re not. They can’t even comprehend it. She is so different from them that she has become something almost alien to them in comparison.

There is some part of them that at least acknowledges that alien sensation, though. The way they refuse to tolerate anything from her that doesn’t conform to expectations, the way they’ll send her away, the way Alexandra desperately tried to scrub Jaenelle’s psychic scent from her room even though she couldn’t quite tell exactly what is was she was sensing, only that it made her uncomfortable. Some instinctual part of them knows they’re looking into a deep chasm and is profoundly disturbed by the fact that the bottom is impossibly far beneath them. It makes it easier for them to convince themselves not to even bother looking or trying.

My heart hurts for Jaenelle.

The cook tells Daemon a story about how Healed her granddaughter’s arm after an attack by the family dogs, how the arm should have been still scarred but there wasn’t a mark left on it once Jaenelle was finished. How the boys that set the dogs on the cook’s granddaughter were punished by Philip but praised by Robert for their actions, that the boys themselves kept right on teasing and threatening the girl, but once Jaenelle got involved, nothing the boys could do would make the dogs attack again. Nobody could understand why.

It’s here that Daemon is hit with the full realization that Witch is the absent Jaenelle, that Witch is a child, and what the sweet fancy hell does that mean for him? He tries to reconcile what he knows, tries to come up with some explanation that involves Witch not being a child at that moment, and comes up blank.

He thinks back to Tersa’s warning that Witch’s chalice, her mind, is cracking from pressure within, and he wonders if a child could even wear Jewels as dark as the Black without losing their mind. After all, Witch always wears the Black, and Jaenelle isn’t going to be Witch; she already is Witch. Perhaps Jaenelle is being sent to Briarwood not because she’s inconvenient and an embarrassment to her family, but because she really is emotionally disturbed, unable to handle the depth of her power and her own nature.

There are too many questions, and too few answers. Daemon needs time to adjust to what he’s learned.

And who can blame him?

black-stallion-wallpaperOf course, just when he’s adjusting to the idea that nothing is what he expected, he gets thrown once more by learning that Jaenelle’s favourite horse is a black stallion with a temper, a stallion named Dark Dancer but known better as Demon, a stallion who fights everyone but treats Jaenelle as precious and is as gentle with her as anyone could want.

It’s not just humans who sense and want to care for Witch.

How Long ’til Black Future Month?, by N K Jemisin

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – November 27, 2018

Summary: N. K. Jemisin is one of the most powerful and acclaimed authors of our time. In the first collection of her evocative short fiction, which includes never-before-seen stories, Jemisin equally challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption.

Spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Review: It’s no secret at this point that I absolutely adore Jemisin’s work. She writes the most amazing stories that grab you and don’t let you go, pulling you along and making you hungry to see more layers of the world unfold before you. When people say she is a master of the craft, they’re not exaggerating.

But most of my experience with her work has been long fiction rather than short. It was with great curiosity and pleasure, then, that I eagerly tucked into How Long ’til Black Future Month?

Usually I rate anthologies and collections as less than 5 stars, because inevitably something won’t be quite to my taste, and that’s just part of the process. But seriously, there wasn’t a single story in here that I didn’t enjoy, or didn’t make me feel something, or in some cases, prompted discussion with people who hadn’t even read the story yet! (Seriously, in Red Dirt Witch, a story about a mother protecting her child from making bad deals with a fey, and also discovering that sometimes you have to make way for the people who can build a better future than you can, there was a line about how fey don’t go to Alabama much because of all the iron oxide in the soil. That prompted some research about the red soil on Prince Edward Island — also high in iron oxide — which led to a discussion with my partner about how the fey are linked to artistic creativity and how both of us feeling artistic drained and dead while living on PEI was hypothetically related to the way fey creatures couldn’t be there for long.)

That’s probably an average Saturday night conversation for us, honestly…

L’Alchimista was a fantastic story that left the reader in no doubt of the similarities between cooking and chemistry (and thus, alchemy), and I was left with a burning desire to know more about the future adventures of the characters, because the door was left wide open in that regard. Cloud Dragon Skies seemed like an exploration of science versus spirituality, and the relative “correctness” of either and both at the same time; it’s all about interpretation, and I kind of loved that. Non-Zero Probabilities looked at a world where superstition and belief, luck and ritual, all had tangible effects on the world, and I love reading that kind of story in general.

Valedictorian was one of those stories that left me with some conflicted feelings at the end. There was a lot about it that hit close to home for me. Academia was basically what I lived for for a while, and I was often near the top of my class… until depression hit in late junior high and early high school and I just stopped giving a damn. Pushing to be the best was, for a while, all I had for myself. I didn’t fit in, I didn’t really have many friends, and good grades were the only way I could convince myself and others that I was worthwhile. It wasn’t until later on in life that I began to really understand how some people would rather have seen me put less effort into school and more effort into almost anything else, because that would have made me more normal, made me fit in more with my peers. Not because I would have found something else to be passionate about, but because I would have been just a bit less of a freak that didn’t belong. Zinhle’s realization that when push came to shove, nobody would fight for her to stay, nobody would recognize her potential and her uses and all the things she could become, and they would just let her be taken away because that was just how things were done… It felt very familiar. I didn’t grow up in a dystopian world where the bottom 10% of achievers (plus the top achiever) were taken away by outside forces, no, but there was still much about this story that hit hard for me, and I suspect probably hit hard for a lot of people who, at some point in their lives, defined themselves by the good grades they got.

And then there was The Narcomancer, which was actually the very first thing I had ever read that Jemisin had written. It was years ago, I think it was on tor.com at the time, and it was before I knew anything else about the author. I thought Jemisin was a man, because unless an author had an obviously female name, I just kind of assumed they were male at the time. (The ploy of writing under one’s initials only is apparently pretty effective after all!) But this was my introduction to her work, and once I’d finished reading it, I had to sit and let it all sink in for a time, let the story and the hints of a larger world wash over me, and when the storm cleared, I knew I wanted more. I heard about a novel she’d written, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (reviewed here, but be warned, this is a very old review…), and I knew right then that I had to read it. The Narcomancer was the story that got me hooked to begin with, and it was wonderful to read it again after all these years and to remember the feelings that came along with the first reading.

If you’re a fan of Jemisin’s work, you need to read this short story collection. If you’re not a fan of her work yet, you probably will be after reading this. She constructs her stories and worlds on levels that I can only hope to aspire to as a writer, and that I appreciate immensely as a reader. Some of her stories remind me of Jo Walton’s short stories, as a matter of fact: they both seem very capable of turning idle thought experiments into brilliant pieces of fiction that entice and engage the reader, and How Long ’til Black Future Month? is a shining example of Jemisin’s skill with the written word. You’re doing yourself a great disservice if you choose to pass this one by.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

Looking Back and Forward (2018-2019)

2018 was… a year. It had a number of ups and downs, and honestly, the downs were large enough to leave a very bitter taste in my mouth about the year as a whole. (For a general summary of the massive upheaval I had to deal with this summer, read this post.) I did start reviewing again, which is something, and I have my health, such as it is, but honestly, as far as I’m concerned, I want to put 2018 behind me and try to move forward. I lost a lot this past year, and I’d like to spend 2019 improving rather than trying to barely keep my head above water.

I mean come on, for the first time in years, I couldn’t even manage to achieve my reading goals. And I set fairly reasonable ones. A book a week. 52 books. I just barely made it to 49.

But that was still 49 books, which is better than no books at all, so I thought I’d take a minute to do a quick accounting books (along with links to any reviews I’ve written for them, even if I didn’t write them in 2018).

Read in 2018

Marked in Flesh, by Anne Bishop
Etched in Bone, by Anne Bishop
Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop
Heir to the Shadows, by Anne Bishop
Queen of the Darkness, by Anne Bishop
The Invisible Ring, by Anne Bishop
Dreams Made Flesh, by Anne Bishop
Tangled Webs, by Anne Bishop
The Shadow Queen, by Anne Bishop
Shalador’s Lady, by Anne Bishop
Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell
Autoboyography, by Christina Lauren
Owlknight, by Mercedes Lackey
Exile’s Honor, by Mercedes Lackey
Exile’s Valor, by Mercedes Lackey
Vampire’s Kiss, by Sonny Barker
Among Others, by Jo Walton
Starlings, by Jo Walton
A Darker Shade of Magic, by V E Schwab
A Gathering of Shadows, by V E Schwab
United States of Japan, by Peter Tieryas
The Whitefire Crossing, by Courtney Schafer
First Nations in the Twenty-First Century, by James S Frideres
Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
I Hear the Sunspot, volume 1, by Fumino Yuki
The Girl With Ghost Eyes, by M H Boroson
Japanland, by Karin Muller
Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
My Brother’s Husband, by Tagame Gengoroh
Shards and Ashes, by various authors
My Real Name is Hanna, by Tara Lynn Masih
Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard
Head On, by John Scalzi
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
Invitation to the Game, by Monica Hughes
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography, by Ota Hisashi
Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
Son of Rosemary, by Ira Levin
The Gathering Storm, by Robin Bridges
In the Vanishers’ Palace, by Aliette de Bodard
City of Brass, by S  A Chakraborty
The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
The Copper Promise, by Jen Williams
Jade City, by Fonda Lee

Yeah, I read a lot of Anne Bishop last year. And a lot of comfort rereads. Like I said, 2018 was a year. Some of the books that haven’t been reviewed yet will be reviewed in the future, too, so keep an eye out for them.

So what about this coming year? What do I want to do for Bibliotropic in 2019?

I’ve set my reading goals at another 52 books, 1 per week, and with luck I’ll actually be able to manage that this time. Fingers crossed, anyway.

I plan to continue the deep dive posts for Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels, the in-depth chapter-by-chapter look at a series that has become more comforting to me than I ever would have expected, and that I think is a sorely underappreciated dark fantasy series. Especially once you get past the sheer trauma of the first novel, anyway.

There are some books that I’d like to re-review, too. Opinions and tastes change over time, as do critique skills, and honestly, some of my early reviews are sheer crap. Some I don’t link to on my Reviews page, and others I removed from the blog entirely. There are some books, though, that I think could stand a fresh look, and a new review written for them, and I’m looking forward to taking that step back in order to look at some old things with more experienced eyes.

Really, that’s about it. 3 projects, and 1 of those projects is just continuing to run this blog and write reviews for it. Given that I’ve still been dealing with mental and physical health problems, I think that’s enough to be dealing with right now. Maybe things will improve in the future and I’ll take on more projects, maybe not. But at the moment, those are my plans for the upcoming year, and I’m looking forward to making blogging and review a more active part of my life once again.

Thank you for your patience while I sort out the muddled mess that is my life, and for your continued support. It means a lot. I’ll stand by all of you, too, in the days ahead.

Holiday Hiatus

This time of year is busy, stressful, and full of emotions. So, I need to remove at least one thing from my plate. Sorry.

I’ll be back in 2019 with new posts and whatnot. Just need a little time with a little less stress. Thanks for being understanding.

Deep Dive! Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop – Chapter 5

Welcome back to my deep dive exploration of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. This week, we’re looking at chapter 5 of the first novel, Daughter of the Blood. Trigger warning: Child abuse, sexual abuse, rape, torture.

Daemon has returned to Dorothea’s court, much to the annoyance of his cousin, Kartane SaDiablo. The two of them are not on the best terms, which is something that Kartane bitterly regrets. As a child, Kartane had been close to the older Daemon, with Daemon acting as a sort of protector and companion for Kartane. Kartane saw the kind of torture that Daemon endured as a slave, as a man who was forced to wear the Ring of Obedience, and vowed that he wouldn’t do anything to put himself in such a position.

It was with this in mind that he was forced to service his own mother in bed, submitting to her demands after she threatens to Ring him as she Ringed Daemon. This treatment continued for years, giving Kartane ample time to discover that he preferred having power over other people instead of them having power over him. He developed a taste for breaking women, raping them and robbing them of any power they may once have had or grown into.

Daemon, naturally, found out about Kartane’s activities and tore a proverbial strip off him. Kartane responded by saying he didn’t have to listen to a bastard’s words.

And with that, the friendship they had was broken.

As powerfully disturbing as this section of the book is, it’s notable for 2 things, relating to how the Blood work. The first is the description of when Blood get angry. There are two types of anger, we’re told: hot and cold. Hot anger is emotion, passion, arguments that could make or break relationships, but still superficial compared to cold anger. Cold anger is described as the anger of the Jewels, an icy violence that comes from a person’s core, their very fundamental selves.

Needless to say, Daemon is utterly terrifying when he goes cold. And he has gone that way often enough. He gets pushed too far, that one step over the edge, and that’s usually when the body count rises. Daemon went cold in the previous chapter, when he killed the witch who demanded his service after his conversation with Lucivar.

The second thing we learn is off less consequence in the story, but very much of consequence to Blood women. If a woman is broken, as we see that Surreal’s mother was in chapter 2 and what nearly happened to Surreal herself (for all intents and purposes, breaking a woman typically involves abject carelessness or malicious cruelty in taking her virginity, which pushes her past her limits and sends her crashing into her core, shattering the part of herself that gives her access to her power and Craft), she can only ever bear one child: the child of that fateful encounter. It’s a vicious system, and it seems incredibly cruel and pointless.

And honestly, it is cruel and pointless. It’s established in these books that for all that Blood society is meant to be matriarchal and women rule above men, men can still hold a lot of power over a woman, especially if she’s young and hasn’t had her Virgin Night yet. (I still figure it should be called an unVirgin Night, but that’s just me…) The kind of power men can hold has been abused, twisted out of fear, and adds to the corruption of Blood society. But that would remain true whether or not a woman who has been broken can have children in the future or not. This is some weird quirk of biology for the Blood, nature itself declaring, “It’s not like you had enough trauma in your life, so now if you ever want kids, it’s this one or none at all.”

Frankly, there’s no point to it except to attempt to tug at heartstrings and incite anger from the reader. And just as frankly, this series has plenty of material that can do those jobs even better. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what else lies ahead in these books, and while thankfully there’s nothing in here that insinuates that women aren’t real women unless they also become mothers, this, I feel, skirts perilously close to pointless pity.

~*~

When Daemon returns to Dorothea’s mansion, he’s greeted by his mother. Or rather, by Hepsabah, the woman he spent his life thinking was his mother. He reflects for a moment on the unfairness of Hepsabah wearing a silk dress why Tersa, his real mother, wears tattered rags, and then his reflection turns to anger as he understands that, once again, Hepsabah wants Daemon in bed.

That she’s been posing as his mother the whole time hasn’t stopped her from wanting him.

If you didn’t feel bad for Daemon before, you do now. Though it’s not like Dorothea’s mansion, and the people who live within it, could ever be particularly welcoming or comfortable for Daemon, you might think that the woman pretending to be his mother for entire centuries could keep her skirts down around him. But no. Daemon is bombarded with demands even from her, demands that confused and angered him for years, and now merely anger him.

He wants to be free from Dorothea, her influence, and the Ring that is used to cause him so much pain.

And he thinks he might know a way to accomplish that.

~*~

Daemon and Kartane are going to be guests at Dorothea’s chosen entertainment that night, along with dozens of women. The entertainment? Why, a man will be castrated before their very eyes! It’s not punishment for a crime or transgression. Dorothea admits she just felt like castrating him.

They call it shaving.

Daemon affects an air of boredom, warning Kartane quietly that he more he reacts, the longer the act will take, and if they’re both lucky, they’ll only have to watch and neither of them will be shaved alongside the hapless victim Dorothea chose. It’s a message to both of them, to behave or else they might find themselves as similar entertainment some night.

Kartane reflects that the roar of approval from the crowd of women is more gleefully malicious than the roars of men he’s heard at cockfights or dogfights. Every woman there is out for the blood of a man who has done nothing wrong, save call Dorothea’s attention on him one too many times.

It’s worth taking a moment to point out here just how very sexually-driven Blood society is. The first time I read this book, it was annoying. Everything’s spear this and distaff that, sexytimes everywhere, absolutely everything coming back to sexuality or genitals. It seemed juvenile, like some scaled-up-for-adults version of a fart joke. It was so easy to forget, in a lot of ways, that the Blood aren’t like me, or you, or anybody reading these books or these posts. That excuses it to a degree, because their world, their society, differs in many ways from the society I live in. So as annoying as that focus can be sometimes, I got used to it after a while.

But with sexuality being so central to Blood life, imagine what it must mean, then, to be shaved. A full shave, as it’s terms, involves just completely cutting off the penis and testicles. Such men are called the brotherhood of the quill, so named because they must use a feather shaft to pee properly. Imagine, though, what that must mean for a Blood man. In a society so sexually driven and sexually defined, the loss of one’s genitals is appalling. You may as well equate it to literally losing your face, here. Yes, you will still be alive, but so much of what society judges you on has been lost, taken from you. It is, in some ways, akin to losing a part of your very identity.

That Dorothea and her coven would do this for horrific entertainment enrages Kartane. To him, it justifies every rape, every horrible thing he’s ever done to women, ruining them so that they can’t grow up to become the foul things that would cheerfully ruin him without a second thought. Take over and make it so that men ruled instead of women, because look at what women ruling has done.

But then, before the literal hackjob can conclude, the tortured man faints. The Healer present panics, swearing she gave him a potion to keep him awake so that he’s feel all the torture. It’s not said directly, but it’s strongly implied that Daemon skillfully and sneakily used a little of his own psychic power to knock the poor man unconscious so that he no longer had to be aware of all that was being done to him.

~*~

Dorothea threatens Daemon. She threatens him with whipping; he doesn’t much care. She threatens him with shaving, but he points out that he won’t be much good rented out as a sex slave if she did that.

And here we really get to one of the things I like most about Daemon. For all that he, well, services women… he doesn’t use his penis. Nobody has ever even seen him get an erection. For all anyone knows, he can’t. It was already previously mentioned that Dorothea is passing Daemon around from court to court, hoping that it will wear him down to the point where he submits to her in bed and she can breed him (it is so disturbing to talk about a person, even a fictional character, in this way, by the way…), but that’s not going to happen with a flaccid peenie.

But there’s more to it than just that.

“That’s why you won’t shave me, Dorothea.” His silky voice roughened with disgust. “There’s always a chance, isn’t there, that someday I’ll catch fire, that the hunger will become unbearable and I’ll come crawling to you for whatever release you’ll grant me.”

Dorothea wants Daemon to want her. The man who doesn’t seem to want anyone. She hopes, and she even begs him, and then gets angry at herself for making a fool of herself in front of him. He pushes her just a little bit further, until she orders him out.

At which point she beats her fists on the floor like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

This is another thing that really frustrated me when I was first reading Daughter of the Blood, and be honest, it still frustrates me right now. Dorothea is centuries old. She’s a grown woman. She may be a bit emotionally volatile, as a lot of people are when they have the power to do what they want on a whim, but this? It seems utterly ridiculous that she throws a flailing fit because Daemon pushes her buttons a bit.

I’ve had debates over this with other people. Some have argued that Dorothea’s emotional instability and tantrum stem from the corruption that she fostered within the Blood. Everything’s off-balance, including her, so that emotions feel more raw and heightened and she has less control over how she expresses them. Some have argued that it’s a sign of her true nature, that she’s innately selfish and childish, grasping for what she can’t have and then throwing a fit when she can’t have it.

Myself, I don’t find that either of these explanations tally with what we see of Dorothea at other moments. Even when her torture victim fainted and her “entertainment” was ruined, she merely yelled at somebody and then flounced out of the room. Immature, yes. Volatile, yes. But comparable to this? No. Remember, she’s been trying to wear Daemon down for centuries: either she’s learned some control over all that time, or else every reaction should be more of an overreaction. Instead, she acts like an emotional tyrant most of the time, only with Daemon, here, she acts like a bratty 3-year-old. It just doesn’t seem to fit, and it bothers me.

~*~

Meanwhile, Kartane decides to flee before he catches Dorothea’s attention again. Where does he decide to go? Chaillot. There’s a place set up there, a fake hospital for “high-strung aristo girls,” where he knows he can sate his darker desires without anyone telling him no…

~*~

Hekatah has learned that Saetan refurbished the Hall, and is… curious as to why she wasn’t invited back there to live. After all, when she was married to Saetan, she lived there once. And she drops hints that it would be a good idea for her to live there again, that Saetan will need a woman around, for the child she expects will live there.

She has heard of Jaenelle.

But Saetan guards his secrets. The most he admits is that he’s accepted a contract to tutor a young girl, because he’s bored and she amuses him. Truth, mostly, but it hides his true intentions and his relationship to Jaenelle well enough.

Hekatah is at the heart of all things wrong with these books, and early hints are already being dropped. She wants control of all the realms, and she’s using Dorothea, who she regains with no small degree of disdain, to weaken Terreille until Hekatah can take over. She had a hand in making sure that Saetan sired Daemon and Lucivar, and now has great leverage over all three of them with her knowledge. It was Hekatah who made sure that Saetan was denied paternity of Daemon, ensuring that Saetan played no more part in Daemon’s upbringing.

Of course, by the time that happened, it was too late, and Saetan had already exerted his influence over his son, teaching him honour and justice and all the other things that are such a pain when you’re trying to break and twist a person in order to use them however you want.

And now Hekatah might be too late again, too late to use the Dark power she’d sensed five years ago, too late to get to it before Saetan had.

But she still has options. Daemon is powerful, after all, powerful enough to potentially even stand against Saetan, and if Hekatah were to offer him 100 years of relative freedom, a century of not being made to serve, just for the minor inconvenience of killing some random little girl… Well, what man wouldn’t take such a tempting offer?

How little she knows Daemon.

~*~

Daemon returns to his room to find a naked woman in his bed.

Daemon throws her clothes, the bedclothes, the bed, and the woman into the hallway. Violently.

This one encounter was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Centuries of being used, abused, given no agency or privacy or anything but what he could painfully carve out for himself (which was usually only taken away again), has finally broken Daemon, pushed him past that line and over the edge.

Daemon has gone utterly cold. And might well be sliding into the Twisted Kingdom, losing his self and sanity after so much abuse.

Dorothea does the only thing she can do: she goes to see Hekatah. It was Hekatah who helped her maneuver Daemon where he is today, and it should be Hekatah who comes up with the solution to the problems that position has caused. Daemon has been spending the days disposing of men who cross the line and try to abuse young women, and word is spreading, and sympathy is growing for the man who will help the downtrodden. Dorothea can’t have this.

Hekatah does have a solution, fortunately. Send Daemon away. Send him to a place far away, where he can wear down a Queen who has been resistant to Hayll’s advances until now. Daemon might see it as both a punishment and a reprieve (he’ll be away from Hayll, and from Dorothea, but he’ll still be in service to somebody), and if his temper snaps and he ends up killing anyone who has been in Dorothea’s way, well, all the better.

Dorothea has just the perfect place in mind.

Chaillot.

The Copper Promise, by Jen Williams

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – July 5, 2016

Summary: There are some tall stories about the caverns beneath the Citadel – about magic and mages and monsters and gods. Wydrin of Crosshaven has heard them all, but she’s spent long enough trawling caverns and taverns with her companion Sir Sebastian to learn that there’s no money to be made in chasing rumours.

But then a crippled nobleman with a dead man’s name offers them a job: exploring the Citadel’s darkest depths. It sounds like just another quest with gold and adventure …if they’re lucky, they might even have a tale of their own to tell once it’s over.

These reckless adventurers will soon learn that sometimes there is truth in rumour. Sometimes a story can save your life.

Review: What do an exiled religious warrior, a sassy woman of dubious moral character, and a deposed nobleman hungry for power all have in common? Oh, just saving the world from certain doom!

That’s the quickest basic pitch I can think of for The Copper Promise, and even then, it falls far short of what’s actually delivered. The novel starts off with Frith, a man of nobel birth whose entire family was slaughtered and who was tortured in an effort to find his family secret vault of riches, approaching a small band of adventurers with a proposition: explore the Citadel, the place where Mages went down imprisoning the last of the gods, in order to find treasure, fame, and oh, probably enough power to ensure that you can take back your family seat from the demon-worshiping tyrant who took it from you.

They accidentally free a dragon.

Who is the last of the gods.

They also free that dragon’s brood of insatiable offspring, who kill as easily as they breathe.

So, how was your Monday?

I’ll say this for nothing: Jen Williams knows how to write a tight combination of interesting characters and good action. I don’t think there was a moment of this book that felt dull, even when the characters were all separated for a while and doing their own thing. They all felt so distinct and so fully realised that even when main story was slowed a touch, I enjoyed reading what everyone was up to in the meantime. Especially Wydrin, but I mean, really, Wydrin is so very entertaining that it’s hard to not enjoy reading the sections from her perspective. She’s quick-witty and fiery and though I called her a “sassy woman of dubious morals” earlier, she does in fact have a pretty strong moral compass. It’s just that her morals are her own, not always constrained by what society (or even her own companions) would always deem appropriate. But you can’t accuse her of only being out for number one, since loyalty is one of her strongest traits, and I love that about her.

One of the themes I appreciated the most through this novel is how words have power. There’s the obvious way, since magic is summoned and controlled by words in this fantasy world, but even aside from that, the everyday words we use for communication have power to them too, and one of the characters states that outright at one point. The words we use to communicate concepts to each other might not be magic, per se, but what we say has effects on the world, altering people’s perceptions, changing how others do things, and if that’s not powerful, then nothing is.

Add to that the fact that Y’Ruen’s army started to understand the world they were interacting with through words, via their connection to Sebastian’s blood. Without going too deep into that story arc or delivering too many spoilers, certain members of the brood army started encountering words, and slowly uncovered their meanings, and in doing so, started to appreciate the concepts those words held and what they meant for others. Words became a source of individuality and independence, helping them forge their own identities in the midst of the hive-mind, and quite frankly, I can’t think of a better allegory for showing how our connection to language is deeply personal and can change the direction of our lives. Williams, in this book, used words to convey the power of words, and I loved it.

The Copper Promise is a tremendously easy book to fall into. If you just want to appreciate the brilliant adventure story that lies on the surface, then that’s fine, and there’s plenty there to entertain. If you want to dig below the surface and get wrapped up in speculation about words and debates about individuality at the cost of group solidarity (as was the case with both the brood army and Sebastian), then that’s more than okay, because there’s plenty there for you too. If you just want a book that will have you grinning over the antics of the characters, then sure, you’re going to find plenty here that will suit your tastes as well. It’s the sort of book that can be appreciated on multiple levels, and by a fairly wide range of people who look for different things in their fantasy novels. I am really excited to read the sequel to The Copper Promise in the future, and I highly recommend this book to those who are looking for a great fast-paced fantasy read!

(Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

How Outlander Lost Me In 1 Season

Late last week I finished watching the first season of Outlander, and quite honestly, I won’t be watching any more. Which is a bit of a shame, since there’s a fair bit to like about the show. The costumes are fun to look at and deconstruct, the acting’s pretty decent, the production values are clearly quite high…

But the LGBTQA+ representation is what ultimately made my decision for me. Which is to say, the very bad representation.

For those who don’t know, Outlander is a popular series of books written by Diana Gabaldon, which was turned into a TV show. The story centres around a woman from the mid-20th century who, though mysterious means, is transported back in time to the 18th century. A time-traveling historical romance, as it were, with a lot of culture clash to spice things up. It’s a concept that is a bit cliche but also has plenty of room for experimentation and progression. And frankly, I enjoy historical dramas quite a bit, so I even though I knew it was going to be heavy on the romantic themes (which isn’t typically to my taste), I figured I’d give it a try.

But I only lasted a single season before finding very good reasons to quit.

Let me clarify. In the first season, there are 2 gay characters. Which, to be honest, is more than I expected. You’d think I ought to be quite happy that in a show set in 18th century Scotland, acknowledged gay characters were present at all. After all, the time and place weren’t exactly havens for the QUILTBAG community. I honestly expected no gay characters at all, because very few people bother unless “being gay” is some sort of plot element.

But those 2 gay characters can be summed up as follows: 1 is a coward and a fop, the other is a rapist and the season’s primary antagonist.

Having no gay characters at all would have been better than that being the only representation.

“But Ria,” I hear the naysayers cry, “Some gay people are like that. It was just accurate portrayal.”

Sure. Some gay people are like that. Some are cowards, just like straight people. Some are rapists, just like straight people. Some are heroes, just like straight people. Some are unremarkable, just like straight people.

Notice which traits didn’t get represented in the show’s 2 gay characters.

Gay people in media have been portrayed, historically, as either the butt of jokes or villains for a very long time. Too long. This show (and possibly the books, but honestly, I have no idea because I haven’t read them — this post is about the show) went all out and fit both negative portrayals into a single season. My anger at the representation isn’t because I believe that gay people are 100% good or that gay people cannot possible have a single negative trait in their entire being. My anger is over the fact that the only representation here was negative representation, as it has been time and time before.

We should have moved beyond having our sole gay characters being antagonists or defined by their negative character traits. And yet…

“But Ria,” I hear the call go up again,” things were different back then. A gay person probably would turn to rape to get what they wanted because they couldn’t get sex openly.”

Ah yes, because nice gay people are solely a modern phenomenon. I’d forgotten that fact.

“That’s how things were back then,” applies to the show’s misogyny. Women being treated shoddily, women being hit, being raped of threatened with rape, women being seen as the property of men, that‘s more accurate. That argument does not apply to homosexuality.

Interestingly enough, plenty of people manage to go through their lives without raping anyone, no matter how much or how little sex they get. And I’d like to take a moment to point out that while the show’s antagonist did absolutely rape a man, we also saw two attempted rapes of women. It was not about sex for him. It was about power. As it tends to be where rape is concerned. “He couldn’t get any,” is a pathetic attempt to excuse his behaviour, just as that excuse would be pathetic today.

But even if that were the case, even if there was even a fraction of a tiny grain of truth to that argument, it still does not negate the previous issue, the issue of constant negative representation of LGBTQA+ characters in media. For so long, stuff like this is all we got. It’s all we got to see of ourselves. We looked into the mirror of media and saw monsters staring back at us, and we knew that was what other people perceived of us. Monsters, villains, jokes.

“But Ria,” you call again, “that character you mentioned isn’t actually gay. He just has ‘a sadistic sexual obsession’ with another guy.”

Okay. So here’s my rebuttal of that. First, I had to mentally have that argument after checking wikis to see if it’s firmly established that the character in question was gay, and all I could find was basically the exactly same words I used above. “Sadistic sexual obsession.” Sure, I guess he might not be gay at all. He might only have a twisted interest in the story’s male love interest.

Here’s the thing, though: the show did not make that particularly clear. The one time we see him attempt to have sex with a woman (which, to be clear, was rape) where the deed was not interrupted, he couldn’t get it up. We see him have no problem getting erections when he’s raping a man. Now yes, rape is about power and not sexual interest, but when you’ve got a character who doesn’t successfully have sex with women and who does successfully have sex with men, you don’t have to read between the lines very much. With those details in mind, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that this man is 100% straight except for his weird obsession with one single guy.

The show’s first season was made in 2014. I don’t care if the book was originally written in 1991. The show and its producers had ample opportunity to learn more about better representation. If that character isn’t actually gay, they sure as hell did a pathetic job of portraying it, and a very good job of portraying him as though he’s largely just a gay rapist and villain.

Which brings us back to the problem of negative representation.

And my completely and utter tiredness of it. I’m done with that. I’m over it. I have no room in my life for things that have no room to afford dignity and respect to those who, for so long, were given none of either.

Honestly, I don’t know if the books have better QUILTBAG representation. I don’t know if the show has better representation from season 2 onward. And I probably will never know. What I saw in the first season left such a sour taste in my mouth that I have no desire to give the show a second chance or the books a first chance. As I said before, no gay characters would have been better than bad gay characters, especially when there was nothing else to balance it out. My anger would be considerably lessened had there been a single solitary example in there of, say, two women carrying on behind their husbands’ backs (because the show firmly establishes that for most women, marriage is about survival, not love, and because plenty of characters have affairs all over the place), or a young man having a tryst with a stablehand, or something. Something, anything, that I could point to and say, “Look, not all of the gay characters were negative stereotypes. There’s one that’s okay.”

But even that, I suppose, was too much to ask.

 

Shards and Ashes, edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong

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Armstrong’s website / Marr’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – February 19, 2013

Summary: Gripping original stories of dystopian worlds from nine New York Times bestselling authors, edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong.

The world is gone, destroyed by human, ecological, or supernatural causes. Survivors dodge chemical warfare and cruel gods; they travel the reaches of space and inhabit underground caverns. Their enemies are disease, corrupt corporations, and one another; their resources are few, and their courage is tested.

Powerful original dystopian tales from nine bestselling authors offer bleak insight, prophetic visions, and precious glimmers of light among the shards and ashes of a ruined world.

Review: In every dystopian novel, there are countless characters who do things that aren’t worthy of a full book, but are no less interesting to read about. Sometimes authors come up with dystopian settings or concepts they’d like to play with but that can’t really be expanded into a full world as is. And quite frankly, I think an anthology of dystopian stories is a great idea. As burned out as I can get on YA dystopian fiction, I admit that part of that burnout is due to the stories often being transparent until they get ridiculously convoluted. Or else being an idea that is interesting in its own right but when stretched out to novel-length, becomes tedious and pondering. Short stories are a great way to get around this, and even people who feel that the genre is on its way out can find a fair bit to enjoy within a book that takes us to multiple different dystopian worlds to explore multiple different ideas.

Of course, as with any anthology, stories can run the gamut between meh and amazing. So it is with this one too, unsurprisingly. But there were still a few memorably stories in here that I feel are worth pointing out.

Veronica Roth’s Hearken takes place in a world where not only is bio-terrorism a sadly common occurrence, but also certain people can hear songs of life and death with the aid of a special implant. Everybody has such a song, from the moment they’re born until they die, as we all have life and death in our existence. These musically-inclined individuals can play and record the song of someone’s life or death, as requested, a sort of musical record of some of the most existential concepts we really have. The story focuses on Darya, her difficult childhood, and her life leading up to her decision as to whether she wants to focus on songs of life or songs of death. It’s an interesting concept that Roth played with here, and as I mentioned earlier, I doubt it’s one that could fill an entire novel, but it certainly made for a decent short story.

Margaret Stohl’s Necklace of Raindrops was one that I have mixed feelings about, if I’m being honest. The story takes place in a world where life is measured by beads on a necklace. The more beads, the longer your life will be. But people “spend” beads for memorable experiences, like skydiving, or trips to interesting places. A person’s life is a balance between being long and being interesting. You can live for a long time if you don’t spend your beads, but the question is whether such an uninteresting life is really worth it. Taken literally, there are so many logical problems with this story that I don’t even know where to begin. Who decided this? How does the bead system work? Do the spent beads go to someone, who redistributes them? Who decides what experience is worth what cost? And so on. But taken symbolically, it’s a lot more interesting. Stohl writes a metaphor come to life, and to hell with the logistical conundrums! While I like knowing the ins and outs of how a dystopian world is supposed to function, sometimes those details get in the way of a good story, and I commend Stohl for experimenting like this.

Carrie Ryan’s Miasma is set in a world filled with sickness and death, and medicine as we know it has failed. To keep contagion from getting out of hand, there are old-fashioned plague doctors wandering the streets, their bird-like masks hiding more than just their faces but some deeper agenda. They bring with them animals that can sniff out disease like prey. The protagonist, Frankie, knows her younger sister is sick but uses tricks to keep her from being taken away, like bathing in scented water to mask the smell of illness. Pleasant smells, after all, are believed to keep away the evil disease-causing miasma, similar to very old European theories on disease. Of all the stories in this anthology, this was the one I most wanted to see more of. More of the world, more of the characters, more of the deeper plot that’s hinted at as the story goes on. A lot of the others were one-shot short stories, but this one feels like there could be so much more to it, and I’d love to read that.

The other stories in the collection were okay, but none of them really made an impression on me the way these three did. There were plenty of big name authors here to catch your attention if you’re a fan of YA novels (Melissa Marr, in addition to co-editing this collection, also wrote a story for it, as did Kelley Armstrong), but I’ve read surprisingly few of those authors myself, so that wasn’t what pulled me in. I was looking for a quick read and some interesting ideas. This book certainly was a quick read, and there were some interesting ideas indeed, but there were also a number of pretty predictable ones. Definitely fine if that’s what you’re looking for, but I think I went into this book expecting something else. It wasn’t bad, not at all, but it also wasn’t something that made a particularly deep impression on me, aside from a few of the stories. As I said, if you’re a fan of the authors whose stories are included here, or you’re a fan of YA dystopian stories in general, then this anthology might be right up your alley, and I encourage you to check it out if you’re able to. But if you don’t fall into those categories, I don’t think you’ll find too much here that will appeal to you. So, mostly for YA and YA dystopia fans, I think.