Welcome back to my deep dive exploration of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. This week, we’re looking at chapter 1 of the first novel, Daughter of the Blood.
The chapter opens with Lucivar, enslaved to Zuultah, the Queen of Pruul. We see the punishment of a slave who tried to overthrow the guards and escape slavery — things didn’t end well for him, and he is tortured by essentially being confined in an enclosed boat with a hoard of hungry rats.
For all that Lucivar is established as a man with a very violent and explosive temper, he is also capable of gentleness and mercy. He comforts the condemned slave, and eventually kills him swiftly, ending the man’s pain even though Lucivar strongly suspects he himself will be punished for that hard kindness. Lucivar did not participate in the slave revolt, did nothing to stop it or further its cause, but gave them only one piece of advice: Sacrifice everything.
He would escape himself, but there is something even he is not willing to sacrifice: Daemon. Daemon, who is played against Lucivar, his life and safety held over Lucivar’s head to ensure good behaviour.
We see here small pieces of the world start to be revealed. There’s a difference between Blood and landens (non-Blood of each race), though what that difference is will be revealed later; for now, it’s enough to know that the Blood have some degree of separation from others.
We learn that the land of Hayll, and specifically its High Priestess Dorothea, is a corrupting influence that spreads outward, corrupting other people and lands over time, perverting the Blood and their society, twisting the intricate dance of their people’s lives.
Among the Blood, males were meant to serve, not to rule. […] He […] refused to believe that serving and groveling meant the same thing.
For all that Lucivar has never lived during a time or in a place away from Hayll’s influence, he still knows that the way life is now is not how things are meant to be. This is meant, I’m sure, to be a sign of Lucivar’s good character, a sign that he hasn’t fallen under that corruption, though to be fair, I’m sure many people who are enslaved are certain that their lives and the culture around them that led to their enslavement are fundamentally flawed. Even the slave Lucivar mercy-killed began to wonder if the Blood are actually evil, because of the life he lived and the way he was treated.
Lucivar reflects on all of this and wishes, above all else, that some day he could meet a Queen that he would be proud to serve.
A wish, offered with blood, is a prayer to the Darkness.
And them BAM, suddenly a little girl appears. This is Jaenelle. Jaenelle, who is not particularly pretty (Lucivar thinks that “calling her plain would be kind”), but she has sass, and there’s definitely more to her than she first appears. She does not live in Pruul, has never even heard of Pruul or its Queen, and the only way for the Blood to travel long distances (using the Winds, which are psychic webs through the Darkness) is something that Jaenelle doesn’t really do… normally. Most Blood would travel along the lines of the Webs. Jaenelle, on the other hand, just kind of goes wherever she wants to go, traveling blind through the Darkness and ending up exactly where she wants to anyway.
Where she wants to… or needs to. And she heard Lucivar’s need for a Queen he could serve…
We cut to Daemon, who most emphatically does not like being a pleasure slave.
Daemon is also a fairly controversial character, not for his violence but for his devotion to a concept and person even before meeting them. Daemon has already decided for himself that he is in love with Witch, whoever Witch might turn out to be, and he wants very much to be Witch’s lover. Who is Witch? Daemon sure doesn’t know. But he’s made that decision, has his goals, and won’t be dissuaded from them.
It’s hardly a spoiler to state here that Jaenelle is Witch, so yes, at this point in time, Daemon is in love with an entity that resides in the body of a young child. And many readers, understandably, have a problem with this. For my part, I don’t have a problem with it, because the books establish quite clearly that Witch is far more than just Jaenelle, and vice versa. Daemon is not in love with a child, definitely not sexually attracted to a child, and later scenes in this book talk about his disgust over even thinking of such things. It’s more accurate to say that Daemon is in love with a concept, and idea, and that idea resides within a person, and eventually that person will grow up to be someone Daemon can relate to on more, um, intimate levels.
I can see why this is a complicated mind-twist for a lot of people, and honestly, I think it’s largely my own personal spiritual views that make it easier for me to see the difference between loving a child and loving the essence that dwells within that child. Nor do I think that this setup is some thinly-veiled justification for pedophilia — there’s a difference between love, romantic attraction, and sexual attraction.
It’s established that Dorothea gained control of Hayll by eliminating women strong enough to rival her, ensuring that she was the most powerful and thus the one that people would flock to for leadership and protection. As for men, the ones who are supposed to protect and serve, the strong ones are largely controlled by threat of pain and torture by the Ring of Obedience. Which is, for all intents and purposes, a cock ring. Because everything in these books comes back to genitalia, whether we want it to or not. Rings of Obedience can send excruciating pain at the behest of whoever wears the Controlling Ring, and even the strongest men have trouble fighting back when it feels like their balls are being torn apart.
This is a very violent and very twisted world we are stepping into with these books. Interestingly, they read like the nightmare of a men’s rights activist, a terrifying glimpse of what things might be like if evil feminazis have their way. Women ruling through pain and humiliation, men subjugated and enslaved, forced to do terrible things because they occupy a lower rung on the social ladder, subject to the whims of angry dominatrixes with no say in their own lives. It’s easy to get caught up in that mindset, because it’s established over and over that women, in the world of these books, are superior to men, that men serve and women rule.
It’s easy to forget, oddly, that it’s also established over and over that things are corrupted and out of balance. That even if society in balance would still involve female superiority, men still have plenty of rights and say in what happens to them, and there’s a delicate and intricate dance that involves just as much give and take on both sides. Things are how they are, with one gender so much higher and more powerful than the other, because things are unbalanced, society broken and fractured and twisted beyond what it ought to be.
But getting back to the story…
Tersa appears and drags Daemon off to give him some cryptic advice. Expect this a lot through the books. Tersa, her mind stuck in the Twisted Kingdom, sees reality very differently than most people, metaphorical and shadowy and veiled. Here is where we get to our introduction to the metaphor of the chalice, which is symbolic of a person’s mind, their sanity. Tersa refers to herself as “a broken chalice.”
This is different from the Inner Web, which is a person’s centre, their core and their very sense of self. Taking this back to Daemon’s attraction to Witch, this further cements that there is a difference between mind and soul, the person on the outside and the spirit that lives in the flesh. As I said before, this involves a bit of a mental twist to really understand, I think, but it is something firmly established in Bishop’s writing.
It’s Saetan time!
That’s the first line of my notes for this section of the chapter, so it felt fitting to begin that way. Saetan, the Prince of the Darkness, the High Lord of Hell, is seriously one of the best characters in this entire series, and I love sections involving him. He looks like an older version of Daemon, is powerful and feared and also misses playing games with his sons when they were little. Like Lucivar, he is a combination of terrifying and gentle.
Which makes sense, as he is Daemon and Lucivar’s father.
Saetan is also a Guardian, which is a fancy way of saying he sacrificed much of life’s pleasures and benefits in order to extend his lifespan, a promise made to his previous Queen so that he could await the coming of Witch, whom Saetan considers to be the daughter of his soul. Like Daemon, he is entirely sure of his role in Witch’s life, whoever Witch might end up being, whenever she may come. He has overseen Hell for a very long time, dozens of millennia, and he is tired. So many years, so much time waiting, without even a hint that what he is waiting for will ever arrive, all the while knowing that his sons are being tortured in another Realm, and him powerless to intervene.
But something strange is happening in Hell. Something most un-Hellish. Hell is a place where the Blood go when they die if their selves are too powerful to just fade quietly and return to the Darkness, a place drained of life and colour. But suddenly, on an island of demon-dead children (demon-dead being what the Blood are called when they linger on in Hell, so yes, this is a place where dead children live), there appears a brightly-coloured butterfly, made by some mysterious power that has never before been seen.
So of course, Saetan wants to know what’s going on.
Saetan expects an exceptionally powerful demon-dead child. What he gets is Jaenelle, who is very much alive.
How did she get into Hell? Oh, you know, the same way she gets anywhere else. Screw following the rules that others are bound by, up to and including the laws of physics and reality — Jaenelle has the power to do what she wants, with all of the mindset of a child who doesn’t yet know a thing should be impossible.
Jaenelle, who shies away from being touches by unfamiliar people. Jaenelle, who cannot do basic Craft, the magic that the Blood possess and that every Blood should typically be able to do unless they have been broken.
Jaenelle, who has a Jewel of every single colour, and 13 Black Jewels. People are only typically supposed to get 2, you see: 1 at their Birthright ceremony, and 1 when they reach adulthood and perform the Offering to the Darkness. The darker the Jewel, the greater the depth of a person’s power. But Jaenelle has far more than that, and claims to have been given them by Lorn, a mythical figure and the last of the dragons.
Naturally, Saetan is… a touch surprised.
He knew Jaenelle to be Witch almost immediately. He knew who she was and what she would become. He didn’t expect Jaenelle to hold so much power. He doesn’t know how she manages that while still staying sane…
But for all that power, she is still abysmal at basic Craft. Saetan tries to teach her to move a paperweight toward herself, using psychic power instead of her hands, of course, because this is magic we’re talking about. But she can’t. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot move the paperweight.
She can, however, move the entire building in the attempt.
Jaenelle is so powerful that doing small simple things, the things most power would start out with while building up their own power and control, requires too much finesse for her. Saetan makes an analogy involve crayons: essentially, Jaenelle needs something big to wrap her mental hands around, but the fine control required to, say, write like an adult would, is beyond her. Where most people need to start small and work up, Jaenelle needs to learn almost in reverse, to figure out how she does the things that impossible to those with less power and then scale them down.
This is how Jaenelle can travel through the Darkness and end who wherever she pleases, whereas others have to ride the Winds and rely on the Webs to guide them.
I should add that at this point in the story, Jaenelle is 7 years old. All of this power resides on a tiny body, possessed by a tiny mind too young and inexperienced to really understand what she can do and why it is so extraordinary. Nobody expected Witch to be that young when in possession of such power. It’s a burden even for adults, as Saetan knows well, as he is one of only 2 men in the history of the Blood to wear a Black Jewel.
The other? The other is Daemon.