Welcome back to my deep dive exploration of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. This week, we’re looking at chapter 2 of the first novel, Daughter of the Blood. I will give fair trigger warning on this one — later on, sections of this post and sections of the chapter involve discussing rape. I’ll mark the particular section so that people can skip it if they feel the need to.
This chapter starts off from Saetan’s perspective, as he searches for and confronts Cassandra, his former Queen. Cassandra, who he thought was long dead until Jaenelle kindly and inadvertently disabused him of that notion in the previous chapter.
Their discussion reveals something interesting. Now, Cassandra was Witch before, but not in the same way Jaenelle was. It’s hinted at more than said outright, left for the reader to piece together, but Witch is something of a ceremonial title given to Queens who wear Black Jewels. Of which there have been very few. It’s a noteworthy title, for obvious reasons, sort of paying homage to the legend of Witch as a powerful mythological being. Cassandra was that type of Witch. Cassandra, sensing the depth of power that already resides in Jaenelle, suspects that Jaenelle will be Witch in the same way, once she makes the Offering to the Darkness and reaches her full adult strength in later years.
Cassandra gets a shock, though, when Saetan reveals that Jaenelle won’t become Witch. Jaenelle already is Witch. The same Witch that Cassandra knew Saetan was waiting for, yearning for, to make her make him promise to live half an eternity in order to see.
They talk, briefly, about how someone like that could be controlled, to avoid having them hurt themselves or others with power that is, by all logic, too much for anybody to handle, let alone a child. Saetan, rather wisely, points out that they shouldn’t try to control Jaenelle, they can’t, because as soon as Jaenelle figures out that she’s being controlled, they would lose all hope of her ever being able to trust them again. If he or Cassandra want to play any part in Jaenelle’s life, now or in the future, one of the worst things they could do would be to try and control her.
What should they do instead?
“I will teach her. I will serve her. I will love her. That will have to be enough.”
Later, Saetan decides to go snooping. Jaenelle dropped hints that he was not her only friend, after all, and she wants to find out more about her and her life. He enlists the help of old friends and allies to track down the names of the people that Jaenelle mentioned when they last met.
Now it’s Saetan’s turn for a shock, though. He expected the names to belong to children who lived in Terreille, the same realm that Jaenelle lives in. Instead, he finds that they live in Kaeleer, the realm that lies between Terreille and Hell, which has been closed off for centuries. Jaenelle, by all rights, should not be able to travel there at all.
But then, she shouldn’t be able to travel into Hell, either. Somehow, that Jaenelle has friends in Kaeleer shocks Saetan more than the idea that she travels to Hell to visit demon-dead children.
In fairness, he’s had a very strange day.
TW for this section: rape, child abuse.
Now we shift perspectives to Surreal, who is a very exclusive whore. And assassin. She prefers the latter work to the former, but the former is a very good way of getting close to people when they need… disposing of.
Surreal has conflicting feelings about her heritage. On one hand, she didn’t really get to know her mother’s people, but she does carry their legacy and appearance in the form of gold-green eyes and delicately pointed ears. But she also has Hayllian blood, courtesy of the man who raped her mother. The man Surreal wants to find and to bring a grisly end to.
Much of Surreal’s section is a flashback to her childhood. When she was young, her mother, Titian, dragged home a babbling Tersa because reasons. Tersa, who eventually regains some sense of reality and drags home Daemon. Tersa points out a young Surreal and comments to Daemon that she’s Blood and has the right to live as Blood if she wants. Daemon provides Titian and Surreal a place to live, rent-free, and extra money besides, on the condition that they allow Tersa to also use it whenever she needs. Life improves. Surreal learns, and has her Birthright ceremony, and comes away with a Green Jewel.
Two years later, Surreal comes home to find her mother murdered.
The book gives ages, and lets the reader reach their own conclusions. Surreal was 12 when this happens. Titian had just turned 25. Allowing for pregnancy time, this would mean that Titian was raped when she was 12, gave birth to Surreal at age 13.
This chapter is something of an early warning sign for what’s to come. The world being as corrupt as it is, men fear powerful women, and attempt to break them as young as possible, before they come into their full strength, so that they won’t be a threat. Women fear men’s ability to break them, and seek to control them via the Ring of Obedience. Or other means. It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself, abuse piling on top of abuse, and one of the signs of such a ruined society is Surreal’s story. If this is too much for you, I can’t blame you one bit, but you should know that this isn’t the worst you’ll see in these books, and it feels fair to give that warning here.
Continuing on, Surreal runs from the crime scene, finds herself living on the streets, and, like her mother, is also raped. Unlike Titian, though, Surreal manages to hang on through the assault, barely avoiding crashing into her core and being broken and separated from her Craft, so that when the horrible act is finished, she remains a witch.
Not knowing what else to do, she becomes a prostitute in order to make enough money to eat.
Within a month, she made her first kill.
She begins to get revenge against the men who would and abuse young girls that way. The deaths attract Daemon’s attention, who decides he’s going to take a hand in her future. But not in a way I first expected.
For a long time, Daemon’s actions confused me. He clearly has enough money to just hand Surreal a bunch of notes and tell her she can stay at one of the many places he owns in order to keep her safe and to prevent her from having to sleep with strangers to get by. But he doesn’t. Instead, he gets her training. Not just training in how to better kill people, but also how to be a better whore. Why, Daemon? Why, when you could free her from a life she obviously only chose in order to barely get by, would you do that?
But strangely, it was actually the best way to keep her safe.
Surreal’s birthright Jewel was Green, which was already on the darker and more powerful end of the spectrum. She could, upon maturity, descend as dark as Grey, which is exactly what she ended up doing later on. Surreal’s strength would have made her a target for people like Dorothea, who wanted to wipe out strong witches who might pose a threat, or even just annoying opposition.
And with Surreal’s growing penchant for revenge killings, she was most certainly the kind of person who would have come to Dorothea’s attention. Surreal was never the “lay low and keep quiet” type.
So what better way to hide her than in plain sight? Anyone who might have considered her a threat would have dismissed her as nothing more than the plaything of paranoid rich men, a toy for the bed but hardly someone who could pose a threat. Especially when many prostitutes were like Titian, raped and broken and unable to find a better way of supporting themselves. Surreal could slip under the radar of those who would want her destroyed if they knew of her, and while slipping under that radar, she was free to kill the people who deserved it.
It seems cruel, it seems like Daemon also thought of young Surreal as nothing but a sex object, but in reality, he did what he did to protect her as best he could. Especially because at the time, he was a slave, and couldn’t always be around to help her. Any moments he took to himself were moments stolen, and potential punishment always waited.
Of course, in her relative youth, Surreal made a fatal mistake to fracture her friendship with Daemon.
He asked him for sex.
Daemon, a pleasure slave, known as Hayll’s Whore, a man who used sex and sex appeal as a weapon, did not take too kindly to this request. To say the least. Surreal got what she asked for, in a sense, though she regretted it, and their friendship didn’t recover. Long-lived races know how to hold a grudge.
Now we cut back to Hell, where Saetan’s day is interrupted by Jaenelle and Prothvar having a very loud argument. Jaenelle is angry because Prothvar won’t teach her to fly. Prothvar maintains that Jaenelle, unlike him, has no wings, and when told that she can fly anyway, tells her she lacks control. (Jaenelle counters that this is only because he refuses to teach her. He can’t really refute that one.)
Jaenelle and Prothvar are ordered out of the room, and after some discussion between Saetan and his friend Andulvar, the true reason for the argument becomes clear. Jaenelle does know how to fly, yes, but she wants to learn how to fly “like a hawk, like an Eyrian.” Prothvar laughed at her, so Jaenelle forced the issue by jumping off the highest tower of SaDiablo Hall.
…Just let that sink in for a moment. Imagine you’re Prothvar. Imagine you just laugh at someone who insists they can fly, when you see no obvious way of them flying. You have wings, they do not. Now imagine they just give you A Look and step off the cliff’s edge.
Naturally, you’re going to dive after them, aiming to catch them before they splat on the ground.
Naturally, you wouldn’t be prepared for them to be floating just below the edge of the dropoff, perfectly fine. Naturally, you smack right into them, because you weren’t expecting them to be there.
Saetan calls Jaenelle back in and explains to her that Prothvar was only so angry because she scared the everloving hell out of him. As you do. Then she scares him by telling him she’s already flown through incredibly dangerous areas of Hell, easy as you breathe, and having so much fun with it because she was so confident of her powers and so ignorant of the danger. Anything can be fun when you’re certain you’ll come out of it safely and you can get lost in the exhilaration.
It seems to be Jaenelle’s day for scaring people.
There’s one throwaway line here that caught my attention upon rereading this chapter, though, which I think prompts a little discussion.
“And even Eyriens need a little Craft to fly. Prothvar said so.”
Despite their wings, it’s fairly safe to assume that Eyriens, the great warrior race, don’t have hollow bones like birds do. It makes sense that they’d need some Craft to hold themselves aloft, to keep their bodies supported by their membranous wings.
So what about landens, those non-Blood that, as we’ve already read, are present in all races? Eyrien landens, then, must not be able to fly at all, the wings on their backs vestigial and useless.
It made me wonder how bitter they must feel to see Eyrien Blood be able to soar up in the sky, to have so much of their culture dominated by flight, knowing that they could never do the same.
Or perhaps Eyrien landens have much smaller wings now, or none at all, having been bred out as useless over the generations. We don’t know. The books never show us any Eyrien characters who aren’t Blood. This is never addressed, and is left to speculation.
Anyway, after this little debacle has been sorted out, we’re introduced to another of Hell’s inhabitants. A Harpy seeks audience with Saetan. A Harpy, by this world’s mythology, is a demon-dead woman who died by a man’s hand. A Dea al Mon Harpy, from a secretive race known for ferocity and cunning and protectiveness, clearly identifiable by, among other things, their delicately pointed ears. This Harpy is also a Black Widow and a Queen, a powerful combination.
This is Titian. Surreal’s mother. More influential and powerful in death than she was in life, but even so, in life she was strong enough for her essence to hang on after her death and transition to demon-dead, to continue on in Hell. This is Titian as Surreal never really knew her.
This is Titian, wanting to know where Saetan stands on the issue of a strange mysterious little girl, because Saetan’s ex-wife and self-styled “High Priestess of Hell” has been sniffing around and asking questions. Questions that Saetan does not want answered.
Titian suggests giving Jaenelle to a certain Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince she once knew, one who showed her kindness, but Saetan stops that idea before it gets started. He doesn’t think Daemon would willingly hurt Jaenelle, but he knows what Jaenelle’s concept means to Daemon, what Witch means to Daemon, and he also knows what a man might do when he’s backed into a corner and has no other options. Daemon is, after all, a slave, and someone else holds his reins as much as anyone ever has, and Saetan doesn’t trust them for an instant.