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 5 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.

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.

Deep Dive! Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop – Chapter 4

Welcome back to my deep dive exploration of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. This week, we’re looking at chapter 4 of the first novel, Daughter of the Blood. Trigger warning for child abuse in this chapter and discussion.

This is a chapter full of revelations and plot-bombs. It lays out so very much that is essentially to understand for the rest of the books, and while writing this post, I felt very much like the only way I could convey it all is by handing everyone copies of the full chapter and saying, “Here, read this.” There’s so much to unpack. Not very much that needs additional commentary, mind you, or dissection or fun theories. But so much plot, so many pieces of the story coming to light.

Let’s get started.

~*~

A month after Jaenelle’s long-distance psychic plea to Saetan for help, she returns to him once more, in shocking condition. She’s dangerously underweight, lank hair, bruises, dark circles under her eyes.

There were rope burns and dried blood on her ankles and wrists.

Saetan offers her the chance to be free of whatever torment’s she’s enduring, though he doesn’t know the details. All he knows is that clearly, her family is not taking care of her, not protecting her from whatever is doing all this damage. Jaenelle, however tempted, refuses Saetan’s offer for her to come and live with him, saying that she “can’t leave them yet.” “The others” still need her.

Jaenelle does love playing the pronoun game.

~*~

Cut to Surreal, playing the beds, and we see a little bit of how she practices her more deadly art. She uses Craft to tie a death spell to a fast-beating heart, using the quickened pulse of sex to sort of set the rhythm, so to speak, so that next time the man in question gets angry or aroused, he’ll essentially have an aneurysm, burn out his Jewels, and leave him nothing but a dead husk.

Fitting end, when you consider that Surreal targets abusers.

After the deed is done and the man sleeps, Surreal ponders the recurring dreams she’s been having lately. Sometime about her mother, her mother’s Jewel, but nothing she can make proper sense of. She concludes that she needs a vacation, and decides to go to Chaillot, where she knows a few people and can take some time to herself, to relax for a little while.

Chaillot. Where, among other things, we as the reader know that’s where Jaenelle just so happens to live.

~*~

Lucivar is darkly pleased. Daemon is in the same court as him, clearly an oversight as the two of them have a habit of causing destruction on a large scale when they’re together.

That night, the two of them have a chance to talk without anyone eavesdropping. Lucivar can tell that Daemon is being pushed to the edge. Maybe beyond it. Dangerously so. But Lucivar’s the kind of man who occasionally enjoys that dangerous dance, and doesn’t shrink away from a threat.

The trouble is, Daemon is… unique when it comes to his threats. Especially when he’s pushed to the brink. The man uses sexuality like a weapon, a double-edged sword. He deliberately makes himself irresistible, plays on the desire people have for him, feeding back into the notion that all he’s good for is a fancy sex toy. How long can a person endure such a thing before they come to believe it, even a little bit, when they’re vulnerable?

“Do you want me?” Daemon whispered, brushing his lips against Lucivar’s neck.

“No,” he said flatly. […] “Do you really think your touch makes my pulse race?”

“Doesn’t it?” Daemon whispered, a strange look in his eyes.

Lucivar knows that neither of the two have a sexual interest in each other, there’s no need for Daemon to play this kind of game with him, and yet… And so, as Daemon attempts to seduce Lucivar, his own brother, Lucivar quickly figures out how far Daemon has fallen, and how dangerous this can be for everyone.

He asks Daemon why he’s doing this, and Daemon replies, with no small degree of bitterness, that he “has to whore for everyone else,” so why not Lucivar as well? Even if neither of them want it.

“They’ve raped everything I am until there’s nothing clean left to offer.”

Lucivar knows what Daemon means. It’s been something he’s tried to avoid thinking about. They both know, by this point, about Jaenelle, though they both know her in very different ways. Lucivar knows Jaenelle is a young child. Daemon knows that the Lady he loves and serves is alive. But there’s the question, the fear, of whether she would want either Daemon or Lucivar anywhere near her, when she learns how the two of them have had to serve other people over the centuries, all the things that they’ve been made to do.

This is not an uncommon train of thought for people who have suffered abuse. Especially sexual abuse. “Who will love me, knowing what happened? Who would want me around, who would care about me, know what was done?” Lucivar and Daemon’s thoughts aren’t just the thoughts of men who want to be perfect in the face of some ideal they’ve envisioned, the best of the best. They are victims wondering if there will ever be a positive future for them, a future that they want and can be proud of being a part of.

They don’t get to talk for very long, though, as the Queen Daemon is currently serving, Cornelia, sends a bolt of pain through the Ring of Obedience to summon him. Daemon transforms from vulnerable and fearful to cold and closed-off, and leaves. It takes a moment, but Lucivar scents danger and runs after him, momentarily waylaid by the queen he‘s serving, and finds Daemon.

But it’s too late. The mess that Daemon has made of Cornelia makes even a hardened warrior like Lucivar nearly vomit.

While this is scary and dangerous, even by Lucivar’s standards, what’s interesting is that this isn’t Daemon being pushed over the edge. Close, yes, and it’s not like Daemon hasn’t been very damaged by the years upon years of mistreatment, but a brutal murder that needs a lot of clean-up? This is hardly the first for Daemon. It probably won’t be the last.

And Dorothea SaDiablo, the High Priestess of Hayll and woman who ultimately owns Daemon, knows it. That’s why she calls him back, knowing full well that after this incident, she won’t be able to convince anyone to take him off her hands again for a long time. She loans Daemon out over and over again in an attempt to wear him down, make him so very tired of the abuse and torment that his will is broken and he eventually submits to her.

When Daemon returns, he first follows a familiar psychic pull rather than going to Dorothea immediately. He’s far more interested in seeing Tersa again, after all, since Tersa’s actually a good person even if she’s insane.

And here’s where we get to another one of the repeating themes of this series: the Blood triangle. Tersa asks Daemon a trick question: how many sides does a triangle have? He gives the obvious answer, “three,” and is told he’s wrong. A Blood triangle, you see, has four sides. The three that surround, and then the centre.

The centre may not be a side, per se, but it’s a point. A focal point of the shape, and important. You see it crop up again repeatedly in Blood society. The candles on a Dark Altar are three that surround a centre candle. The important position in a court are Consort (or Escort), the Steward, and the Master of the Guard, all supporting a Queen. The triangle that Tersa refers to is the Father, the Lover, and the Brother, and the centre who rules all three.

No prizes for guessing the identities of these people.

Before she leaves, Tersa leaves Daemon with a chilling warning. “The chalice is cracking.” Back when I discussed chapter 1, I talked about how for the Blood, the chalice is a metaphor for the mind, for sanity.

In his anger and frustration, he punches a tree, unleashing power as he does so. Unsurprisingly, he destroys the tree, turning it to ash when only moments ago it had been alive and thriving. He reflects on how odd it is that he feels remorse and grief for killing a tree when he’s killed so many Blood without a second thought.

The difference, of course, is that the tree did nothing to harm him, and he lashed out in rage at something innocent, as opposed to lashing out in vengeance against someone who had hurt or wronged him. This actually gives readers a good chance to see a bit below the surface of a Warlord Prince’s temper. Just because they have passionately violent natures doesn’t mean they are all immoral and power-hungry, nor does it mean they will do things and not regret them later. Daemon regrets his action. He feels bad for what he did.

But feeling bad doesn’t bring the tree back. It doesn’t repair the damage done. This is the crux of the matter. To deal with a Warlord Prince is to deal with knowing their tempers can be roused and things can be said or done that cannot be fixed. To be a Warlord Prince is to come to terms with the fact that you, no matter how hard you try, will do damage. It’s in your nature. There’s a very good reason for that nature, if you look at the history of the Blood and the way their societies are supposed to work. But to be a Warlord Prince is to know that you are born with something in you that makes people fear you, and for good reason, and yet that thing is such an important and vital part of your being that it cannot be removed, cannot be changed.

We don’t get to learn it in the books for quite a while, but things like this are exactly why Blood society has intricate rules that people need to follow. It’s a dance of giving and taking, of people knowing their place not so much within the hierarchy but within the dance. A good Warlord Prince, like a good person in general, will not just go about causing violence and destruction for no good reason.

Jumping ahead a bit, revealing something that comes up much later, there is no law against murder among the Blood. Nobody is going to throw you in jail for killing someone. But, everything has a price. That’s both the strength and the weakness of Blood law, in a way, because if someone kills your loved ones, you can take your revenge… if you’re strong enough to make them pay that price. Or have somebody enforce the payment for you. That’s part of how Blood society became so corrupt. Dorothea has powerful people on her side who will do her bidding, leaving nobody strong enough left to punish her, to make her pay the price for her actions. In the face of torture or death, it can be difficult to remain a good person.

This is not a justification for violence or an apology for abuse. If anything, it’s an explanation of mob mentality. It’s why people do what they’re told even when what they’re told is wrong. Fear, and power. It takes somebody truly strong to go against that. It takes a good Warlord Prince, or a good Queen, or a good anybody, to hold out in the face of overwhelming pain.

It takes a good person to mourn a tree. (Or punch Nazis…)

~*~

Turns out, Daemon can be a softy when he’s around the right people. Hands up, anyone who’s surprised. Delaying seeing Dorothea for as long as possible, he pays a visit to Manny and Jo, two people who showed him so much kindness when he was growing up, and were the next things to proper parents to him. He pouts when he doesn’t get offered nutcakes and laughs with them and brings flowers and if all you saw of him was this scene you would never guess that he was the same man who, a short time ago, left behind the mangled corpse of the woman he was forced to serve.

But he’s not just there for a casual visit. He’s hoping that Manny can tell him something about someone called the Priest. Someone people are reluctant to talk about.

Manny takes some coaxing (nothing terrible, but Daemon does scare her a little, even if he’s not pleased to do so), but she does eventually tell Daemon that yes, she knows who the Priest is. And how the Priest is tied to Daemon’s past.

We see a lot of Daemon’s past here, in the form of Manny telling Daemon things that happened so long ago he’s forgotten. Or the memories have been blocked. How Daemon was supposed to go to the Priest once he got his Birthright Jewel, but at the last moment, Dorothea informed everybody those words that sink a Blood male’s heart.

Paternity is denied.

If a woman denies a man paternity, then he can do nothing for or about his child legally, until that child becomes an adult and can make their own decisions. A man does well to keep on the good side of the woman who bore his children, if he wants to be a father, for once paternity is denied, it’s not something that can be taken back. The Priest, then, is Daemon’s father, or at least was assumed to be until scheming Dorothea announced that it wasn’t so.

And the Priest, being a stickler for the rules, did not try to take Daemon.

Daemon, however, tried to get to him. He fought with all the strength of his newly acquired Jewel, and in the end, still failed. Young Daemon had the Ring of Obedience put on him that night, old enough to be considered a threat now that he had a Jewel, and a dark one at that. When Daemon, distraught over everything that had happened, refused to eat, Jo was tortured until Manny could persuade Daemon to eat again.

Daemon doesn’t really remember much of this. He remember going back to the house he knew he lived in, vaguely remembering a strong masculine figure, but nothing more than that. Something was done to him, Manny explains, to make him forget.

This was all done on Dorothea’s orders. To keep Daemon, young as he was, on a short leash. To keep him from forming ties to anyone strong enough to lead Daemon in a direction she didn’t want him to take. She underestimated Daemon’s stubborn strength, but she kept on with her plan regardless.

But who is the Priest? Who is the man who Daemon once called father, should rightly be his father?

It’s Saetan, of course. We already knew that. But now, so does Daemon.

But Manny’s story isn’t done. Daemon says he can’t imagine Saetan, the man of legend, going to bed with his mother. But then pieces fall into place little by little, and Daemon comes to realise that the woman he’s called mother all these centuries isn’t actually his mother at all.

His mother is Tersa.

Deep Dive! Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop – Chapter 3

Welcome back to my deep dive exploration of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. This week, we’re looking at chapter 3 of the first novel, Daughter of the Blood. This starts Part 2 of the book, which means we’ve skipped ahead a few years in the timeline. Dates and approximate timeframes aren’t really given in the text, they’re just hinted at and left for the reader to figure out on their own how much time has passed — it’s one of the irritating things about this series, to be perfectly honest. Sometimes you have no idea that years have passed between one chapter and the next until someone happens to mention, “Oh yeah, that thing that happened three years ago,” which you just finished reading about.

We start with Saetan making a trip to Kaeleer, to reopen SaDiablo Hall there. There’s a SaDiablo Hall in every Realm, and while Saetan spends most of his time in Hell, he can still visit other Realms, since he owns property there. The Halls are cared for by staff in his absence, and Saetan learns just how formidable said staff in Kaeleer is when he arrives and is promptly told to GTFO by Helene, the housekeeper, who at first doesn’t recognize him and treats him like an interloper who has no right to be there.

For all that Saetan doesn’t exactly like being challenged, for all that he is pretty much the most powerful man the Realms have seen in a long time, he still appreciates strong women who stand up for themselves and their authority. I do like that about Saetan. That he’s powerful, that he has a deadly temper, these are definitely things that factor into his personality, but he’s not about to kill somebody because they told him off over a misunderstanding.

Now, he might kill somebody for harming those near and dear to him, but that’s another matter.

Also, much love to Helene who, rather than be cowed by Saetan’s demands to reopen and redecorate the Hall, says that some things can’t be done without a larger budget and more staff. It’s a small thing, but sometimes something is notable for what it isn’t and yet could have been. There could have been a scene in which the Hall’s staff has tried to make do with too little to get the job done, leading to Saetan wondering what the problem is, and only later finding out that someone didn’t bother to tell him, “Oh yes, to do what you want, I’ll need this and this and that.” She’s efficient, and forthright, and not at all unlike a lot of the women in this series, and I like her.

I like a lot of the women who work at the Hall, come to think of it. We’ll get to see more of them later on.

This section also gives us some interesting little tidbits about Saetan’s past. Rather than becoming High Lord of Hell through some hereditary claim to the title, he was born “the son of an indifferent whore.” He used to rule the territory of Dhemlan, both in Kaeleer and Terreille, before he chose the half-life of a Guardian in order to wait for Witch’s arrival (he gave rule of Terreille’s territory to someone else at that point). That had changed, and remained change for centuries, but now, thanks to Jaenelle, Saetan now has a reason to be among the living once again.

~*~

Meanwhile, in Terreille, a man named Philip Alexander is having an uncomfortable talk with his niece, Jaenelle. Jaenelle is a sick young girl, you see, incapable of telling the difference between fantasy and reality. After all, by the time one is 12, they should most certainly have outgrown telling stories about imaginary friends and visiting far-off places that nobody has ever heard of. Or telling horrible lies about the man who works at the institution for high-strung young girls, a man who clearly only wants to help those young girls get better. That’s why Jaenelle is being sent off to that institution for another stay. To get better.

This section of the chapter is just over a page long, and it is so very painful to read. From the reader’s perspective, we know that Jaenelle is doing the things her uncle is referencing, because we have the perspectives of other characters who have met her and interacted with her, grown to know and love her. From Jaenelle’s perspective, it should seem the same thing.

However, when you’re young, and people keep telling you that the things you believe aren’t real, that you’re really just sick in the head and need to be cured… By this point, Jaenelle herself already doubts the veracity of her own experiences.

“These friends, these places you visit… they aren’t real. They were never real. The only reason you see them is because you’re not well.”

Pain, confusion, and doubt filled her summer-sky blue eyes. “But they feel so real,” she whispered.

These days, we call this gaslighting, manipulating somebody until they doubt their own sanity. Even if in Jaenelle’s heart she knows that what she has experienced is completely real, enough people have told her she’s wrong that she has begun to doubt, to be unsure. Maybe she really is sick. Maybe everyone else is right after all…

Jaenelle’s family have no particular reason to believe Jaenelle. So far as their experiences go, what she says simply can’t be true. Unicorns aren’t real. She doesn’t have any friends that her family don’t know about, especially in far-flung places or in another Realm. But her stories are distressing, and she should have grown out of that phase of imaginative childhood, and so the only conclusion they can reach as to why she still seems to believe these things is that she truly can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.

It’s easy, when this scene is all you see, to think that her family honestly has Jaenelle’s best interests at heart. Even if they’re wrong about Jaenelle’s experiences, they still want her to be happy and healthy, and at that moment, she doesn’t seem to be either of those things.

But this scene is a single seed, and it will grow, and then we’ll see what kind of harvest the family reaps.

~*~

Meanwhile, Saetan waits, in vain, for Jaenelle to visit him again. When she does not come to Kaeleer, Saetan, disappointed, returns to the Hall in Hell, where he finds Char — the demon-dead child who introduced him to Jaenelle in the first place — waiting for him.

Char tells him that yet another strange thing has been happening on the island where demon-dead children live, but doesn’t quite have the words to properly describe it. Saetan psychically links with Char and discovers that this new oddness is a sort of psychic bridge, built by Jaenelle, between that island and a place called Briarwood. Char informs Saetan that new children have been arriving via that bridge, saying that a friend showed them the way so that they could reach a place of rest and refuge.

During a later conversation with Cassandra, it’s revealed that a bridge is similar to a psychic portal. It spans distance so that travelers can cross in a short period of time, or with less difficulty than going overland. But only powerful Blood can make one, really, and nobody has been powerful enough to make one that goes between Realms. If someone wants to cross to another Realm, they go via a limited number of Gates, and even then, it’s no easy task.

But nobody ever told Jaenelle this was impossible, and so she did it.

Now, the book doesn’t explain exactly why Jaenelle built the bridge to that island in Hell. Remember, Blood who are strong enough will go to Hell anyway once their bodies die. Children typically find their way to that island by riding the Winds, the psychic pathways through the Darkness.

Maybe Jaenelle doesn’t know that, maybe she was operating under the assumption that with a bridge like that, she could ensure that children would make it to Hell, to an island of safety and refuge with certainty. Maybe she didn’t want them to wander around Hell and deal with its dangers and just hope they eventually found the island. Maybe she built it so that children who might not otherwise be strong enough to turn demon-dead could get there anyway. It’s never really explained what Jaenelle’s logic was. Char only mentioned that children were coming over the bridge and telling similar stories about how they learned of it, but he said nothing about them not being strong enough to make the transition to demon-dead properly, or that the Dark energies of Hell were affecting them more than others, or any of that.

At best, all we know is that Jaenelle did this as a mercy to children who found themselves dying in a place called Briarwood.

Saetan, understandable, wants to keep Jaenelle away from a place that would inspire her to such mercy, because seriously, what good can come from a place that results in so many dead children? Cassandra points out that “your love might be a luxury she can’t afford.” Saetan can’t exactly take Jaenelle away from her family, and even if he did, that leaves Jaenelle two options: 1) live in Hell and spend all her time away from the living, or 2) live in Kaeleer and risk losing her friends because they don’t want to come play at the High Lord of Hell’s house.

Honestly, I find Cassandra’s logic more than a little faulty. I mean, it’s not like Jaenelle hasn’t been Realm-hopping for years now in order to see her friends. There’s absolutely no reason why, if she lived in Hell or Kaeleer instead of Terreille, that she couldn’t keep doing the exact same thing. While Saetan takes Cassandra’s words as simple, however painful, truth, I can’t help but feel that she said those things to dig at him rather than present some sort of impossible obstacle. Jaenelle herself overcomes the obstacle in such a way as to render it moot. They both know that.

~*~

There’s a scene cut, but we’re still following Saetan’s perspective. He wakes up in the middle of the night in response to a desperate psychic call along the Black psychic thread, a call from a panicked Jaenelle who seeks his help for… something. She’s near incoherent, and her attention is mostly elsewhere, and so Saetan does what he can for her: he opens himself up and gives her his strength.

She needs too much, more than he can give, even with the depth of power in his Black Jewel.

But then, suddenly, there’s another mind present on that Black thread. A male mind. The only Black-Jeweled male other than Saetan is Daemon, and at that moment, Saetan is confronted with the fact that Daemon most certainly knows about Jaenelle. This is also the first time that Saetan has spoken to his son in roughly 1700 years. Daemon doesn’t even really know who Saetan is, not really.

But he knows that Jaenelle needs help. And he lends his strength to the mix, sending knowledge and energy to Jaenelle for whatever it is that she needs.

*Take what you need.* Words of Protocol, of service, of surrender.

The scene moves smoothly to Daemon then, pulling himself out of the link once the mysterious deed is done. He is exhausted, understandably, having just spent so much strength to help Jaenelle and Saetan. However, he has a more immediate concern. The Queen he’s currently serving detected what he did, and slaves are not allowed the strength of their Jewels or anything more complex or powerful than basic Craft. What Daemon did went well beyond that. For this transgression, he will be punished.

By whipping.

50 strokes.

When it’s done, Daemon’s back and legs are a ruined mess. For all that Daemon puts on a show of arrogance and power in public, in private, he’s no different from anyone else, and he reacts to the pain by sobbing. He gathers his strength to put together healing supplies, to focus his mind so that the power of his Craft can heal the torn flesh.

But his hands slip and he drops the jar with the powdered healing herbs, shattering it on the floor and wasting what he needed so badly. Without that boost from the powder, he will still heal, but he will scar. Badly. His life as a pleasure slave is bad enough as it is, but his looks and power are some of the only things saving him from a worse existence, and he well knows it. With scars, with less beauty on his side…

But suddenly there is a strange presence in the room with him, a psychic presence that is both familiar and unfamiliar, soothing and yet making him wary. Invisible hands help him into the bath, add healing herbs to the water, numbing the pain. He relaxes, drifts… and when he comes back to himself and steps out of the bath, he finds that the whip cuts have healed, almost completely. If he’s careful, he will heal without a trace of injury. What should have taken far more time was done in under an hour by this unseen presence, drawn to Daemon in a reaction to his pain.

He’s certain who healed him. It redoubles his determination to find her.

Deep Dive! Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop – Chapter 2

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.

Naturally.

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.

Deep Dive! Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop – Chapter 1

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.

Anyway…

blackringIt’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…

wine-glass-for-webTersa 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.

Jewels, by Oshirigaitai

Art by MooseFroos

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.

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

Starting off small with the prologue of the very first Black Jewels novel today. The prologue is short, and mostly serves to do a tiny little bit of setup and introduce a couple of characters.

Set long before the events in the rest of the trilogy, we see this section through the eyes of Tersa, who we’ll later come to know and love for her forthright and baffling statements. Right now, she’s the entertainment for a gathering of Blood aristos, fortune-teller, with a few tricks still up her sleeve despite being broken and separated from the powers she ought to have.

The prologue is where we first get to see hints of the true problem that plague Blood society in this trilogy, though the brief mentions it gets here are nothing compared to the reality of the situation. She establishes that Terreille has become twisted, perverted, “a mockery of everything we are,” though she doesn’t say how, or why. Just that things within Blood society have been warped out of context from what they should be.

spiderwebThe prologue introduces Black Widows and one of their talents, “weaving tangled webs” which can provide glimpses of the future. Prophecies on demand, so to speak, though interpreting what one sees in a tangled web isn’t always easy. Being separated from her powers after being broken (breaking will be discussed in a future post; I don’t want to have to start this whole Deep Dive series off with trigger warnings…), she can’t actually do this anymore.

Unless…

Tersa states that there is a way to regain her powers, and that she has done so, but it involves surrendering to the madness of the Twisted Kingdom, something that is both euphemistic for insanity and a sort of real psychic experience that distorts the perception of the real world. Tersa never really says what, specifically, she did. Nor whether others can do the same. But it was done, and she regained the craft of the Black Widow, and in so doing, she wove a tangled web to see the coming of Witch.

Witch, a powerful legendary woman, celebrated and feared by the Blood.

Those who survive will serve.

The very concept of the Twisted Kingdom makes me wonder, though: why Kingdom. The Blood are matriarchal, and it is Queens who rule. There is no equivalent title to a Queen. There are no kings. So why a Kingdom?

Chances are the choice of words has no deeper meaning, the author just using the word to describe something that the reader would better understand. I’ve long been of the opinion that fantasy novels are often best approached like one is reading a translation. We know the characters aren’t speaking English, so what they say, what we read, are words chosen for our benefit.

However, there are words that could be used that would fit better with the world. Realm, for instance, since we see later on that Terreille is just one of three Realms (the other two being Kaeleer and Hell). Why not the Twisted Realm?

I have a theory on this, and yes, I am probably reading too much into it, but hey, that’s part of the fun of fan theories sometimes. I figure it’s the Twisted Kingdom precisely because it’s so twisted. It’s madness, it’s insanity, it’s representational and metaphorical and painful and full of despair and confusion, and given the Blood’s matriarchal nature, what better to represent that than a place named after the rule of someone who is not supposed to rule?

This implies that the word king is something connected to a concept more ancient than the Blood themselves, for the word to even exist. And honestly, there’s a conversation much later on that could support this. One of the characters later talks about his theory on how the original Blood were all female, and that males chose to follow them for strength and mutual protection, but that doesn’t mean the society and people they came from were matriarchal. A great change begat great change. It could well have been that before the Blood, there were kings. They’re just irrelevant now, the concept of them diminished and attached to madness because really, who in their right mind would let males rule anything?

(She says, bitten tongue in cheek…)

We’re also introduced to two main characters, vitally important to the story: Daemon, and Lucivar.

And if your reaction to those names is an eye-roll, I assure you, you’re not alone. When I first read these books, the names were a huge source of annoyance for me. They reminded me of a line from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

baddybadbad

Fortunately, the names take a bit of getting used to but they can be overlooked, even appreciated by the end. Especially given a little theory my partner and I have about these books, which I shall hopefully remember to discuss once this deep dive has concluded.

Daemon and Lucivar, two of the most powerful men in Terreille, volatile tempers always at the ready because they’re Warlord Princes, the highest caste of Blood male. They’re feared, and desired, and leashed for both reasons. They’re allies who occasionally fight just to witness the destruction they cause, because when you’re powerful and held in bondage and will live for thousands of years, well, why the hell not?

Oh, also, they’re brothers. Tersa springs this on them rather randomly, in an almost, “kthxbai,” moment before losing herself to madness, leaving two powerful men who have known each other for the better part of a millennium to suddenly figure out the implications of this.

Thanks, Tersa. Much appreciated.

We close on the hope and fear that accompanies the pronouncement that Witch is coming. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day.

On on that day, change will begin.

Diving Deep into Anne Bishop’s “Black Jewels” Novels

It’s not an exaggeration to say that these books really impacted me. At first, it was a negative impact. I couldn’t see what people saw in them, I thought they were too Darkedy McDarkDark, and some of the characters just came across as utterly ridiculous in their behaviour.  I could not understand what some of my friends saw in them.

Then I read them for a second time, and it’s no exaggeration to say the impact changed drastically.

It’s also no exaggeration to say that these books changed how I see life and some of how I interact with the world around me.

Black Jewels trilogyThey’re now comfort reads for me, and given the content, they really shouldn’t be. They’re disturbing. The violent. They’re filled with people I should want to avoid, and typically would want to avoid. And yet, the world remains one I frequently want to revisit.

Thus I wanted to take some time to really examine these books, slowly and carefully, and to talk about them here on Bibliotropic. Talk about why I love them, talk about problems I had with them, talk about things the books made me think about, talk about why, in a nutshell, they’re so freaking important to me.

Once a week, I’ll cover a chapter or two, depending on how much I have to say. If you haven’t read the books yet, I’ll warn you now, there will be spoilers. I’ll be tackling the chapters in order, but some things I want to mention at certain points will, by necessity, reference things that come later in the books. I’ll mark spoilers as best I can, but I wanted to warn people now.

But first, an introduction, some things you probably need to know about the overall world I’m about to jump headfirst into, at least as it pertains to many common issues that I know people will be concerned with.

Gender

Daughter of the BloodGender is a huge thing in these books, and yes, it is 100% binary. You’ve got male, you’ve got female, and you’ve got nothing else established. Caste is genetic and gender-linked. That’s a problem a lot of people have with these books, and I can’t blame them. It’s a huge erasure of transgender characters, and I dislike that.

I suppose it can be said that it’s never explicitly stated than trans characters don’t exist here. But they’re never encountered in text, and honestly, they’d face an even harder struggle than trans people do here, given the way the Blood work. There would be no transition, no escaping it. It’s in the blood, in the genes, in everything.

I suppose a merciful interpretation would be that self and gender are so inextricably linked for the Blood that they wouldn’t be born into bodies that didn’t match the soul’s gender to begin with. But while that’s a hopeful interpretation, the transgender experience is something of a unique one, and saying that nobody’s born into the wrong sex body still erases transgender people from the world, and leaves a lot of stories untold.

To say nothing of non-binary gender identities. I suppose, in some ways, there is no solid place for people like me in the Realms of the Blood.

Sexuality

Heir to the ShadowsSexuality is another incredibly important thing in these books, and yes, it is strongly heterosexual in nature. There’s strong implications that nothing’s really considered sex unless it involves a penis in a vagina, at least where some things are concerned. (Specifically, I’m referring to a woman’s Virgin Night, that make-or-break moment where, in having heterosexual penetrative sex for the first time, she risks having her power broken. Anything else I guess doesn’t count.)

That being said, I’m sure there are a number of characters who would disagree with that interpretation.

There are also multiple queer characters throughout the books, despite the strong hetero vibe of the Blood. Rainier is a gay man. Karla is said to not have an interest in men “in that way,” which most people interpret as her being a lesbian but honestly, could also mean that she’s asexual; nothing is ever clarified beyond stating that she doesn’t have an interest in having sex with men.

And then there’s Daemon, who is the very definition of demisexual.

A demisexual [person] is a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection with someone.

If you have read the books, you’ll know that this fits Daemon, one of the main characters, right down to the core. This makes Daemon one of the few demisexual protagonists I’ve encountered in a fantasy series, let alone a fantasy series written in the 90s. It also makes him one of the few demisexual men I’ve encountered in fiction, SFF or otherwise.

So while this series could do a lot better with its queer rep, it does actually have some, and it’s got one of the best examples of an underappreciated and underrepresented sexuality that I’ve seen in fantasy fiction.

People of Colour

Really, most of the characters are not white. Most of them have skin that’s described as brown or light brown. There are some with paler skin (Jaenelle, for instance), but by and large, this is not another fantasy world populated solely by white people with just a few scattered non-white people from far-off exotic lands.

Which, again, for it having been written in the 90s, is actually a bit remarkable.

Violence

Queen of the DarknessOh boy, do these books ever contain a lot of violence. And a lot of it can be very triggering. You have general violence, like broken bones and open wounds; you see that sort of stuff in just about every fantasy novel and it’s barely worth a mention at this point, but I’m mentioning it here because it may still be an important factor for some people.

But the really disturbing violence is everything else.

You have sexual abuse, sexual slavery, all over the place.

You have the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of children.

You have rape and incest.

And contrary to some reviews I’ve seen of this series, none of this stuff is glorified. It’s portrayed as horribly as you’d expect, with clear statements about how sexual violence is wrong. Anne Bishop does seem to like clear dividing lines between the good guys and the bad guys in her writing. The closest thing we get to a sympathetic abuser is Kartane, who delights in breaking and raping women as a sort of payback to the way he was raped and abused by his own mother. You feel bad for what happened to him. You feel disgusted and horrified over what he does to others. It is made very clear in the text that he had chances to seek help, but he made his choice, and what he does is not condoned. He may be the closest thing to a sympathetic abuser these books give readers, but that does not mean he’s actually a sympathetic character and we’re supposed to forgive his actions.

Does that fact that this stuff is explicitly denounced make it any easier to read? No. No, it really doesn’t. And there are some scenes that can reduce a person to angry tears even if they don’t have a personal history of sexual trauma.


So. This is the series I want to take a long hard look at over the coming months. Do you see why I said, at the beginning of this post, that these probably should not be comfort reads for me? I’m not the sort of person who should find comfort in books that feature such horrific things!

And yet, there’s some unfathomable pull that makes me love these books, and the world and characters within them, to a very deep degree. If I say that these books supplanted the Valdemar books as my favourite fantasy series, I expect long-time readers of mine will probably get a sense of just how deeply my appreciation for Bishop’s work goes at this point.

So join me every Wednesday for the foreseeable future, as I take a deep dive into Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels, and, piece by piece, unravel the tangled web that has woven itself into my life.

 

Murder of Crows, by Anne Bishop

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 4, 2014

Summary: After winning the trust of the Others residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

Review: Whereas Written in Red felt very much like a set-up book before the real meat of the series gets started, Murder of Crows felt like the true launching point. The introductions and initial world-building has already been taken care of in the previous book, and now the real story can begin.

The book picks up almost immediately after the ending of Written in Red, and introduces new street drugs that are making the rounds. The first, called “feel-good,” does exactly what you’d expect with a name like that. The other, called “gone over wolf,” turns the person feral and violent. On top of that, there are signs that someone (or multiple someones) are luring Crows into places where they will be hurt or killed, a deliberate provocation against the Others. Naturally, the terra indigene don’t want to take this provocation lying down, and doubly so when it looks like the key to both mysteries revolve around Meg, their resident blood prophet.

There are definitely shades of modern real-world political issues coming to play in Murder of Crows. In the book, the group known as Humans First and Last are a, well, humans-first organization, dedicated to pushing the terra indigene out of the land that is technically theirs, and taking it over so that humans can use it for whatever they want. The group wants an end to the limited cooperation between humans and Others, with humans coming out on top, able to go where they want and do what they want, when they want it. Best to sacrifice a few innocents if it results in human freedom, am I right?

It’s easy to see parallels between this and the rise of white supremacist movements today. Rather than seeking cooperation or equality, it’s all about one group coming out on top of the other. The difference is, weirdly, the HFaL movement does have something of a point, albeit in theory if not in practice. Humans are extremely limited in what they can do in this world. Traveling away from designated cities or roads can and will get them killed. They’re allowed a certain degree of industry and commerce, so long as what is produced is of benefit to humans and Others, or at least not harmful. It’s hard to imagine how human civilization progressed to the point of even having running water and electricity under conditions like that, let alone, say, the resources to mass-produce books of fiction for entertainment value, or movies. Both of which exist in the world the books set up. The amount of resources needed for that kind of entertainment goes well beyond not being harmful.

If you get bogged down in minutiae like that, you’re going to run your mind ragged trying to sort it out. It’s best to suspend disbelief a little bit, sometimes.

Now, I’m not saying that these restrictions are entirely wrong and should be lifted, because to be fair, humans are living at the forbearance of the terra indigene. Humans don’t own land but lease it, so the owner has the right to set the rules. The terra indigene place a greater priority on low-impact living than technological progression or human freedom. But this is where the moral quandaries come in. How fair is it to impose such restrictions just because you can?

That’s not a question to be answered here. That’s a question that can be argued to death, with valid points on all sides, and still not have a satisfactory conclusion. A lot of what we know about modern science has come about through practices we now consider utterly horrific and disreputable. Does that mean we should ignore that knowledge? Can we unlearn something and rediscover it in benevolent ways?

But this is what the Humans First and Last group thrive upon. That moral grey area. They would see a situation involving a boy getting drunk and wandering into the wilds and getting killed as grounds to strike back, because how fair is it for someone to be killed because they made an error in judgment? Those rules need to be changed! And in the course of crusading for changed rules, if somebody has to be slipped some “gone over wolf” so that they kill someone in an animalistic frenzy in order to frame the Others and create an argument for why they’re not to be trusted, well, the ends will justify the means.

And if luring a few Crows into danger will make the Others paranoid and seem even more unreasonable, even better.

Amidst all this, blood prophets everywhere, Meg included, are starting to see the same apocalyptic visions when they bleed, even when those visions seem to have no relevance to what they’re supposed to be prophesying about. War seems to be approaching, a war between humans and Others, and the Lakeside Courtyard seems to be at the centre of it all.

Many of the same issues I talked about in the previous book are still present here, such as the matter of self-harm, or the “for your own good” mentality. Similarly, all the things I enjoyed so much about the first book are here too, like a varied cast of characters, and some interesting world-building, however much I may have to suspend my disbelief over the level of technology present in daily life. There’s an aspect to this setting that feels oddly comfortable, like sinking into a warm bath. I think it’s that for all that there’s danger and tension and intrigue aplenty, the mundane aspects of life, at least for Meg, are heartwarmingly simple. She enjoys curling up with a good book, or learning to cook, or watching a movie with friends. It’s the simple joys of life that she appreciates, and there’s something refreshing about reading a character who is that particular kind of naive, child-like without being childish. I know it can be problematic when female characters are infantalized, but dammit, sometimes that mentality is exactly what I need when I want some comfort reading, because it reminds me that sometimes life does hold unexpectedly simple joys if I just remember to stop getting so bogged down in my own complexities.

So ultimately, even if there are still problematic themes in this series, I closed this book feeling compelled to continue with the rest of the novels, to see how the story all plays out in the end. I like the characters, I like the setting, and while I’m not overlooking the touchy subject matter, I am also taking some of it with a contextual grain of salt. Not dismissing it, but working through the issues as they come and trying to see if they’re valid for the setting (however uncomfortable they might be for me) or whether they’re just put there for shock value or some dark edgy tone. But people might still do well to be forewarned that some things in these books are potentially triggering, and nobody should hold it against anyone if what’s contained in these pages isn’t for them.

Written in Red, by Anne Bishop

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 5, 2013

Summary: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

Review: Urban fantasy isn’t typically my go-to when it comes to preferred genres. I like it well enough… some of the time. But I find that a lot of the stories focus more heavily on romance than I tend to enjoy, leaving world-building and characters as secondary features rather than primary driving forces. That’s not to say that such books are bad, but they’re not typically my cup of tea.

Then along comes an author whose work I have enjoyed in the past, writing a series I’ve heard good things about, and my curiosity got the better of me. I had to give Written in Red a fair chance.

And I’m very glad I did.

The series takes place in an alternate world in which humans are not the dominant species, but instead live at the mercy of creates called terra indigene, earth natives, who are also known as the Others. We’d call them vampires and shapeshifters typically, which is typical urban fantasy fare, but it’s presented in such a unique way that although the story takes place in America, it feels enough like a secondary world that it was easy to forget, until place names were mentioned, that oh yes, this actually takes place on an alternate Earth, not some fantasy land or distant planet.

Written in Red tells the story of Meg Corbyn, an escaped blood prophet who has made her way to the city of Lakeside, seeking refuge in the section of the city run by the terra indigene known as the Courtyard. Inside Courtyards, human law does not apply, and as blood prophets are essentially slaves, Meg takes advantage of this to hide and keep her prior captors from finding her. She figures the danger of dealing with the terra indigene offers her a far better shot than returning to a captive life where she body and blood are bought by people who want her to speak prophecy for them, whether she wants to or not.

What surprises everyone is just how well she fits in with the Others in the Courtyard, making them want to protect her as though she were one of them and not a human. As a blood prophet, she had been locked away from the world for so long that her naivete gave her no real bad habits to unlearn when dealing with them, and to a degree that childlike nature of hers could bring anyone’s protective urges to the forefront. So when somebody finally does come hunting for her, she has a large group of very strong very aggressive companions to keep her safe.

If that sounds suspiciously like some aspects of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books, you’re not mistaken.

Bishop does seem to have something of a penchant for writing special young women surrounded by aggressive protective men, compounded by the woman acting as a sort of moral compass for other characters for the reader’s benefit. If a character is drawn to this special young woman, they’re a good person. If they dislike her, then they’re a bad guy, in no uncertain terms. It isn’t as though the reader can’t figure this sort of thing out on their own, mind you, but Meg the Moral Compass makes this painfully clear who we should be rooting for over the course of the novel.

Is this inherently a bad thing? No, not really. But of the 2 series I’ve read by Bishop, this character trope shows up in both series, and at that point, it does make me raise an eyebrow. Could we not have something more subtle? Could we not let the reader judge for themselves who to like and dislike without having their good-vs-bad nature spelled out for us on the page? There’s such a lack of nuance here, which is strangely at odds with the other nuances that I’ve gotten used to in other Bishop novels. It’s a weird mix of reading between the lines to see a beautiful and complex world with dozens of possibilities and implications, and bright neon flashing lights saying, “This one’s the bad guy, that one’s the good guy!”

I’m going to give people fair warning before getting into this series, there is a lot of touchy and problematic material to wade through here. I could make lists. In fact, I have. But the biggest ones to be aware of are the “for your own good” mentality of many characters, the borderline glorification of self-harm, and the very awkward subtle framing of North American Indigenous people as literal monsters.

Let’s start at the top with the “for your own good” narrative that runs through this book, and indeed, the rest of the series. When you’re dealing with a group of overprotective people, that’s going to come into play. “You want to go do the thing but I don’t want you to? Well, I’m going to stop you. Physically. Because you might get hurt. It’s for your own good.” It’s not like this protectiveness doesn’t have a reason, and it’s even a very good reason. When a blood prophet’s blood is spilled, she sees prophecy. She either has to communicate that prophecy and forget it but feel ecstatic pleasure, or “swallow the words” and remember the prophecy but feel excruciating pain. A blood prophet only has so much in them to give, and cutting across old prophecy scars can cause a confused jumble of images that will eventually drive a blood prophet mad. The terra indigene of the Courtyard want to keep Meg safe from that future.

Which brings up the issues of “benevolent ownership,” which comes up multiple times in the book. Blood prophets are slaves, property, in order to keep them safe, it’s argued. Better to control their prophecies and their lives than have them uncontrolled and unaware, risking madness and death because their own powers overwhelm them. Written in Red asks how much freedom is worth when it brings uncertainty and danger, and how much safety is worth when it comes at the cost of one’s freedom. But even Meg’s freedom from slavery has its drawbacks, with the terra indigene wanting to keep tabs on her at all times, wanting her to follow their orders so they can keep her safe. It’s not benevolent ownership, per se, but it sure skirts the line, at least in my eyes.

As for glorifying self-harm… Hooboy, this is another tangled mess. As I mentioned, blood prophets cut to see prophecy, and speaking it aloud brings them great pleasure, so there’s an addictive draw to cutting that isn’t so much hinted at as laid bare right on the page for all to read. This is… touchy, to say the lease. Now yes, I have read the rest of the series, and I know this issue gets addressed later on in a much more satisfactory way, but coming at this from the perspective of someone who has only read this book? I can see why people would be averse to this. I can see why it sounds like an absolutely terrible idea to put such a troubling thing in a compelling light. I’m not saying people at risk of self-harm are going to read this and think, “I’m a blood prophet too, so I have an excuse to cut now!” I’m saying that people at risk of self-harm are going to read this and likely feel extremely uncomfortable at the reactions Meg has to cutting.

I say this because I have a history of self-harm, and that’s the reaction I had. It made me deeply uncomfortable, and I felt bad for anyone who started in on this series and was blindsided by the revelations of what blood prophets go through.

Lastly, the issue of Indigenous peoples. Again, I’ll say that I’ve read the rest of the series and know that certain points of this get addressed later on, but again, from the standpoint of someone only reading the first novel, this bears saying. The book takes place in North America, thus we have a North American viewpoint. It’s established that people came over from Europe and wanted to settle in these new lands, only they found terra indigene there who were not happy about the arrangement and fought back, eventually settling on an uneasy truce where small human settlements were allowed in certain areas, provided they followed strict rules and made things useful or interesting to the terra indigene. The Others were there first, they make the rules, and they’re the caretakers of the land that humans are at the mercy of.

Or, to put it more bluntly, “What would have happened if European settlers arrived, only to find that Native Americans were all vampires and shapeshifters?”

Given that North American Indigenous peoples have been portrayed as inhuman in the past, this is… extremely awkward.

It’s not any less awkward to insist that the Others are not stand-ins for Indigenous people because Indigenous people are human, and there were no humans in North America before Europeans came. That just wipes out multiple cultures from history, declares them unimportant to the point where they don’t even have to exist, but what matters more is the history of the white people who crossed the ocean first. Human history in North America starts with them, according to these books. And that’s already enough of a problem in the real world.

Do I think this was intentional? No, not really. But I do think it was an oversight with large implications. As much as the terra indigene are not slavering wild monsters, great care is taken to establish that they are not human and do not behave in typical human ways, that their humanity is a facade to make humans feel more comfortable as part of a great experiment, as it were. But they are not human, and humans, in general, fear and mistrust them.

That being said, I rather think that the Others make a lot of sense and I rather like how they work, socially. Seems like the biggest trick to dealing with them is deferring to their judgment, being polite, and not being arrogant; that so many humans have difficulty with this says a lot more about human nature than it does about Other nature. The Courtyard society was interesting to see, and I liked seeing the interplay between characters, the different dynamics that arose as different groups of shapeshifters did their own things will still existing relatively harmoniously.

For all that there’s a lot of problematic material in Written in Red, I still enjoyed the story. It felt mostly like a set-up book, setting the stage for the greater story still to come, rather than a fully fleshed-out story in its own right, but between that and the fast smooth dialogue and interactions between a wide variety of characters, I was definitely compelled to pick up the second book quickly after finishing the first one. This isn’t a book, or a series, for everyone, but there’s still a lot to enjoy here under the right circumstances.