Crowbones, by Anne Bishop

Buy from Amazon.com, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 8, 2022

Summary: Crowbones will gitcha if you don’t watch out!

Deep in the territory controlled by the Others—shape-shifters, vampires, and even deadlier paranormal beings—Vicki DeVine has made a new life for herself running The Jumble, a rustic resort. When she decides to host a gathering of friends and guests for Trickster Night, at first everything is going well between the humans and the Others.

But then someone arrives dressed as Crowbones, the Crowgard bogeyman. When the impostor is killed along with a shape-shifting Crow, and the deaths are clearly connected, everyone fears that the real Crowbones may have come to The Jumble—and that could mean serious trouble.

To “encourage” humans to help them find some answers, the Elders and Elementals close all the roads, locking in suspects and victims alike. Now Vicki, human police chief Grimshaw, vampire lawyer Ilya Sanguinati, and the rest of their friends have to figure out who is manipulating events designed to pit humans against Others—and who may have put Vicki DeVine in the crosshairs of a powerful hunter.

Thoughts: Starting very shortly after the end of Lake Silence, and with the same cast of characters, Crowbones starts out with Vicki DeVine getting her terra indigene friends interested in the tradition of Trickster Night, this world’s equivalent of Halloween. Seems like a fun harmless thing, a nice way to get the Others to understand human traditions and interact with them a little bit, especially with some new human guests staying at Vicki’s property on Lake Silence.

But it wouldn’t be an Others novel if this plan didn’t go terribly awry. The arrival of a figure dressed as the terrifying Crowbones, an Elder terra indigene who dispenses brutal justice to and on behalf of the Crowgard, arrives at the Jumble and scares the everloving crap out of everyone. Turns out that first sighting was someone dressed up as Crowbones, not the real thing, but that begs the question: how did a human know what Crowbones looks like?

And why does the real Crowbones arrive shortly after? Why are both humans and Crows being killed? How does it all connect to the humans staying at the Jumble? Or does it connect to the arrival of 4 young Sanguinati vampires who recently arrived at Lake Silence to learn how to interact with humans?

Crowbones is, at its heart, a murder mystery, which seems to be par for the course for things involving Vicki, since Lake Silence was also a murder mystery. Death seems to happen around her a distressing amount. But this time the stakes are higher, as the arrival of the actual Crowbones means that some sort of corruption has come to the town of Sproing and its surrounding area, and the Elementals respond by literally blocking off all the roads so that nobody can leave or enter until the mystery, and the corruption, have been dealt with. It was honestly interesting to see so many small mysteries and plot threads all stemmed from the same source. All the questions I asked in the previous paragraph? They are all connected, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.

And honestly, I think the reason I find this interesting is because it didn’t need to happen. I’ve said before that sometimes books are notable for what they don’t do rather than what they do do, and I think this is one of those cases. The young Sanguinati could have just been there because they were there, and to add a little tension by involving inexperienced teen-equivalents into an ongoing murder investigation… but that wasn’t the case. The professors visiting the Jumble in order to get a chance to meet some terra indigene and learn more about their folklore and mythology could have been an element solely there to explain the human perspective on what Crowbones might be, or to provide some amusing misunderstandings… but there was so much more to it than that. I’m no mystery writer, and I don’t have the greatest amount of experience in holding that many mysterious plot threads as I write, but it seems to me that a number of mysteries do have those little side-elements, things that add depth to the story and the world but aren’t necessarily directly related to the mystery at hand.

And that didn’t happen here.

And so I was hooked the whole way through, trying to piece together all the clues and figure out what fit and how it fit and maybe what was a red herring… It was a fun read, in that regard.

My biggest complaint is, weirdly, the character of Crowbones itself. Crowbones is an Elder terra indigene, known as the world’s “teeth and claws,” and Crowbones is a sort of bogeyman for the Crowgard. Its purpose (I’m deliberately obscuring Crowbones’s gender here, to avoid potential spoilers) is to kill bad Crows who have become a threat to their kind or who have become corrupted, and to avenge Crows who have lost their lives to that same sort of corruption. A very cool concept, something that will avenge you if you fall, but will punish the hell out of you if you transgress. Makes sense.

So… where was Crowbones when Crows were literally being targeted and killed in Murder of Crows? Crowbones is only one person, sure, and can’t be everywhere at once, but in that novel twisted humans were deliberately targeting Crows by luring them in with shiny things and then poisoning them or setting vicious drugged animals on them… and there was no rattle rattle rattle of Crowbones drawing near to seek revenge.

Or maybe that did happen, but it all happened off the page. Maybe Crowbones didn’t get there before other people handled the situation. I don’t know. But it was a plot hole that I noticed. Really, not an uncommon plot hole when one is dealing with a book series that’s approaching 10 novels at this point. Sooner or later, you’re bound to have an idea for a new story, and there’s an element or two that gets introduced that probably should have been mentioned in an earlier book, but you couldn’t do that because you didn’t think of it until now. It happens. I get that. But it’s still worth mentioning. When readers have to read between the lines and come up with their own theories as to why this didn’t happen sooner, it feels like an oversight, even when it’s just… chronology.

Anyway, on the whole, I really enjoyed Crowbones, and the expansion of lore that it provided for the series. I still relate a lot to Vicki, so I think I’ll forever enjoy reading the novels that involve her, and I’m definitely here for more of them if Anne Bishop decides to write them. (There were some hints at the end of the book that there’s something odd happening to the Sanguinati, so I suspect there’ll be at least one more spin-off novel in the future, and I’m absolutely here for it!) Bishop continues being able to tell a compelling story in an interesting world, and this series long ago became a comfort read for me, so I admit I’m a little biased, but still. If you enjoy the Others novels, then you’re also likely to enjoy Crowbones too, especially if you were a fan of Lake Silence. This isn’t really one you can read without having read Lake Silence already, so it’s not a good jumping-in point for the series, but if you’re already a fan, yeah, you’ll appreciate this one too.

And if you don’t… Well, Crowbones is gonna gitcha.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

Lake Silence, by Anne Bishop

Buy from Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 6, 2018

Summary: Human laws do not apply in the territory controlled by the Others–vampires, shape-shifters, and even deadlier paranormal beings. And this is a fact that humans should never, ever forget…

After her divorce, Vicki DeVine took over a rustic resort near Lake Silence, in a human town that is not human controlled. Towns such as Vicki’s don’t have any distance from the Others, the dominant predators who rule most of the land and all of the water throughout the world. And when a place has no boundaries, you never really know what is out there watching you.

Vicki was hoping to find a new career and a new life. But when her lodger, Aggie Crowe–one of the shape-shifting Others–discovers a murdered man, Vicki finds trouble instead. The detectives want to pin the death on her, despite the evidence that nothing human could have killed the victim. As Vicki and her friends search for answers, ancient forces are roused by the disturbance in their domain. They have rules that must not be broken–and all the destructive powers of nature at their command.

Thoughts: It’s no surprise that I really enjoy Anne Bishop’s novels. I mean, for crying out loud, I was over the freaking moon when I got lucky enough to interview her last year! (Highlight of my blogging career!) And while the Others books do have some problematic implications at times, I still enjoy the absolute heck out of them, and the series is basically a comfort re-read at this point. So even when Lake Silence first released, I was primed to enjoy it.

But I didn’t expect to relate to the protagonist quite as much as I did.

So, the story centres around Vicki DeVine, which is a pretty cheesy name from the mind of an author who is somewhat known for cheesy names. Still. Vicki is recently divorced, and part of her divorce settlement from her abusive ex-husband is what he thought to be completely worthless property that had been in his family for a while. He passed that off to Vicki to avoid having to give her anything he thought of as valuable. The property comes with a pretty restrictive contract, however, which Vicki takes very seriously, and she works to start restoring the property as best she can.

Turns out that the reason for the strict contract is because the area is meant as a sort of testing ground for the local terra indigene, the shapeshifters and vampires who rule the vast majority of the world. In this safe space that’s right on the edge of the dangerous wild country, they can interact with humans and adjust to their presence, and the two groups can learn to cooperate as best they can. So when Vicki’s ex wants the land back to turn it into a luxury resort, naturally things get… tense.

And full of death. The Others don’t tolerate their rules being broken.

None of that description explained why I related to Vicki quite so hard, I admit, but the way her character develops through the story… First off, Vicki is literally how I used to spell my legal name for a while, and honestly, it still throws me off a little when I find characters that share my name. It’s like seeing a piece of myself on the page, even if that character is nothing like me. But Vicki is an awful lot like me. She’s prone to panic attacks after years of abuse, and while my abuse didn’t come from an ex-spouse, I still know what it’s like to have my anxiety triggered by any man who appears even a little bit threatening. Vicki is also a bit on the large side, and I can relate to that as well, along with having that be a bit of a sore spot after a lifetime of people making fun of my weight and treating me like I’m worth less because I weigh more.

Also she has a bit of a soft spot for one of the local vampires. So, uh, yes, very relatable!

Vicki’s journey to self-reliance is one that I honestly loved, and reinforced that yeah, I could probably get along with the terra indigene if I existed in that world. By simply being willing to try and follow through on the responsibilities she was handed when her ex-husband fobbed off that property on her, she marks herself as someone who’s willing to worth with the Others rather than taking the typical arrogant human approach of being antagonistic toward them. Seriously, in these books, the biggest cause of friction is humans deciding they shouldn’t have to play by the rules. And not because humans are so downtrodden and abused (though admittedly, risking death as a consequence for transgressions isn’t exactly a fun prospect), but there are a number of antagonists in the Others books who think that humans should be dominant and so attempt to commit genocide against the terra indigene. They’re not seeking coexistence, they’re not trying to be reasonable, they just want power.

And frankly, there’s enough of that in the real world, so it’s not hard to see where Bishop got her inspiration. There are a lot of people out there who are terrified of not being on top, and so take action to ensure that those their consider a threat to that power are subjugated.

So the fact that Vicki is willing to do what she can to cooperate with the terra indigene does actually set her apart, as even those who aren’t necessarily antagonistic still prefer to keep away from anything to do with the Others. Willingness to work together means a lot, and that’s how Vicki ends up with a strong support system to help her deal with the problems in her life. Whether those problems involve not being able to lift heavy things on the property, or whether they involve standing up to the people who seek to abuse her, she has people who are in her corner. I love that. I love reading about somebody I relate to ending up with wonderful companions and the ability to move forward in their life. Gives me hope for myself, you know?

If you’re a fan of the main 5 books of the Others series, then chances are high you’ll enjoy Lake Silence too. It’s a spin-off from the main series in that it doesn’t involve Meg or Simon, and in that it shows us a glimpse into other aspects of this urban fantasy world, other people who also have stories worth telling. Even if you don’t have the same personal connection to Vicki that I do, I still think there’s plenty to appreciate in her story, and the unlikely support structure a person can end up with if they’re willing to rise to a challenge and do the right thing.

(You’d think that doing the right thing would be the easy choice when doing the wrong thing might get you eaten, but, well…)

I Scored an Interview with Anne Bishop!

You know me. You know that I love Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. There’s more to it than just loving the story and the characters and the world, though. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be the same person without these books in my life. It’s thanks to them that I found a lot of courage to let my voice be heard and to not be cowed by people who saw me as weak. They helped give me the strength to not be as weak, and to find value in myself. It seems like a lot to credit these books with, but it really is true. When you read books filled with strong women, powerful women, people who are nurtured and encouraged to be the best they can be… When you spend time discussing the world of those books with those you love, when you role-play scenarios set in that world… It’s hard to not have some of that rub off on you.

Case in point, back when I could attend university, there was this guy who took the same bus as me, and no matter how much later he got to the bus stop than I did, would always deliberately make sure he got on the bus first. He had to be ahead of everybody. I would see the bus coming, and start walking to the curb, and he would always walk a little faster than me to get ahead of me. If we got there at the same time, he’d shift around and shuffle and eventually force me to take a step away to avoid him bumping into me, which gave him the opening to be first in line. It bothered me. I didn’t think he was being malicious or cruel. I just think that I was beneath his consideration, except as someone to overtake. A display of subtle dominance, a way of showing me that I was worth less than he was.

And one day, I’d had enough. Too many hours of reading the Black Jewels novels, too many evenings spent role-playing a Queen who knew damn well what she was worth and wasn’t the sort to be cowed by anything. Too much sense of sense-worth developing, too much confidence that I shouldn’t be overlooked and treated as insignificant. “Not today, puppy.” Just before the bus was due to arrive but before either of us saw it coming, I headed to the curb. Stood right at the edge. Waited patiently. By the time he saw the bus coming, he was left with three choices: stand out in the actual road in order to be ahead of me, push me out of the way, or wait his damn turn in a line like a polite human.

He chose the third option.

And he never tried that dominance shit with me again. Which makes me very sure it was a dominance thing to begin with.

Ridiculous to credit those books with my newly-emerging sense of self and value? No. Not really. Things affect us all in ways that we can’t always expect. I ended up taking some of the lessons of those books to heart. It changed me, for the better. I feel more able to not duck my head and be silent, because I so love a world where, were I there, I would be encouraged to hold it high and speak my mind.

So you might be able to understand why my jaw damn near hit the floor when I was approached with an offer of an interview with Anne Bishop, the author of these books that I hold so dear. No way in hell was I going to pass up that chance!

Now that I’m done setting the stage, let’s take a look at what she had to say in response to some of the more pressing questions on my mind.


  1. You’ve written a wide variety of characters in the Black Jewels novels, the good, the bad, and the terrible. Of all of them, who is your favourite to write? Similarly, who is or was your least favourite?

Pick one favorite? Really? Any day when I’m writing a scene with Daemon or Lucivar—or both—is a fun writing day. Or a sad writing day if one of them is in crisis. But scenes that have some zing in the dialogue are the best writing days. There is so much potential for getting the boyos in trouble, especially when they’re dealing with Witch or Karla. (Looking over the whole of the series, scenes with the High Lord were also good writing days.)

Least favorite to write? That’s easy. Dorothea and Hekatah.

  1. Daemonar steps up to the line and becomes a major player in The Queen’s Weapons. Back in the early days of the series, when you first wrote Daemonar as that little winged terror who shouldn’t be allowed in libraries, did you imagine him taking such a pivotal role in the series when he grew up?

I didn’t see him beyond who he was in each of the stories because that would have narrowed the possibilities of who he might be as he grew up. That said, Daemonar is his father’s son and his uncle’s nephew, so I had a feeling he would grow into a strong presence within the Blood’s society. And I’ve known from the beginning that Daemonar belongs to Witch in much the same way that Daemon and Lucivar belong to her. That has always had considerable influence in the shaping of who he would be.

But he still has some growing up to do, so he’s still a winged terror who boosts the adults’ blood pressure, just in a different way.

  1. Fans have long had many questions about various aspects of the lore in the Black Jewels novels, some of which have been answered in the books or the bonus stories on your website, but other things which go unaddressed as they weren’t pertinent to the story being told at the time. Could you ever see yourself writing supplemental material to answer some of these questions, in the same way that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages did for the Harry Potter franchise?

I don’t know. There are some things I find more interesting because they are only hinted at, and other things add to the layers and textures of that world but don’t resonate strongly enough by themselves for me to want to invest the amount of time required to write a story. Then again, if the Muse grabs me and says “Write this!” I’ll write the story.

  1. It’s no secret that there are some truly terrible events that occur throughout the Black Jewels novels. What was the hardest scene for you to write?

There were a lot of scenes that hurt my heart, but the one that always occurs to me first is the scene in Queen of the Darkness when Daemon is in the sunken garden raging and grieving because he believes Jaenelle is gone.

  1. Follow-up to the previous question: which scene gave you the most joy to write?

Jaenelle and Daemon’s first wedding. The scene in The Queen’s Weapons where Daemon meets Zoey (and following that, the scene where Daemon is telling Witch about his meeting with Zoey). Any scene where Lucivar has to deal with the fact that his kids have inherited a fair amount of what makes him a pain in the butt for everyone else.

  1. I often find myself turning to rereads of the Black Jewels novels (and the Others novels) when I’m in need of a comfort read. What are your favourite comfort reads or rereads?

The Inspector Gamache/Three Pines series by Louise Penny and the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris are the two I go back to the most because I can read those stories when I’m doing first draft of my next book.

  1. I’m sure this has been asked a hundred and one times by now, but could you take me through a bit of your writing process? Are you a “glue your butt to a chair and write until you’ve hit a certain wordcount” sort of writer, or do you wait until the right inspiration has hit before you start, even if that means a more sporadic writing schedule?

I write five days a week, reporting to the writing desk at 9AM. If I’m drafting a new story, I aim for 1500 words a day because that’s what I need to do to produce the length of book I write in the timeframe I have. For second draft, copyedit review, and proofreading the page proofs, I divide the number of pages by the writing days I have until that particular deadline to get a daily page quota. Then I work until I meet the day’s quota. Sometimes that is four hours, sometime it’s six. Six hours is about my limit. After that, my brain is too tired to stay focused on creative work.

While those things are going on, I also have to make time for the brain to wander and look at this and that as my way of gathering ideas and material for potential stories in the future.

  1. Movie and TV tie-in novels can be interesting, and there are even a few book franchises that have multi-author collections of stories set in their worlds. Could you ever see a sort of “Tales of the Blood” anthology being made, or is that the sort of project that doesn’t hold much appeal?

I won’t say never. However, I have a border collie gene in my makeup, and relinquishing any control of a place that has been a part of my life for over thirty years would be very hard. And that’s not taking into consideration the amount of work that would be required to create a useful bible for someone else’s reference. A lot of what I know about the Blood and the Realms is intuitive, which wouldn’t be helpful to anyone else.

  1. A burning question on everyone’s minds (or at least it will be once The Queen’s Weapons releases): do kindred Black Widows have a snake tooth and venom sac? (Inquiring minds want to know!)

I’m one of those inquiring minds, but the kindred didn’t tell me. However, I would be careful around any kindred Black Widows whose race has claws. Just in case.

  1. Anything else you’d like to add before I stop pelting you with questions?

Stories are about conflict of one kind or another. If my story makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you angry, makes you want to whack a character upside the head (or me for a particular scene, which is okay as long as we don’t live in the same state), then I’ve done my job because I felt all those things while I was writing the story. (Except the whack upside the head. I’m dedicated to my craft, not foolish.)


Thank you so very much for indulging this fan’s questions!

The newest novel in the Black Jewels series, The Queen’s Weapons, releases on March 9, and I highly recommend getting a copy of you’re a fan of the series. (If you haven’t checked out my review of the novel, it’s right here, along with purchase links.) Anne Bishop’s website can be found here, and contains bonus material not found in the books, which is well worth looking into!

The Queen’s Weapons, by Anne Bishop

Buy from Amazon.com, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 9, 2021

Summary: They are Warlord Princes, men born to serve and protect. They are the Queen’s Weapons, men born to destroy the Queen’s enemies–no matter what face that enemy wears.

Daemonar Yaslana knows how to be bossy yet supportive–traits he shares with his father, the Demon Prince, and his uncle, the High Lord of Hell. Within his generation of the family, he assumes the role of protector, supporting his sister Titian’s artistic efforts and curbing his cousin Jaenelle Saetien’s more adventurous ideas. But when a young Eyrien Queen, someone Titian thought was a friend, inflicts an emotional wound, Daemonar’s counterattack brings him under the tutelage of Witch, the Queen whose continued existence is known only to a select few.

As Daemonar is confronted by troubling changes within and around the family, he sees warnings that a taint in the Blood might be reappearing. Daemonar, along with his father and uncle, must uncover the source of a familiar evil–and Daemon Sadi, the High Lord of Hell, may be forced into making a terrible choice.

Thoughts: It’s not even close to a secret that I adore the Black Jewels novels. I love the characters, I love the world, and I often turn to these books when I’m in need of a comfort re-read. And while I definitely had some issues with the previous novel, The Queen’s Bargain (mostly in that one of the characters kept doing things she absolutely knew very well to not do), I still overall enjoyed it. And I fully expected to enjoy this latest offering in the series, The Queen’s Weapons, just as much.

The Queen’s Weapons is set a good few years after The Queen’s Bargain, with Jaenelle Saetien and Daemonar fast growing up and showing just who they’re going to be as adults. In Daemonar’s case, he’s definitely turning into the model of a Warlord Prince, very much like this father. In Jaenelle Saetien’s case… It’s a lot more complicated, as she quite frankly grows up to be quite the brat, convinced that the only way to come into her own is to rebel against very idea of her namesake, the Witch and Queen that everyone around her knew and loved. This is understandable pretty damn upsetting to Surreal and Daemon, but it only gets worse when signs emerge that the taint, once thought wiped out, has set down in Kaeleer and is starting to grow and corrupt once more.

I admit, when I first read the description of this book many months ago, I had to raise a skeptical eyebrow. In the original trilogy, it was a huge deal when Jaenelle sacrificed herself and her power to wipe out the taint that was threatening the Blood. It was a major event that wiped out most of the Blood across an entire Realm. And here it’s just, “Oh yeah, that thing. Yup, it’s back.” I was a little bit wary of how this would be handled. Not because I thought Bishop couldn’t do such a concept justice, but because I’ve seen authors, over time, wanting to write more in their beloved worlds but lacking a solid idea for a story, and so just bringing back a once-vanquished evil. Even if it made no sense.

But thankfully, it did make sense here. A reason was given for the taint’s reemergence, and that reason stands up to scrutiny. That was quite a relief!

While the Black Jewels series started off with so very much abuse and torture and things that deserve a buttload of trigger warnings, a lot of those things were absent in later books. Their echoes were still felt, of course, because one doesn’t recover from centuries of abuse, for instance, just because they’re now in a happy relationship. Scars are still there, they don’t fade so easily. But in terms of scenes of active abuse and assault? No, they faded from a lot of the text in future books, which likely made said books a bit more approachable for new readers. (Someone could read Cassidy’s duology, The Shadow Queen and Shalador’s Lady, for instance, without having read the core trilogy and without needing so many of those trigger warnings.) It’s sometimes easy to forget that the series started with a corrupt culture filled with violence and rape. And since The Queen’s Weapons deals with the taint coming back, I feel it’s worth pointing out that some of those issues do rear their ugly heads once again, and it’s worth warning people that yes, this book does contain rape, and abuse, and a very unsettling scene in which a kitten is left to die. You might well need to know that before picking it up.

And it’s with that context that we see a depiction of someone who knows very well that such things are wrong, but who has her own agenda and is willing to turn a blind eye to some things, to make excuses, if those things don’t like up with what she wants. Jaenelle Saetien clung to the wrong sort of people, convinced that they weren’t using her and weren’t malicious and weren’t behind any of the increasingly concerning instances of abuse, because she needed something that she was convinced only they could provide. She’s a character study in desperation and willful ignorance.

Much as I hate to say it, I could relate a bit to Jaenelle Saetien’s concerns about living in somebody’s shadow. It’s something I’ve had to confront in my life as well, and that I still struggle with at times, so even when I hated who she was becoming and how she was behaving, when things switched to her viewpoint and we got a look at her thoughts and emotions, I couldn’t help but remember how many times I had felt the same way. It made me reflect on how I could well have ended up the same way, someone who was willing to overlook terrible things in order to be accepted by people who had no expectations of me. There but for the grace of something-or-other, I suppose. I wouldn’t say that Jaenelle Saetien is a bad person, so much as she’s someone who could easily become so, if not handled the right way. She balanced on the edge of a very particular knife, and it took extraordinary events to determine which side of that knife she’d end up on.

I do want to take a moment to mention something in particular here. I don’t know if it was intended this way or not, but the twisted nostalgia for Hayllian items and pieces of Dorothea’s abusive rule struck me as analogous to the way some people have this weird idealized nostalgia for times past, especially when it comes to Nazi propaganda and far-right ideology. A conviction that “the right sort of people” should be in power, that it’s fine to push others down if it comparatively raises up you and yours, you see that mentality expressed a lot in people who won’t call themselves racist, no, but will express that it’s “those people” who are keeping everyone else down. There are people out there who seek out and collect Nazi memorabilia, with an eye to glorifying the Nazi regime and all of its atrocities. Atrocities, of course, against “the wrong people.” I can’t say for sure if this was Bishop’s specific intent here, but it sure read that way to me. And given that Daemon et al are the good guys of the story, the ones we’re supposed to empathize with and agree with, and they’re all vehemently against bringing back the sort of culture that brought torture and death to themselves and those they loved… Yeah, it’s not hard to see which side of the line we’re supposed to stand on.

The Queen’s Weapons addressed many of the smaller issues that I encountered in The Queen’s Bargain, which I was happy to see. Chiefly, the relationship between Surreal and Daemon. I won’t lie here — I have never been a fan of those two together. I can see why they stayed together once Jaenelle Saetien came into the picture, absolutely, but the situation that led to it… Eh, I have strong feelings about it, and I may get around to discussing them someday. Either way, a good deal of the friction in the previous novel stemmed from their relationship, and from both of them trying to be who they weren’t, especially to each other. Especially after Daemon learned of Witch’s continued presence. But the way things worked out in The Queen’s Weapons felt satisfying. It felt like they figured themselves and each other out, and were prepared to move forward with what that knowledge meant. It might not be a happy conclusion, per se, but it was a very satisfying one.

As always with these books, there’s so much that I want to say, much of which can’t be fit into a review because then it would devolve into semi-nonsensical, “Ooh, does this mean that?” and, “So siddown and lemme tell y’all my theories about this scene!” What I can say for certain is that it was wonderful to return, once again, to a world I love and characters I adore, to walk a while in the Shadow Realm and revel in Bishop’s delicious dark fantasy narrative. It was a treat to see the younger characters mature and hold their own in the story. It’s a book I absolutely will reread, and discuss at length with my partner (because we’re both huge geeks for this series). Even moreso than The Queen’s Bargain, The Queen’s Weapons is a worthy addition to the series that holds a beloved place in my life, and I can absolutely recommend it to other fans of the series.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

Shalador’s Lady, by Anne Bishop

Buy from Amazon.com, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 2, 2010

Summary: For years the Shalador people suffered the cruelties of the corrupt Queens who ruled them, forbidding their traditions, punishing those who dared show defiance, and forcing many more into hiding. And even though the refugees have found sanctuary in Dena Nehele, they have never been able to call it home.

Now that Dena Nehele has been cleansed of tainted Blood, the Rose-Jeweled Queen, Lady Cassidy, makes it her duty to restore the land and prove her ability to rule. She knows that undertaking this task will require all her heat and courage as she summons the untested power within her, a power capable of consuming her if she cannot control it.

And eve if Lady Cassidy survives her trial by fire, other dangers await. For the Black Widows see within their tangled webs vision of something coming that will change the land – and Lady Cassidy – forever.

Thoughts: Sequel to The Shadow Queen, Shalador’s Lady sounds very much like it ought to be a romance novel, like “Shalador” is some noble knight trying to woo a beautiful woman. Rather, Shalador is a significant section of the Territory of Dena Nehele, the Territory that Cassidy is ruling over for a trial period of 1 year, trying to bring the land back from the brink of destruction after so much tragedy and bloodshed. The Shalador reserves have borne more than their fair share of the troubles, and Cassidy has it in her mind to set that to rights.

Which isn’t helped at all by Theran’s continued insistence on getting in Cassidy’s way and preventing her from doing the very thing he wanted a Queen to do in the first place.

Cassidy’s road is hard enough, but then comes Kermilla, a very pretty young Queen who essentially stole Cassidy’s previous court and caused a lot of trauma and self-doubt in Cassidy. Theran takes a shine to Kermilla, wanting her to be Queen of Dena Nehele once Cassidy’s contract expires, though he is pretty much the only person who likes this idea. Everyone else, including the other members of Cassidy’s court, are against it, seeing it as the final act that would shatter the possibility of everything they hope to build for their land and people.

Much like in The Shadow Queen, Shalador’s Lady deals heavily with the subject of trauma. Cassidy’s previous experience with Kermilla and members of her old court were seriously demoralizing, and that’s putting it mildly. Cassidy has panic attacks about Kermilla’s presence, and when Theran declares his support for her, Cassidy becomes quickly convinced that her new court will leave her the same way her old court did, proving once again to her that she’s substandard and weak and unworthy. She knows that Kermilla isn’t the sort of Queen who can do what Dena Nehele needs, but her opinion won’t count for much if she’s abandoned once again. Her contract may only be for a single year, but if she’s wanted, if people accept her, she can stay and continue to rule… if she can hold onto her court and prevent them from siding with Kermilla instead.

Kermilla is one of those characters you either love to hate, or just simply hate. She’s not cruel, not the sort of person to delight in hurting others, but she doesn’t think twice about the consequences of getting what she wants, and is very certain that she deserves whatever she wants, and that combination results in her hurting others regardless of how little joy she takes in it. She’s selfish, inconsiderate, and very sure that being unattractive makes a person unsuitable to rule. Given that Cassidy isn’t exactly a classic beauty, this attitude is what caused so many problems and is at the root of much of Cassidy’s traumas.

(Which makes it extra cringey that the cover art for these novels, however beautiful, portrays Cassidy as she isn’t. Her appearance is a huge sore spot for her, and her previous court’s desire for somebody beautiful rather than somebody competent caused pain and problems. Having her appear as the exact sort of person she’s convinced could keep a court together on looks alone does a disservice to her as a character, and downplays the degree of trauma she experienced because she’s not someone who can just step into a room and dazzle all assembled.)

One of the things I adore about this book in particular is the demonstration of just how much simple kindness can mean to someone who has seen so little of it in their lives. That sounds terribly obvious, but sometimes in life we take for granted that someone just is the way others want it to be, even when that isn’t the case. Cassidy declares the music of Shalador’s people can be openly played in public, and that sounds like a simple enough thing to give permission for, but for a people who have had their culture crushed and killed over the generations, what seems like an inconsequential kindness to Cassidy has huge ramifications for the people who no longer need to guard their secrets so closely anymore, no longer need to live in fear of telling the wrong stories or singing the wrong songs.

This duology is such a comfort read for me, and I often turn to it when I’m going through a difficult time. Not just because Bishop’s writing flows so smoothly, not just because the world is so fascinating to me, but because Cassidy’s story is one of rising above the past, of overcoming traumas with the aid of loyal friends, and of the amount of change that can be found at the hands of even the least powerful when they’re willing to work hard and work together. As I mentioned in my review of The Shadow Queen, it’s really interesting to take a break from the ridiculously powerful characters and focus in on someone who’s a bit more representative of the degree of power your average Blood would have, to have a story that isn’t written about the strongest most badass in all the land but instead someone who achieves much by using what they have effectively. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that sort of story both comforting and hopeful, because it reminds me that I can do something similar. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t rule a country, but I can use what I have to affect positive change, and being reminded of that can be good when times get hard.

Fans of very dark fantasy might not find the same enjoyment in this duology as they did in the core Black Jewels trilogy, as the Cassidy duology is far more hopeful and far less violent in many ways, but for those who have taken the series into their hearts, there’s much entertainment to be found in both of these novels. Those who pick these books up first might actually be quite shocked by what they find in the series’ previous novels. The world is very much the same, still the same Realms populated by the same Blood, but the tone is quite different. Not better or worse, but different enough that it’s worth mentioning. Still, I very much think these books are worth reading, and the bittersweet triumph at the end of Shalador’s Lady is worth every second you spend buried in the pages.

The Shadow Queen, by Anne Bishop

Buy from Amazon.com, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 3, 2009

Summary: Theran Grayhaven is the last of his line, desperate to restore the land of Dena Nehele. But first he needs to find a Queen who knows Protocol, remembers the Blood’s code of honor, and lives by the Old Ways.

Languishing in the Shadow Realm, Lady Cassidy is a Queen without a court, a castoff. But when she is chosen to rule Dena Nehele, she must convince bitter men to serve once again.

Theran’s cousin Gray is a Warlord Prince who was damaged in mind and body by the vicious Queens who once ruled Dena Nehele. Yet something about Cassidy makes him want to serve–and makes him believe he can be made whole once again.

And only Cassidy can prove to Gray–and to herself–that wounds can heal and even the whisper of a promise can be fulfilled…

Thoughts: The Black Jewels series continues to be my go-to when I need a comfort re-read, a fantasy world I can sink into like a hot bath, and yes, if you know much about me and my worldview, you’d think these would be the furthest things from comfortable. And yet, here we are. The Cassidy duology in particular, comprised of The Shadow Queen and Shalador’s Lady, are very high up on the list for me, very close to the core trilogy in terms of my enjoyment.

The duology takes place some years after the conclusion of Queen of the Darkness, the final book of the core trilogy, after Jaenelle has destroyed the taint that was destroying the Blood. The Territory of Dena Nehele has seen more than its fair share of horror, and now with no Queens suitable to rule it, Theran, last of the Grayhaven line, seeks aid from Daemon Sadi. Theran requests a Queen from Kaeleer come to rule them, a Queen who knows the Old Ways and will restore pride and stability to the Territory, somebody who will dazzle and draw strength to her and keep everything and everyone in line.

What he gets is Cassidy, a Queen without a Court, with light Jewels and thus not much magical power, a hardworking tall woman who isn’t remotely the dazzler Theran wishes for, but is the very Queen that will make or break Dena Nehele’s future. Whether it’s “make” or “break” depends on Cassidy’s spirit, and Theran’s willingness to accept what he asked for even if it isn’t what he hoped for.

The Shadow Queen has a lot in it about overcoming trauma, and similar traumas and recoveries are seen not just in newly introduced characters like Gray or Cassidy, but also in well-established ones like Daemon. Both Gray and Daemon have been deeply hurt, broken by what was inflicted upon them in their past, and sometimes those memories and emotions rise to the surface and change everything about the present. PTSD triggers, essentially, because I’m not sure there are any characters in this series who don’t have at least some degree of PTSD. Both of them also need (and have, though Gray is only just discovering this) what they need to help them start to overcome those traumas.

This book is not saying that love conquers all and will heal all wounds, but it is saying that acceptance and safety are foundational to any sort of recovery. So too is a reason to recover; we all need sufficient motivation to keep pushing onward, and since there is no universal experience with trauma, it can be easier or harder to find that motivation, depending on the person and their situation. I’ve heard a number of people talk about how unrealistic this approach is, that the book is essentially saying that you just need a romantic/sexual partner in your life in order to recover from years of torture, and for my part, I’ve never seen it that way. I’ve always seen it as expressing, well, exactly what I stated above. Especially given that part of Daemon’s foundation is his father’s love and acceptance, and his ongoing relationship with his half-brother; nothing romantic or sexual there! Gray’s recovery does hinge a lot on his desire to be a man worthy of Cassidy’s attention, but some of that also comes down to the bond between Queens and Warlord Princes, which is clearly established both in this book and other books across the Black Jewels series.

But the other strong theme in this book is central to Theran’s story, and it’s in being willing to accept what you ask for even if it’s not quite what you expect. Theran asked for a Queen who knew the Old Ways of the Blood, who was willing to work hard for the people and land of Dena Nehele, and he got exactly that. But he already had an image of what kind of Queen he wanted for his people that not only was he unwilling to accept Cassidy when she didn’t fit that image, not only was he willing to ignore that many others sided with Cassidy and were willing to work with her, but he actively prevented Cassidy from doing the very work he brought her there to do. He was convinced that everyone had the same reaction to her that he did, that the others were pretending to get along with her, that she was secretly doing harm or wouldn’t be accepted by the people, and essentially got in his own way the entire time. He was so concerned with the surface that he never took a moment to look beneath, unless he was doing so to reflect on how Cassidy didn’t measure up to the image he wanted for a Queen.

Honestly, I could go on at length about a number of things in this book, because there’s a lot to unpack. That’s what makes it so enjoyable for me, in many ways. Not only is it set in a world I adore, but it also has plenty to think about and reflect on, from trauma to the nature of dedication, to retribution and vengeance and justice, to the conflict between what needs to be done versus what people want to do. I love Cassidy as a character, and she’s exactly the sort of people I’d love to consider a friend, which is actually pretty uncommon in the books I tend to read. There are loads of characters I love to read about, plenty of characters whose stories I love to follow, but rarely do I actually encounter characters where I can say, “You know, if I met you, I think I’d like to be your friend.” The recurring characters of the series, Jaenelle and Daemon and Lucivar and Saetan? I could never be their friend. Not because they’re bad people or that they terrify me or anything like that, but because they are so far out of my league that associating with them would feel like they were pitying me just be deigning to acknowledge me. Cassidy? Nah, she feels like someone I’d get together with for tea and chats, like we could see each other on relatively equal levels.

Cassidy also provides an excellent contrast to what fans of the series will have grown used to. Most of the time, these stories are all about dark-Jeweled people with massive amounts of power and influence. Cassidy, though, has light Jewels and wouldn’t be the sort of person you’d think could have multiple novels starring her, not in this world! But the author uses this as a great opportunity to establish that innate powers and fearful influence aren’t the only ways a person can make a difference. You don’t have to be rarity to change things for the better, and you don’t have to have great strength to stand on your own. We’re all used to reading novels about the extraordinary that it’s easy to forget that some of these characters really are extraordinary, so it’s rather refreshing to see a story written about somebody who could come from anywhere, at any time, without a great fate or origin story or any of that to set them above others. Cassidy isn’t exactly the everyperson sort of character, she’s far too much of her own person for me to call her that, but she is far more representative of the Blood than characters like Daemon or Lucivar, and so there’s that inspirational aspirational aspect to her.

It’s hard for me to say that this duology could be read without having read the core trilogy first. It does recap some relevant events, and there’s the usual establishing of the rules that the Blood live by, so new readers wouldn’t find themselves completely lost, but I think the half of the story that really centres on Daemon will lose a lot of its impact and relevance without the core trilogy to provide context. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary, but I will say that you’d end up missing a lot of character motivations and connections and history, as well as reasons to really care about a lot of the recurring cast to begin with. If you enjoyed the core trilogy, though, then I have no doubt that you’ll like The Shadow Queen as well.

Ultimately, I still adore this novel every time I read it, and it always brings me comfort and happiness when I take the time to sit down with it again. It’s a familiar story to me at this point, but no less poignant every time I read it. I love the world, I love the characters, and I love the message that greatness can come from anywhere, that we are not always tethered to the traumas in our past, and that from ruin can rise a brighter future if we’re willing to put the work in. It’s not too surprising that these aspects bring me comfort in troubled times.

(Also, this book is a great example of the character on the cover not looking remotely like the character in the book. The Cassidy on the cover art is attractive, thin, classically beautiful. The Cassidy in the book is tall and big-boned and gawky and freckled. Her appearance is part of why Theran becomes something of an antagonist. It’s kind of a disservice to her very character to have her presented that way on the cover, if you ask me.)

The Queen’s Bargain, by Anne Bishop

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 10, 2020

Summary: After a youthful mistake, Lord Dillon’s reputation is in tatters, leaving him vulnerable to aristo girls looking for a bit of fun. To restore his reputation and honor, he needs a handfast–a one-year contract of marriage. He sets his sights on Jillian, a young Eyrien witch from Ebon Rih, who he believes has only a flimsy connection to the noble society that spurned him. Unfortunately for Dillon, he is unaware of Jillian’s true connections until he finds himself facing Lucivar Yaslana, the volatile Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih.

Meanwhile, Surreal SaDiablo’s marriage is crumbling. Daemon Sadi, the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, recognizes there is something wrong between him and Surreal, but he doesn’t realize that his attempt to suppress his own nature in order to spare his wife is causing his mind to splinter. To save Daemon, and the Realm of Kaeleer if he breaks, help must be sought from someone who no longer exists in any of the Realms–the only Queen powerful enough to control Daemon Sadi. The Queen known as Witch.

As Jillian rides the winds of first love with Dillon, Daemon and Surreal struggle to survive the wounds of a marriage turned stormy–and Lucivar has to find a way to keep everyone in his family safe…even from each other.

Thoughts: From an awkward first read of Daughter of the Blood to the sheer excitement I felt upon hearing that a new Black Jewels novel was being released, I’ve come a long way with this series. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine my life without it at this point. The series has had a positive influence in many areas of my life, and maybe some day I’ll find the words to explain exactly how. And though I’ve had my issues with some aspects of it, I knew that come hell or high water, I was going to have to read The Queen’s Bargain. There was no way I wouldn’t.

There are three main story threads running throughout this book. The first is the relationship between Dillon and Jillian, a budding romance for Jillian and an complex maneuver by Dillon to salvage his reputation after a moment of youthful indiscretion ruined it. The second is Marian’s illness, her lack of recovery after the birth of her third child, which no Healer can provide a treatment or cure for. The third is the strained relationship between Daemon and Surreal, after Daemon shows all of himself to her and Surreal panics, causing Daemon to put tighter control on aspects of his nature than is healthy for him. All three story threads carry a theme of limits. One’s own limits, the limits of others, when to stay within them, when to push past them, and what happens when limits get broken.

I really enjoyed seeing the return of old characters, because I do love them a lot, and their stories are endlessly fascinating to me. I have to admit, though, that some of the characters felt… not quite right. And I don’t just mean when they themselves are going through issues that twist them up inside. Not to put too fine a point on it, but really, I mean Surreal. Surreal… is not the character I read about in previous books. And to some degree, that’s understandable. Her life is quite different now compared to what it used to be. Time has passed, and people change.

But I can’t help but feel that to some degree, nearly every problem that Surreal encounters in this book are brought on by her own poor judgment, while trying to justify that her side is perfectly in the right. Admittedly, Daemon showing her his full possessive and rather sadistic side could be an overload, something she didn’t expect… but she ought to have. She’s dealt with Warlord Princes for the vast majority of her life. She lived with one before marrying Daemon. She got schooled by Jaenelle in how to handle them. But she stepped into Daemon’s private space and got a full demonstration of the more aggressive side of her husband, and there is no reason she wouldn’t have known that was coming. Her subsequent rejection of him caused him to leash that side of himself more tightly than normal, forcing him to not just tone down aspects of his nature but to really suppress them, as well as using and abusing him to relieve her own sexual tensions, all of which had negative consequences that could have been headed off very early on had Surreal just sat down and said, “Okay, sugar, you and I need to have a conversation.”

Only that didn’t happen. Surreal stepped over the line then blamed Daemon for the consequences, and I cannot wrap my head around the idea that she did that in ignorance of what might happen. She’s had centuries to learn, she even had an experience in the past that taught her well what happens when you push a Warlord Prince when he doesn’t want to be pushed, and… Ugh. Given that the one incident with her walking into Daemon’s bedroom was the catalyst for all the hell that followed, I can’t tell if it was poor writing that made it all happen — in the sense that the author wanted a certain situation but couldn’t think of a way to make it happen organically and so manipulated characters to do things they wouldn’t have done –, or if it’s a subtle sign that Daemon and Surreal’s marriage had been problematic for a very very long time, that Surreal had become complacent and so stopped thinking she needed to be concerned with everything she had learned and experienced in the past.

Neither option is particularly great, honestly. One is bad writing, and the other is writing that needs a bit of a tune-up to provide proper context for readers. I know Anne Bishop has a bit of a history in this series for dropping huge revelations on characters (and thus readers) without showing what led up to those events, but it often makes sense, such as finding out in a previous novel that Lucivar was married. We don’t see him meet his wife until a later-written story, so it seems to come out of nowhere, but since we were also seeing from the perspective of a character who didn’t know that either, it was a surprise but also one that made sense. He didn’t know, so why should we? But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. There’s reading between the lines, and then there’s needing to invent some lines to read between in the first place.

But despite that very glaring problem, I still enjoyed reading The Queen’s Bargain. I can say, from the standpoint of a very devoted fan, that this entry into the series was very educational, illustrating many small but important things that happened between certain characters in the past, giving readers more insight into the nature of the Blood in general and Warlord Princes specifically. When an author drops a series for a while and then comes back to it, I get a bit afraid of what might come, since I’ve seen that happen before with other beloved series and it doesn’t always end well. But in this case, I think The Queen’s Bargain is a worthy addition to the Black Jewels series, one that will give fans a solid new story to sink their teeth into. The writing is good (except for what I previously mentioned about Surreal’s characterization), the world just as comfortable and complex as I remember it.

Though it leaves some questions unanswered, it’s still a complete story in its own right. Not one that you can easily pick up without having read at least 4 other books in the series, mind you (newcomers who decide to start with this one because it’s the newest will likely find themselves lost within a couple of chapters), but within that context, it certainly holds up. Even if it may not be my favourite book in the series, I know it’s one that I’ll be picking up again in the future, to step back into the lives of characters I’ve come to know and love and respect, and to see more pieces of a world that has changed me in all the right ways.

(Book provided in exchange for an honest review.)

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

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

Daemon has been dismissed.

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

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

Jaenelle is home.

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

Witch is indeed still a child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

Jaenelle is not a normal child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sshe iss Blood, and sshe iss Other.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

…Most of the time.

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~*~

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

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

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

~*~

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

I kinda love that about him.

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

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

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

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

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

Ahem, outburst aside…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My heart hurts for Jaenelle.

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

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

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

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

And who can blame him?

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

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

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.