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

Welcome back to my deep dive exploration of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. This week, we’re looking at chapter 2 of the first novel, Daughter of the Blood. I will give fair trigger warning on this one — later on, sections of this post and sections of the chapter involve discussing rape. I’ll mark the particular section so that people can skip it if they feel the need to.

This chapter starts off from Saetan’s perspective, as he searches for and confronts Cassandra, his former Queen. Cassandra, who he thought was long dead until Jaenelle kindly and inadvertently disabused him of that notion in the previous chapter.

Their discussion reveals something interesting. Now, Cassandra was Witch before, but not in the same way Jaenelle was. It’s hinted at more than said outright, left for the reader to piece together, but Witch is something of a ceremonial title given to Queens who wear Black Jewels. Of which there have been very few. It’s a noteworthy title, for obvious reasons, sort of paying homage to the legend of Witch as a powerful mythological being. Cassandra was that type of Witch. Cassandra, sensing the depth of power that already resides in Jaenelle, suspects that Jaenelle will be Witch in the same way, once she makes the Offering to the Darkness and reaches her full adult strength in later years.

Cassandra gets a shock, though, when Saetan reveals that Jaenelle won’t become Witch. Jaenelle already is Witch. The same Witch that Cassandra knew Saetan was waiting for, yearning for, to make her make him promise to live half an eternity in order to see.

They talk, briefly, about how someone like that could be controlled, to avoid having them hurt themselves or others with power that is, by all logic, too much for anybody to handle, let alone a child. Saetan, rather wisely, points out that they shouldn’t try to control Jaenelle, they can’t, because as soon as Jaenelle figures out that she’s being controlled, they would lose all hope of her ever being able to trust them again. If he or Cassandra want to play any part in Jaenelle’s life, now or in the future, one of the worst things they could do would be to try and control her.

What should they do instead?

“I will teach her. I will serve her. I will love her. That will have to be enough.”

Later, Saetan decides to go snooping. Jaenelle dropped hints that he was not her only friend, after all, and she wants to find out more about her and her life. He enlists the help of old friends and allies to track down the names of the people that Jaenelle mentioned when they last met.

Now it’s Saetan’s turn for a shock, though. He expected the names to belong to children who lived in Terreille, the same realm that Jaenelle lives in. Instead, he finds that they live in Kaeleer, the realm that lies between Terreille and Hell, which has been closed off for centuries. Jaenelle, by all rights, should not be able to travel there at all.

But then, she shouldn’t be able to travel into Hell, either. Somehow, that Jaenelle has friends in Kaeleer shocks Saetan more than the idea that she travels to Hell to visit demon-dead children.

In fairness, he’s had a very strange day.

~*~

TW for this section: rape, child abuse.

Now we shift perspectives to Surreal, who is a very exclusive whore. And assassin. She prefers the latter work to the former, but the former is a very good way of getting close to people when they need… disposing of.

Surreal has conflicting feelings about her heritage. On one hand, she didn’t really get to know her mother’s people, but she does carry their legacy and appearance in the form of gold-green eyes and delicately pointed ears. But she also has Hayllian blood, courtesy of the man who raped her mother. The man Surreal wants to find and to bring a grisly end to.

Much of Surreal’s section is a flashback to her childhood. When she was young, her mother, Titian, dragged home a babbling Tersa because reasons. Tersa, who eventually regains some sense of reality and drags home Daemon. Tersa points out a young Surreal and comments to Daemon that she’s Blood and has the right to live as Blood if she wants. Daemon provides Titian and Surreal a place to live, rent-free, and extra money besides, on the condition that they allow Tersa to also use it whenever she needs. Life improves. Surreal learns, and has her Birthright ceremony, and comes away with a Green Jewel.

Two years later, Surreal comes home to find her mother murdered.

The book gives ages, and lets the reader reach their own conclusions. Surreal was 12 when this happens. Titian had just turned 25. Allowing for pregnancy time, this would mean that Titian was raped when she was 12, gave birth to Surreal at age 13.

This chapter is something of an early warning sign for what’s to come. The world being as corrupt as it is, men fear powerful women, and attempt to break them as young as possible, before they come into their full strength, so that they won’t be a threat. Women fear men’s ability to break them, and seek to control them via the Ring of Obedience. Or other means. It’s a cycle that perpetuates itself, abuse piling on top of abuse, and one of the signs of such a ruined society is Surreal’s story. If this is too much for you, I can’t blame you one bit, but you should know that this isn’t the worst you’ll see in these books, and it feels fair to give that warning here.

Continuing on, Surreal runs from the crime scene, finds herself living on the streets, and, like her mother, is also raped. Unlike Titian, though, Surreal manages to hang on through the assault, barely avoiding crashing into her core and being broken and separated from her Craft, so that when the horrible act is finished, she remains a witch.

Not knowing what else to do, she becomes a prostitute in order to make enough money to eat.

Within a month, she made her first kill.

She begins to get revenge against the men who would and abuse young girls that way. The deaths attract Daemon’s attention, who decides he’s going to take a hand in her future. But not in a way I first expected.

For a long time, Daemon’s actions confused me. He clearly has enough money to just hand Surreal a bunch of notes and tell her she can stay at one of the many places he owns in order to keep her safe and to prevent her from having to sleep with strangers to get by. But he doesn’t. Instead, he gets her training. Not just training in how to better kill people, but also how to be a better whore. Why, Daemon? Why, when you could free her from a life she obviously only chose in order to barely get by, would you do that?

But strangely, it was actually the best way to keep her safe.

Surreal’s birthright Jewel was Green, which was already on the darker and more powerful end of the spectrum. She could, upon maturity, descend as dark as Grey, which is exactly what she ended up doing later on. Surreal’s strength would have made her a target for people like Dorothea, who wanted to wipe out strong witches who might pose a threat, or even just annoying opposition.

And with Surreal’s growing penchant for revenge killings, she was most certainly the kind of person who would have come to Dorothea’s attention. Surreal was never the “lay low and keep quiet” type.

So what better way to hide her than in plain sight? Anyone who might have considered her a threat would have dismissed her as nothing more than the plaything of paranoid rich men, a toy for the bed but hardly someone who could pose a threat. Especially when many prostitutes were like Titian, raped and broken and unable to find a better way of supporting themselves. Surreal could slip under the radar of those who would want her destroyed if they knew of her, and while slipping under that radar, she was free to kill the people who deserved it.

It seems cruel, it seems like Daemon also thought of young Surreal as nothing but a sex object, but in reality, he did what he did to protect her as best he could. Especially because at the time, he was a slave, and couldn’t always be around to help her. Any moments he took to himself were moments stolen, and potential punishment always waited.

Of course, in her relative youth, Surreal made a fatal mistake to fracture her friendship with Daemon.

He asked him for sex.

Daemon, a pleasure slave, known as Hayll’s Whore, a man who used sex and sex appeal as a weapon, did not take too kindly to this request. To say the least. Surreal got what she asked for, in a sense, though she regretted it, and their friendship didn’t recover. Long-lived races know how to hold a grudge.

~*~

Now we cut back to Hell, where Saetan’s day is interrupted by Jaenelle and Prothvar having a very loud argument. Jaenelle is angry because Prothvar won’t teach her to fly. Prothvar maintains that Jaenelle, unlike him, has no wings, and when told that she can fly anyway, tells her she lacks control. (Jaenelle counters that this is only because he refuses to teach her. He can’t really refute that one.)

Jaenelle and Prothvar are ordered out of the room, and after some discussion between Saetan and his friend Andulvar, the true reason for the argument becomes clear. Jaenelle does know how to fly, yes, but she wants to learn how to fly “like a hawk, like an Eyrian.” Prothvar laughed at her, so Jaenelle forced the issue by jumping off the highest tower of SaDiablo Hall.

…Just let that sink in for a moment. Imagine you’re Prothvar. Imagine you just laugh at someone who insists they can fly, when you see no obvious way of them flying. You have wings, they do not. Now imagine they just give you A Look and step off the cliff’s edge.

Naturally, you’re going to dive after them, aiming to catch them before they splat on the ground.

Naturally, you wouldn’t be prepared for them to be floating just below the edge of the dropoff, perfectly fine. Naturally, you smack right into them, because you weren’t expecting them to be there.

Naturally.

Saetan calls Jaenelle back in and explains to her that Prothvar was only so angry because she scared the everloving hell out of him. As you do. Then she scares him by telling him she’s already flown through incredibly dangerous areas of Hell, easy as you breathe, and having so much fun with it because she was so confident of her powers and so ignorant of the danger. Anything can be fun when you’re certain you’ll come out of it safely and you can get lost in the exhilaration.

It seems to be Jaenelle’s day for scaring people.

There’s one throwaway line here that caught my attention upon rereading this chapter, though, which I think prompts a little discussion.

“And even Eyriens need a little Craft to fly. Prothvar said so.”

Despite their wings, it’s fairly safe to assume that Eyriens, the great warrior race, don’t have hollow bones like birds do. It makes sense that they’d need some Craft to hold themselves aloft, to keep their bodies supported by their membranous wings.

So what about landens, those non-Blood that, as we’ve already read, are present in all races? Eyrien landens, then, must not be able to fly at all, the wings on their backs vestigial and useless.

It made me wonder how bitter they must feel to see Eyrien Blood be able to soar up in the sky, to have so much of their culture dominated by flight, knowing that they could never do the same.

Or perhaps Eyrien landens have much smaller wings now, or none at all, having been bred out as useless over the generations. We don’t know. The books never show us any Eyrien characters who aren’t Blood. This is never addressed, and is left to speculation.

Anyway, after this little debacle has been sorted out, we’re introduced to another of Hell’s inhabitants. A Harpy seeks audience with Saetan. A Harpy, by this world’s mythology, is a demon-dead woman who died by a man’s hand. A Dea al Mon Harpy, from a secretive race known for ferocity and cunning and protectiveness, clearly identifiable by, among other things, their delicately pointed ears. This Harpy is also a Black Widow and a Queen, a powerful combination.

This is Titian. Surreal’s mother. More influential and powerful in death than she was in life, but even so, in life she was strong enough for her essence to hang on after her death and transition to demon-dead, to continue on in Hell. This is Titian as Surreal never really knew her.

This is Titian, wanting to know where Saetan stands on the issue of a strange mysterious little girl, because Saetan’s ex-wife and self-styled “High Priestess of Hell” has been sniffing around and asking questions. Questions that Saetan does not want answered.

Titian suggests giving Jaenelle to a certain Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince she once knew, one who showed her kindness, but Saetan stops that idea before it gets started. He doesn’t think Daemon would willingly hurt Jaenelle, but he knows what Jaenelle’s concept means to Daemon, what Witch means to Daemon, and he also knows what a man might do when he’s backed into a corner and has no other options. Daemon is, after all, a slave, and someone else holds his reins as much as anyone ever has, and Saetan doesn’t trust them for an instant.

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

Welcome back to my deep dive exploration of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. This week, we’re looking at chapter 1 of the first novel, Daughter of the Blood.

The chapter opens with Lucivar, enslaved to Zuultah, the Queen of Pruul. We see the punishment of a slave who tried to overthrow the guards and escape slavery — things didn’t end well for him, and he is tortured by essentially being confined in an enclosed boat with a hoard of hungry rats.

For all that Lucivar is established as a man with a very violent and explosive temper, he is also capable of gentleness and mercy. He comforts the condemned slave, and eventually kills him swiftly, ending the man’s pain even though Lucivar strongly suspects he himself will be punished for that hard kindness. Lucivar did not participate in the slave revolt, did nothing to stop it or further its cause, but gave them only one piece of advice: Sacrifice everything.

He would escape himself, but there is something even he is not willing to sacrifice: Daemon. Daemon, who is played against Lucivar, his life and safety held over Lucivar’s head to ensure good behaviour.

We see here small pieces of the world start to be revealed. There’s a difference between Blood and landens (non-Blood of each race), though what that difference is will be revealed later; for now, it’s enough to know that the Blood have some degree of separation from others.

We learn that the land of Hayll, and specifically its High Priestess Dorothea, is a corrupting influence that spreads outward, corrupting other people and lands over time, perverting the Blood and their society, twisting the intricate dance of their people’s lives.

Among the Blood, males were meant to serve, not to rule. […] He […] refused to believe that serving and groveling meant the same thing.

For all that Lucivar has never lived during a time or in a place away from Hayll’s influence, he still knows that the way life is now is not how things are meant to be. This is meant, I’m sure, to be a sign of Lucivar’s good character, a sign that he hasn’t fallen under that corruption, though to be fair, I’m sure many people who are enslaved are certain that their lives and the culture around them that led to their enslavement are fundamentally flawed. Even the slave Lucivar mercy-killed began to wonder if the Blood are actually evil, because of the life he lived and the way he was treated.

Lucivar reflects on all of this and wishes, above all else, that some day he could meet a Queen that he would be proud to serve.

A wish, offered with blood, is a prayer to the Darkness.

And them BAM, suddenly a little girl appears. This is Jaenelle. Jaenelle, who is not particularly pretty (Lucivar thinks that “calling her plain would be kind”), but she has sass, and there’s definitely more to her than she first appears. She does not live in Pruul, has never even heard of Pruul or its Queen, and the only way for the Blood to travel long distances (using the Winds, which are psychic webs through the Darkness) is something that Jaenelle doesn’t really do… normally. Most Blood would travel along the lines of the Webs. Jaenelle, on the other hand, just kind of goes wherever she wants to go, traveling blind through the Darkness and ending up exactly where she wants to anyway.

Where she wants to… or needs to. And she heard Lucivar’s need for a Queen he could serve…

~*~

We cut to Daemon, who most emphatically does not like being a pleasure slave.

Daemon is also a fairly controversial character, not for his violence but for his devotion to a concept and person even before meeting them. Daemon has already decided for himself that he is in love with Witch, whoever Witch might turn out to be, and he wants very much to be Witch’s lover. Who is Witch? Daemon sure doesn’t know. But he’s made that decision, has his goals, and won’t be dissuaded from them.

It’s hardly a spoiler to state here that Jaenelle is Witch, so yes, at this point in time, Daemon is in love with an entity that resides in the body of a young child. And many readers, understandably, have a problem with this. For my part, I don’t have a problem with it, because the books establish quite clearly that Witch is far more than just Jaenelle, and vice versa. Daemon is not in love with a child, definitely not sexually attracted to a child, and later scenes in this book talk about his disgust over even thinking of such things. It’s more accurate to say that Daemon is in love with a concept, and idea, and that idea resides within a person, and eventually that person will grow up to be someone Daemon can relate to on more, um, intimate levels.

I can see why this is a complicated mind-twist for a lot of people, and honestly, I think it’s largely my own personal spiritual views that make it easier for me to see the difference between loving a child and loving the essence that dwells within that child. Nor do I think that this setup is some thinly-veiled justification for pedophilia — there’s a difference between love, romantic attraction, and sexual attraction.

Anyway…

blackringIt’s established that Dorothea gained control of Hayll by eliminating women strong enough to rival her, ensuring that she was the most powerful and thus the one that people would flock to for leadership and protection. As for men, the ones who are supposed to protect and serve, the strong ones are largely controlled by threat of pain and torture by the Ring of Obedience. Which is, for all intents and purposes, a cock ring. Because everything in these books comes back to genitalia, whether we want it to or not. Rings of Obedience can send excruciating pain at the behest of whoever wears the Controlling Ring, and even the strongest men have trouble fighting back when it feels like their balls are being torn apart.

This is a very violent and very twisted world we are stepping into with these books. Interestingly, they read like the nightmare of a men’s rights activist, a terrifying glimpse of what things might be like if evil feminazis have their way. Women ruling through pain and humiliation, men subjugated and enslaved, forced to do terrible things because they occupy a lower rung on the social ladder, subject to the whims of angry dominatrixes with no say in their own lives. It’s easy to get caught up in that mindset, because it’s established over and over that women, in the world of these books, are superior to men, that men serve and women rule.

It’s easy to forget, oddly, that it’s also established over and over that things are corrupted and out of balance. That even if society in balance would still involve female superiority, men still have plenty of rights and say in what happens to them, and there’s a delicate and intricate dance that involves just as much give and take on both sides. Things are how they are, with one gender so much higher and more powerful than the other, because things are unbalanced, society broken and fractured and twisted beyond what it ought to be.

But getting back to the story…

wine-glass-for-webTersa appears and drags Daemon off to give him some cryptic advice. Expect this a lot through the books. Tersa, her mind stuck in the Twisted Kingdom, sees reality very differently than most people, metaphorical and shadowy and veiled. Here is where we get to our introduction to the metaphor of the chalice, which is symbolic of a person’s mind, their sanity. Tersa refers to herself as “a broken chalice.”

This is different from the Inner Web, which is a person’s centre, their core and their very sense of self. Taking this back to Daemon’s attraction to Witch, this further cements that there is a difference between mind and soul, the person on the outside and the spirit that lives in the flesh. As I said before, this involves a bit of a mental twist to really understand, I think, but it is something firmly established in Bishop’s writing.

~*~

It’s Saetan time!

That’s the first line of my notes for this section of the chapter, so it felt fitting to begin that way. Saetan, the Prince of the Darkness, the High Lord of Hell, is seriously one of the best characters in this entire series, and I love sections involving him. He looks like an older version of Daemon, is powerful and feared and also misses playing games with his sons when they were little. Like Lucivar, he is a combination of terrifying and gentle.

Which makes sense, as he is Daemon and Lucivar’s father.

Saetan is also a Guardian, which is a fancy way of saying he sacrificed much of life’s pleasures and benefits in order to extend his lifespan, a promise made to his previous Queen so that he could await the coming of Witch, whom Saetan considers to be the daughter of his soul. Like Daemon, he is entirely sure of his role in Witch’s life, whoever Witch might end up being, whenever she may come. He has overseen Hell for a very long time, dozens of millennia, and he is tired. So many years, so much time waiting, without even a hint that what he is waiting for will ever arrive, all the while knowing that his sons are being tortured in another Realm, and him powerless to intervene.

But something strange is happening in Hell. Something most un-Hellish. Hell is a place where the Blood go when they die if their selves are too powerful to just fade quietly and return to the Darkness, a place drained of life and colour. But suddenly, on an island of demon-dead children (demon-dead being what the Blood are called when they linger on in Hell, so yes, this is a place where dead children live), there appears a brightly-coloured butterfly, made by some mysterious power that has never before been seen.

So of course, Saetan wants to know what’s going on.

Saetan expects an exceptionally powerful demon-dead child. What he gets is Jaenelle, who is very much alive.

How did she get into Hell? Oh, you know, the same way she gets anywhere else. Screw following the rules that others are bound by, up to and including the laws of physics and reality — Jaenelle has the power to do what she wants, with all of the mindset of a child who doesn’t yet know a thing should be impossible.

Jaenelle, who shies away from being touches by unfamiliar people. Jaenelle, who cannot do basic Craft, the magic that the Blood possess and that every Blood should typically be able to do unless they have been broken.

Jewels, by Oshirigaitai

Art by MooseFroos

Jaenelle, who has a Jewel of every single colour, and 13 Black Jewels. People are only typically supposed to get 2, you see: 1 at their Birthright ceremony, and 1 when they reach adulthood and perform the Offering to the Darkness. The darker the Jewel, the greater the depth of a person’s power. But Jaenelle has far more than that, and claims to have been given them by Lorn, a mythical figure and the last of the dragons.

Naturally, Saetan is… a touch surprised.

He knew Jaenelle to be Witch almost immediately. He knew who she was and what she would become. He didn’t expect Jaenelle to hold so much power. He doesn’t know how she manages that while still staying sane…

But for all that power, she is still abysmal at basic Craft. Saetan tries to teach her to move a paperweight toward herself, using psychic power instead of her hands, of course, because this is magic we’re talking about. But she can’t. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot move the paperweight.

She can, however, move the entire building in the attempt.

Jaenelle is so powerful that doing small simple things, the things most power would start out with while building up their own power and control, requires too much finesse for her. Saetan makes an analogy involve crayons: essentially, Jaenelle needs something big to wrap her mental hands around, but the fine control required to, say, write like an adult would, is beyond her. Where most people need to start small and work up, Jaenelle needs to learn almost in reverse, to figure out how she does the things that impossible to those with less power and then scale them down.

This is how Jaenelle can travel through the Darkness and end who wherever she pleases, whereas others have to ride the Winds and rely on the Webs to guide them.

I should add that at this point in the story, Jaenelle is 7 years old. All of this power resides on a tiny body, possessed by a tiny mind too young and inexperienced to really understand what she can do and why it is so extraordinary. Nobody expected Witch to be that young when in possession of such power. It’s a burden even for adults, as Saetan knows well, as he is one of only 2 men in the history of the Blood to wear a Black Jewel.

The other? The other is Daemon.

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

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

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

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

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

Unless…

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

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

Those who survive will serve.

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

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

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

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

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

(She says, bitten tongue in cheek…)

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

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

baddybadbad

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

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

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

Thanks, Tersa. Much appreciated.

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

On on that day, change will begin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender

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

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

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

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

Sexuality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People of Colour

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

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

Violence

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

But the really disturbing violence is everything else.

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

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

You have rape and incest.

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

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


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

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

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