Welcome back to my deep dive exploration of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. This week, we’re looking at chapter 5 of the first novel, Daughter of the Blood. Trigger warning: none explicitly, but mentions of things that tie back to child abuse.
I think it’s fair to say that every post in this series from here on out will have a trigger warning on it. At least for the first book. Later books do contain some dark and heavy content, to be sure, but they’re not quite as bad as the first book.
…Most of the time.
People sense something coming, some dark energy rolling its way to Chaillot. Something with chilling portents attached to it. Lucivar feels no threat from it. Surreal is disturbed, but content enough that whatever it is isn’t coming for her. Cassandra sees terrifying visions prompted by this feeling.
This dark energy is, of course, Daemon, on his way to the court that Dorothea has decided to assign him to this time. He has no idea what awaits him there.
Saetan, 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?
Of 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.