Anne Bishop,
The Black Jewels Trilogy
(Roc, 2003)

Daughter of the Blood (1998),
Heir to the Shadows (1999),
Queen of the Darkness (2000)

In my experience, the more impressive a book is, the harder it is to review. You want to do justice to a truly great book, knowing full well that a few hundred words can never truly express your feelings. Now, I find myself trying to do justice to not one fabulous book, but three of the most original, unique and unbelievably amazing books I have ever read.

With The Black Jewels Trilogy (consisting of Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows and Queen of the Darkness), Anne Bishop has taken the literature of dark fantasy to heights I never even dreamed of. She has created a universe I can barely begin to describe, a realm of kingdoms ruled by women -- in the form of witches, priestesses and Black Widow queens -- where the strongest of men are forced into the role of consort to the most vindictive of mistresses. Bishop turns good and evil upside down in this masterful literary vision, giving us heroes the likes of Saetan the High Lord of Hayll, his sons Daemon Sadi and Lucivar, and one very special and very powerful young lady named Jaenelle Angelline.

Ancient prophecies have foretold the coming of a powerful witch, one who would in reality be not a mere human female but "dreams made flesh," nothing short of Witch herself. She comes in the form of a tremendously brave little girl, whom we first meet at the age of 12 or so when she comes to Hayll seeking instruction in the Craft from none other than Saetan himself. Human beings don't just come over into the land of the demon-dead, and Saetan quickly recognizes who this young girl truly is and will become.

Jaenelle is terrible at the simple magic of the Craft, yet the true strength of her powers is almost infinite. She refuses to speak about her home life, for reasons that gradually become quite clear. Treated as an outcast by her family, she is subject to occasional stays in Briarwood. Briarwood is not what it seems; this "hospital" is in fact a place of unspeakable evil. Briarwood is in essence a poison, and there is no cure for Briarwood. Happenstance lands Daemon Sadi in the home of Jaenelle's grandmother as a consort, but even his undying love and recognition of whom and what Jaenelle really is cannot save her from a most brutal and unforgivable of fates. Daemon, like his estranged father Saetan, does wear the black jewels, however, and he uses all of his magical powers to save the physical life of Jaenelle, falling into the pits of the Twisted Kingdom of insanity in the process.

Saetan claims the girl as his own, and under his care she does gradually recover, but her innocence is gone. As the story progresses, she grows into her role as Witch, gathering among her inner circle the young Black Widow queens of adjacent lands as well as the Kindred, animals who wear the Blood jewels but are not recognized by the "enlightened" rulers of the realm of Terreille -- high priestess Hekatah and the dark queen Dorothea, two of the most nefarious and thoroughly corrupt souls ever created by the hand of man or woman.

The fate of Daemon, one of the most unique and fascinating characters I've ever encountered, is left hanging in the balance over the course of the entire second book of the trilogy, and his eventual return rekindles a needed spirit of innocent romance to a story defined by darkness and evil. Once Janelle makes the Dark Offering and ascends the throne of Ebon Askavi, establishing a Dark Court consisting of the most powerful men and women in the realms, the final conflict of good and evil draws nigh.

While the question of victory is, one supposes, never much in doubt, Bishop creates a magical sense of suspense and hesitation on the part of the reader as he/she embarks on the final steps of this wondrous journey. The most beloved of characters suffer much, and the fate of Jaenelle herself is very much left in doubt.

I can't really even begin to describe the wonder and magic this trilogy possesses. It is quite unlike anything I have ever read before, featuring wholly unique and fascinating characters in droves. There is no strict demarcation between good and evil here, as Bishop stands tradition on its head, giving even minor characters more life than I can find in most of my fellow human beings. Some may refer to the romance elements of this story in a condescending manner, and some might look askance at the love Daemon Sadi feels for a 12-year-old Janelle, but this is no prurient tale of lust. The love these remarkable characters feel for one another is of remarkable, noble depth in all manner of different forms, and the ultimate romance of Daemon and the adult Janelle is one of almost heart-wrenching innocence.

If you are searching for something different, something that will completely captivate you in the form of a world unlike any you have yet encountered in your literary journeys, The Black Jewels Trilogy stands ready to redefine your very conception of the literature of dark fantasy. This is fantasy that should appeal to women as well as men, for this is not just another work of fantasy built around warlike dwarves, ethereal elves and heroic battles fought by stereotypical male characters. The Black Jewels Trilogy is literature of the highest order, more than earning author Anne Bishop the title I now personally bestow upon her: the Queen of Dark Fantasy.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 10 July 2004

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