Pros: Characterization, emotion, story, epic level, characters, plot, pacing, style…
Cons: Does contain very dark material
Rating: 6 out of 5
First published 12/31/2003
Saetan, the High Lord of Hell, sat quietly by the fire, a hearth rug wrapped around his legs, turning the pages of a book he had no interest in reading.
Anne Bishop repeatedly takes our expectations and twists them a step to the left. “Daughter of the Blood” is the first book in Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy, a fantasy trilogy that remains equally as brilliant in books two and three as in book one–and there are very few series of books (VERY few) that I would say this about.
Plot and Context
Jaenelle is still a child, but everyone around her knows she’s unusual. Her family thinks she’s crazy and keeps sending her away for medical care. After all, she keeps telling them that she’s met unicorns and dead people–things they know she couldn’t possibly have done. No one’s seen unicorns in ages, and dead people–well, they tend to stay in Hell where they belong. Certainly Jaenelle couldn’t have gotten there on her own; she doesn’t even seem to have basic Craft powers, which has been a deep disappointment to her Blood family.
Or could she have met unicorns and visited Hell? And what if she had powers so great, so far beyond basic Craft, that to most people she’d seem to have no power at all?
Saetan, the High Lord of Hell, gave up on the living world a long time ago. He’s been dead for so long, and now he waits for Witch, the living myth, the embodiment of the dreams of all the Blood–the ruler and Queen who will return the decadent Blood to their old, honorable ways. Her coming was prophesied, but he has waited for centuries and centuries to no avail, and he grows weary.
Daemon, the only Black-Jeweled Warlord Prince other than Saetan himself, has also waited for Witch. 1700 years ago he, too, heard a prophecy of her coming, and he believes that he is her destined mate. Unfortunately he’s held as a pleasure slave by Dorothea SaDiablo, one of the worst of the decadent, degenerate Blood. Lucivar, like Daemon, heard that prophecy and has also waited for 1700 years. Not for a mate, but for a friend and sister he can serve with respect and dignity. He, too, is held as a slave by one of Dorothea’s cronies. He isn’t quite as powerful as Daemon, but the Queens have learned the hard way not to allow the two of them contact if at all possible–the two men can cause a great deal of destruction when they work together.
And so, Saetan finds himself tutoring a strange child with ancient eyes in the very basics of Craft–a child who, when she tries to move a small object with Craft, tends to move whole manor houses around that object instead! She isn’t simply more powerful than any other living Blood; she’s more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine. But like all the Blood she’s ruled by high-strung emotions and complex social bonds. And to make things worse, she has a family that simply cannot understand and accept what she is. She’s vulnerable, as all children are, and this is the time when she can be harmed, twisted, or broken by her enemies.
Will she survive? Will she stay sane? And can all of the unique creatures that love and value her possibly protect her from the dangers that lie all too close to home?
Style is one thing that Bishop’s writing never lacks! It’s breathtaking. When I read her work I can see the rooms of homes and palaces, feel the snow on a garden path, hear the tone of a character’s voice. Her characters are larger-than-life; in most authors’ hands that would make for a melodramatic and ridiculous book, but in hers it makes for tension, drama, humor, wit, and a sweeping story that pulls you along like the strongest undercurrent. I can still feel the differences between the characters in this book, and each individual character, however minor, feels unique and interesting.
There is a lot going on in this book, and if there is any “flaw” in Bishop’s writing (and I use those quotation marks deliberately, because I do not consider it to be a flaw), it is that her world-spanning epic plots are so complex, with so many characters and so much going on and so much glorious, well-thought-out detail, that it can be hard to remember details now and then. This book is not light beach reading. It is not meant for people who want an easy read. It is not fluff.
This is true in tone and detail as well. It may be a fantasy book, but I’d more accurately classify it as dark fantasy, or fantasy/horror. It may deal with sumptuous courts and high society, but it is also extremely gritty and straightforward in how it deals with death, torture, and sex. Bishop pulls no punches and clearly feels no embarrassment about putting the good and the bad of her characters out there for the world to see, however private the moment. Prostitution, rape, and even child molestation do play roles in this book, although they aren’t used to titillate (note that bit above about these things being gritty and straightforward). If you don’t want to read about such things, just don’t read these books.
There are two pieces of praise I can give to Anne Bishop’s books that I can give to almost no others. One is that I loved them so much that I read them twice, and made my husband read them (and yes, he loved them every bit as much as I did, so this isn’t just a book for women). The other is that despite being on my second reading, I still found myself tearing up repeatedly over the emotional bits. The writing is so vivid, so raw, so brutal and beautiful all at once, that it’s nearly impossible not to feel what the characters feel. And for that I will always love these books, and consider them to be some of the best books I have ever read.