"Queen of the Darkness," Anne Bishop (Black Jewels 3)

Pros: Anne Bishop’s writing and ideas, characterization; sweeping, bittersweet climax to epic story
Cons: Some might find it too dark and complex
Rating: 6 out of 5

     

First posted 1/5/2004

In the dark fantasy novel Daughter of the Blood we met Jaenelle, an unusual girl with hidden powers the likes of which most of the people surrounding her couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Saetan, the High Lord of Hell himself, takes her on as a student–but she still refuses to tell him the location of her home or the identity of her family, even though it seems clear that she’s in danger and in need of aid. Others too plot to save her, but they’re racing against time they may not have.

In Heir to the Shadows Jaenelle has survived an absolutely horrific experience, and her mind has fled her body to the Twisted Kingdom. It’s time for her to come back and join with her friends in trying to avert a war that threatens to wipe out all of the non-human Blood across the realm, but it isn’t as easy as simply deciding to rejoin the living. Meanwhile, Daemon, who doesn’t remember enough of that one fateful night to know for sure that he didn’t harm (or even kill) Jaenelle, wanders in a mad daze, tended only occasionally by the one or two friends he has, such as Surreal, a Gray-Jeweled Witch, prostitute, and assassin. His own half-brother Lucivar believes he killed Jaenelle, and the only thing Daemon knows for sure is that Saetan, the dead High Lord of Hell, holds the answers he seeks.

In “Queen of the Darkness,” Jaenelle has taken her place as the Queen of Ebon Askavi, a great seat of power that has gone unattended for a long time. She has united the territories of her allies under her rule and used that to protect them from other Queens and Warlord Princes. She has made the Offering to the Darkness and returned with Jewels the likes of which no one has even seen before.

But the fight is far from over. Dorothea and Hekatah haven’t run out of cards to play–far from it, in fact. They have plenty of plans to upset Jaenelle’s power, strip away her allies, and set the other territories against her.

There are several things they haven’t counted on, however. Daemon draws near to Ebon Askavi, and to his Queen. She has family to care for her now. She’s beginning to realize the depths of her power.

But will it be enough?

Style and Writing

Anne Bishop has one of the most vivid and “real” styles of writing I’ve ever encountered. She works with high-strung larger-than-life characters in this universe (there’s a good reason for this–it isn’t isn’t random characterization) without ever straying over the line into melodrama or ridiculousness. This series is an emotional rollercoaster that can send you soaring at one moment and bring you to tears the next, even on multiple readings.

One of the things that has fascinated me most about this series is something my husband pointed out to me–Jaenelle is the character around whom everything else revolves, but you never see the world through her eyes. This means that some of the things that happen to her, both great and terrible, happen off-screen. In some books this would cause unwanted distance. In these books it creates just the right amount of dramatic tension, allowing our imaginations to fill in the gaps perfectly. It also helps us to see ourselves in the place of Jaenelle’s new family, desperate to help her and even, sometimes, afraid of her. The sheer alienness of what she can be would be almost impossible to convey through her eyes, but it’s perfectly clear through the eyes of those around her.

It honestly would have been difficult to come up with a satisfying climax to a story this large, sweeping, emotional, and epic. I remember worrying, the first time I read this book, that the ending would be either too pat or too depressing (sometimes I love dark endings, but I’d really come to care about these characters so much that I wasn’t sure I could stand to have too dark an ending). I won’t give away details, but I will say that I thought the ending was beautiful and perfect.

Again, these books are both complex and dark. They move fast, but they aren’t easy reading. They involve many, many characters and details, and deal with issues such as sex, torture, death, rape, and molestation; they aren’t beach or airplane reading. But they are incredibly rewarding for someone who’s willing to invest the time and thought into them, and I expect they’ll always remain some of the very best books I’ve ever read.

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