Pros: Delightfully dark, sweet, fun, tense in turns
Rating: 5 out of 5
Anne Bishop’s Shalador’s Lady is a Black Jewels Novel. It comes right after The Shadow Queen in both book order and plot order; it’s a direct continuation of events from the previous book. Don’t use this novel to jump into the series.
Janaelle sent a Queen, Cassidy, to help the people of Dena Nehele–at their prince’s request–re-learn the Old Ways and the ins and outs of Protocol (the complex system that keeps the temperamental Blood channeled in positive directions). Unfortunately Theran, the prince, had built up an image of a beautiful, dazzling, powerful Queen, and Cassidy is low-powered and not considered pretty. He doesn’t want her presence, but he can’t exactly go back to the powerful SaDiablo family and say “thanks but no thanks”. He meets a new Queen, Kermilla, and is so captivated by her that he can’t see past the pretty face to the ugly personality behind it. While he bankrupts himself trying to keep up with Kermilla’s expectations, and makes plans to replace Cassidy at the end of her one-year contract, Cassidy moves the rest of her court to a village in another part of the territory. Not only do her loyal court members (all but Theran) go with her, but many of the local Blood and landen go with as well. They’re afraid of Kermilla and her hangers-on–in her they see the old Queens who devastated their territory previously. Somehow, Cassidy has to hold on to Dena Nehele while sparring with Kermilla, who hurt Cassidy in the recent past by taking her previous court out from underneath her.
I absolutely love Shalador’s Lady. The characters are, as always in Anne Bishop books, terribly fun. She has created a world with built-in reasons for people to be high-tempered, dangerous, and larger than life, and she wields that milieu with style. I enjoy Cassidy as a character. For a brief time I felt a little frustrated with her inability to see past what happened with her last court to the loyal court she has now, but to be honest she has been sufficiently scarred by her past experiences that it makes sense for her to be blind to certain details. I also like watching Gray develop–he starts out as a broken man with a stunted emotional development, but in wanting to be good for Cassidy he starts putting the pieces of his life back together. It’s so sweet to watch. (I cried.)
The hilarity in this volume (and some of the darkness as well) comes from the introduction of a bunch of Scelties (a ‘kindred’ race of dogs, who are considered to be of the Blood and who have the same range of powers as the human Blood, including the ability to speak mind-to-mind with others). An entire dozen comes to Cassidy’s relocated home and decides to settle in. They range from a small, over-excited mutt to a rather scary adult. While they’re often used for comic relief, they also instigate at least one of the darker moments of the book. (Additional tears may have been shed.)
There are plenty of ups and downs, laughs and bloodshed, romances and enmities. The plot and events provide plenty of tension–I stayed up late to finish the book because I couldn’t put it down. Frankly I read so many books that this doesn’t happen often any more. I also liked that Kermilla shows how thin the line can be between a Queen who’s spoiled, selfish, and narcissistic, and a Queen who’s evil.