"Heir to the Shadows," Anne Bishop (Black Jewels 2)

Pros: Everything
Cons: Possibly too dark and complex for some people
Rating: 6 out of 5


First posted 1/2/2004

“Heir to the Shadows” is book two in Anne Bishop’s magnificent Black Jewels Trilogy. The first book is Daughter of the Blood, a beautiful dark fantasy story about a young girl born with enormous power, yet vulnerable to those who would twist and use her. She had many powerful friends as well as enemies, but most of them didn’t even know which country she lived in, much less who her family was, and she had her own reasons for keeping it that way. She was always the one to visit them, riding the psychic Winds, rather than the other way around.

In book two, Jaenelle has yet to recover from the events at the end of book one. Saetan has taken official guardianship of her with the Dark Council’s grudging permission, but there is little he can do to help her. Her mind has fled her body, wandering the Twisted Kingdom alone. Her body is safe now, but how to find her and convince her to return to it after all that happened to her? In book one we met Saetan as well as the half-brothers Daemon and Lucivar. We met Jaenelle’s family, most of whom love her but cannot believe in her. We met Tersa, the insane Witch who walks the Twisted Lands, and Surreal, the prostitute and assassin who wears the powerful Gray jewels and who is determined to kill her own father to avenge her mother’s rape and murder.

We occasionally heard hints that Jaenelle had friends in other lands, but we didn’t meet many of them. In this book that changes–in spades. Jaenelle, it seems, has accumulated a wealth of friends in various families, young Queens and Warlord Princes loyal to the ways of honor and balance. And not all of those Queens and Princes are human.

It is time for Jaenelle to return from the Twisted Kingdom, but the return of mind to body cannot undo all of the pain and fear. And Daemon, too, wanders–unable to remember enough of what happened on that fateful night to know for sure that he wasn’t the one who hurt Jaenelle. Even Lucivar has been convinced that Daemon killed Jaenelle. It’s time for Witch to form her court and make the Offering to the Darkness that will reveal her true power. But will it be enough to repair the damage that has been done, to everyone involved? Or will the growing machinations of Dorothea and her allies tear the territories apart and turn everyone against Jaenelle and her new family?

The Writing

Anne Bishop is one of my favorite authors. Her characterizations are so unique, clear, and dramatic that it’s impossible to mistake one character for another. Her dialogue is witty and sharp, fresh and entertaining. Her prose brings every detail to life, so you can see, hear, and even taste her world.

One of the fascinating things about the world of the Black Jewels Trilogy is its odd system of gender politics. For thousands of years the Blood survived on a complex system of mutual respect that put Queens in charge, but instituted checks and balances that required them to, for example, keep any promise made to a Warlord Prince in their court. The system of protocol and emotional and societal bonds was complex, but it kept things balanced.

Once one side pushed things out of balance, trying to take more and more power away from the other gender, it spiraled out of control. Each gender became convinced by the excesses of the other that they were the ones who needed to be in charge, with the other side held subservient. Now perhaps the only hope for the realm is that the old systems of protocol can be reinstated–but now that each side has had a taste of power, neither wants to give it up again. It’s never as simple to heal a system as to break it.

Ms. Bishop never shies away from tough topics or hard choices. She doesn’t make things easy on her characters, but neither does she pile on meaningless obstacles that have no place in the story. I never once stopped caring for her characters (or hating them, depending on the character) and feeling what they felt. Her writing is fast-paced and immersive, and although these are not small books, I finished each of them in less than a day because I simply couldn’t put them down–even on the second reading. The world is very complex and detailed, and in this book I did start to lose track of some of Jaenelle’s many friends, but not so much that it detracted from the story.

As with the first book in the series, this book deals with topics ranging from death and torture to sex, rape and molestation. These subjects are dealt with in an appropriately serious manner and are never used to titillate, but not everyone will be comfortable reading about them. Ms. Bishop is not one to flinch away from an appropriately gruesome description.

In many trilogies the second book is the weakest; it lacks the excitement of the beginning, as well as the explosive climax of the ending. But in this case the second book is every bit as good as the first and third, with the writing quality as high, and the tension as deep.

Visit Anne Bishop’s website.

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