Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Book Review: The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop

“Why am I doing this?” Saetan Daemon SaDiablo, the former Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, glanced at Daemon Sadi, the current Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, and swallowed the urge to laugh. That tone of voice was more suited to a surly adolescent than a strong adult male in his prime, and being Hayllian, one of the long-lived races, Daemon had left adolescence behind several centuries ago. But he’d noticed that there were times when Daemon and his brother, Lucivar Yaslana, set adulthood--and a good portion of their brains--aside and were just… boys.

 They seemed to test the emotional waters of adolescence when they were alone with him. Maybe it was because he’d been denied the privilege of raising them and the three of them hadn’t gone through the pissing contests they would have all endured if they’d lived with him. Maybe it was because they’d had to grow up too hard and too fast in order to survive the vicious slavery that had been used to control them. At least, that had attempted to control them. The slavery, the pain, the fear, and the cruelty had turned two young men, two Warlord Princes who were natural predators, into lethally honed weapons. They were intelligent and vicious. Loyal and loving. Powerful and independent. Fiercely protective of those they loved to a sometimes annoying degree. They were his sons, and he loved them both. But the one standing at the other end of the table, looking at him through long black eyelashes, was his mirror, his true heir. And since he was, among other things, the High Lord of Hell, the fact that Daemon was a mirror was something he never forgot. 
~Excerpt from The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop

 Several years ago I picked up the first book in the "Black Jewels" trilogy by Anne Bishop and was totally drawn into the vivid world she created. Using the mystique of slightly-tweaked biblical names like Saetan and Luciver and setting much of her story in a 'demon-dead' realm known as Hell, Bishop successfully blends pieces of Christian religion with her own highly imaginative, magical creation.

Witches and Warlords are the Blood of the realm of Terreille. Queens are the highest ranking women of the realms, being born into the role and surrounded by a court of Warlord Princes who uphold the power and honor of the Queen through the use of protocol- and brute force if necessary. The Blood of the realms are a caste-based society ranked by birthright and the power of the jewels that are endowed to each member and are a visible display of personal power; the darker the jewel the more powerful the person. The original series is built around the character of Jaenelle Angelline, the most powerful Queen ever born, known as the epitome of Witch, and Dreams Made Flesh.

 Bishop established herself as a pretty successful writer in the fantasy world with her romantically Gothic series had fans eagerly snapping up each book that appeared in the world of the Black Jewels trilogy even if the original characters were not featured. Unfortunately the last book, Tangled Webs was a weak addition and I approached "The Shadow Queen" with some restraint.

 "The Shadow Queen" takes place not long after the conclusion of the original series. The realms have been decimated by a blast of power released by Jeanelle to cleanse the land of the tainted Blood that had brutalized the realms. Dena Nehele was once a proud land ruled by the "Gray Lady," one of the few Queens who respected the old ways. Theran Grayhaven is the last of his line and in desperation he seeks help from Daemon SaDiablo in order to find a Queen to rule the realm and restore the land. Lady Cassidy is a low ranking Queen who, despite her light jewels, knows the rules of protocol and has what it takes to restore Dena Nehele, but isn't well received by Theran because she lacks the beauty and presence he thinks is required of a 'proper' Queen. Cassidy does find an unexpected ally in Theran's cousin Gray, but since he had been mentally and physically damaged by the former rulers who terrorized the realm, it's uncertain whether or not Gray can help Cassidy succeed.

 Fans of The Black Jewels trilogy will be happy to learn that "The Shadow Queen" also heavily features Jaenelle, Daemon and Saetan as part of the overall story. "The Shadow Queen" is in many respects the best book set in the world of the Black Jewels since the original series, though it does fall far short of the original standard. It doesn't have anything approaching the tension and conflict of the earlier books-- yet it does have it's charm. "The Shadow Queen" is really about the power of inner beauty and strength. Because the book is basically a romantic fantasy the emotional content of the book can seem over-the-top at times, with the Warlords rising to "the killing edge" often and with very little provocation. The interactions between Jaenelle, Daemon and Saetan can sometimes seem overly-precious and unrealistic as well.

The book has its flaws for sure. The overlap between the main story and those of Jaenelle and Daemon can seem disjointed and lack polish, but overall-- the book is still charming-- for lack of a better word. It's not the first book to pick up if the premise sounds interesting as the jewel and caste rankings will seem incredibly confusing. But if you're a fan of the series you will very likely enjoy this trip back into Bishop's world.


Mishel said...

I know I'm way behind but I just picked up the first book in this series and I really look forward to starting it (=

Charles Gramlich said...

I've heard so much about Bishop lately. I have one of her books and have got to try it out.

SciFiGuy said...

I am very excited about this and so glad you gave it high marks. I remember reading the original Black Jewels in the Omnibus edition with the first three books in one. A thousand pages of pleasure.

SQT said...

Sci-fi Guy

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call them 'high marks.' It's a decent addition to the story but nowhere as good as the original series. Much much better than "Tangled Webs" though.

Best Fantasy and Science Fiction said...

I've seen a lot about this book and Bishop recently as well. Every review sounds great so I will have to pick up a copy soon and dive in!