( Content note: extreme whorephobia, torture, sexual assault, rape )
Daughter of the Blood
Heir to the Shadows
Queen of the Darkness
Weaver of Dreams
The Prince of Ebon Rih
The High Lord's Daughter
Shades of Honor
The Invisible Ring
The Shadow Queen
This order is neither chronological nor in publication order. It may seem odd and random. To some extent it is odd and random. While I may surprise myself (I didn't expect to have so much to say about the dramatis personae), I expect to do the most ranting about Shades of Honor and Shalador's Lady, which is why I put the trilogy that ends with Shalador's Lady last and Shades of Honor right before that trilogy starts (pulling it out of the middle of the book of short stories it's in).
I think that's as much stalling as I can do before I start going through the actual books; I'm sure anyone reading this is excited over the prospect.
Blood who are not Queens--both male and female--serve Queens; a court that doesn't have (for example) a Healer is crippled. (I don't actually know if Priestesses serve in Courts or not; Black Widows do.) Typically, a Court will have far more than twelve male and far more than twelve female members. The fact that a legitimate Court requires twelve Blood males is largely a point of nearly-irrelevant Protocol: if there's a Queen trying to set up a Court, she'll have more applicants than she knows what to do with, unless something is seriously wrong. A Queen would need to be someone Bishop was trying to subject to a plausibility-straining humiliation conga for her Court to break because only one man and no women would serve her. Not that I mean to foreshadow anything, or anything.
The number of ruling Queens is, for obvious reasons, limited by the territory available to be ruled. Each of the three Realms is made up of Territories, and each Territory is made up of Provinces. A Queen can serve in another Queen's court; a Province Queen serves that territory's Territory Queen, the Queen who rules a small village in a Province serves the Province Queen, or a Queen may serve a term of service in another Queen's court ruling nothing as training, but a Queen who never aspired to rule anything would be widely--and by the author--seen as defective. The Queen can dismiss anyone from her court--or have them summarily killed, for that matter--at any time.
It's obvious at a glance that there is no room for any form of transexuality or intersexuality in the extreme, total gender essentialism that underlies Bishop's magic system. Everyone is born with a penis or a vulva. Either comes with its own set of completely irresistible, undeniable instincts. End of chapter, end of book.
There are people who are attracted to their own sexes, or are asexual, in her world. This changes nothing magical: a lesbian Queen still needs a court that has twelve Blood males. For that Queen, it's as simple as always having a First Escort rather than a Consort; a Blood male who isn't attracted to women, on the other hand, will still feel the irresistible urge to serve in a Court, and may be ordered to perform sexual services for that Court's women while there. (Obviously, no good Queen would do this, but there are a lot of bad Queens.)
Even though women rule (except in one or two cases which I'll get into later...and yes, they are important), her world is thoroughly sexist. I'll get into the most extreme examples of sexism in...let me count...probably six novels and at least one book of short stories from now. (It's ironic that the things I most want to rant about are at the far end of the series, but the contrast is necessary.) Some I'll get to right away.
Because of a reaction I got to this, let me say one thing in the clearest possible terms: If you ever thought I was saying or implying that I thought the books depict a functional society, you were mistaken.
Hayllians. One of the three "long-lived" races, which means they have the same life expectancy as Eyriens and Dhemlans, a life expectancy measured in millennia. The villains, Hekatah and Dorothea, are Hayllians. They're Always Evil in the Dungeons and Dragons "doesn't actually mean always" sense. Nonmagical social status largely takes precedence over Jewel rank and caste among them, which is a big part of why they're evil. (The trick to understanding Bishop's attitude toward social status is that there are three components of your birth if you're Blood: which caste you were born into, which is valid, which Jewel you wear, which is valid, and who your parents are, which is not valid. If you consider yourself more important than everyone who wears a lighter Jewel, the narrative voice will never frown at you--though it will expect you to take care of your servants. If you think you have a right to rule because you were born a Queen, guess what--you're right and thinking exactly what you should think. If you think it matters that your parents are married aristocrats and that other person's mother is a prostitute and no one knows who his father is, you're a villain and you're going down, probably to be graphically tortured onstage.)
Eyriens. The second of the three "long-lived" races. They're people with wings. They're Always Evil in a way that gets more detail than the way Hayllians are (I'll go into lots more detail of this when going through the books...promise). It is morally wrong for a non-Eyrien to observe that Eyriens are Always Evil, unless the observer is a protagonist.
Dhemlans. The third of the three "long-lived" races. Physically they resemble Hayllians, who happen to resemble wingless Eyriens. I can read all the books and yet all I really know about them is that they needed to be protected from being conquered by the Hayllians.
The human short-lived races. Rihlanders, Glacians, and so on. They live about as long as real-world humans do, and die in an eyeblink from the perspective of one of the long-lived races.
The kindred. All sorts of animals live in the Black Jewels world: horses, wolves, great cats, dogs, and so on. The fact that dogs only exist because of human manipulation in the real world--well, Bishop never addresses whether dogs in her world, including Scelties, were created by humans. For the most part, the animals are no more or less intelligent than their real-world equivalents, but as the human races have Blood members who have magic, the animals have Blood members, called "kindred" by the human Blood, who have both magic and sapience.
Centaurs, satyrs, unicorns--I'm not sure whether unicorns should go here, or with the general animals. No unicorns who are not kindred are ever introduced, to my memory. Arachnians, the large poisonous kindred spiders who excel at the magic called dream-weaving that lets Black Widows foretell the future.
The world of the Black Jewels series is divided into three Realms, which can only be traveled between by magic. I have the impression, which I may either recant or be able to place more specifically while going over individual books, that each Realm is equal in size and generally resembles the others in terms of geography.
There's Terreille, the Realm of Light. Home of one of the primary villains of the series, the High Priestess Dorothea. At the time the series begins, home, almost entirely, to races considered human and nonsapient animals. Contrary to what would be the usual associations of "the Realm of Light," it's been almost entirely conquered by Dorothea, using methods I'll go into later, when the series begins.
There's Kaeleer, the Realm of Shadow. Although not all the heroes of the series begin there, it is presented very much as where they belong. "Most of Kaeleer's a legend," a character once proclaims. Its people include humans but also centaurs, satyrs, intelligent spiders, unicorns, and large numbers of the kindred--animals who are Blood. Note that, for animals, being Blood carries sapience as well as magic.
There's Hell, the Realm of Darkness, the afterlife realm. Although the name implies, to readers in our world, a place of punishment, it's largely a positive place for those who exist there: the living dead. When the Blood die, by default, they are automatically transported to Hell, with their bodies in whatever state death left them, and spend an uncertain amount of time as "demon-dead" before running out of energy and returning to the Darkness.
Almost any of the living who find themselves in Hell are nearly certain to be eaten. Almost everything native to Hell hungers for the blood and flesh of the living: the plants, the animals, even the demon-dead themselves. The demon-dead owe a lot of their concept to traditional vampires; sunlight greatly weakens them, and they have a constant hunger for human blood. Someone who has a constant source of fresh blood can last far longer as demon-dead than she would without it. Bishop never goes a great deal into Hell's geography, but judging by epithets characters use, the sun never shines in Hell. Also there are fires--as in "By the fires of Hell."
landen--non-Blood of any race
Blood male--a general term for all males of the Blood; also refers to any Blood male who doesn't wear Jewels
Warlord--a Jeweled male equal in status to a witch
Prince--a Jeweled male equal in status to a Priestess or a Healer
Warlord Prince--a dangerous, extremely aggressive Jeweled male; in status, slightly lower than a Queen
landen--non-Blood of any race
Blood female--a general term for all females of the Blood; mostly refers to any Blood female who doesn't wear Jewels
witch--a Blood female who wears Jewels but isn't one of the other hierarchical levels; also refers to any Jeweled female
Healer--a witch who heals physical wounds and illnesses; equal in status to a Priestess and a Prince
Priestess--a witch who cares for altars, sanctuaries, and Dark Altars; witnesses handfasts and marriages; performs offerings;
equal in status to a Priestess and a Prince
Black Widow--a witch who heals the mind; weaves the tangled webs of dreams and visions; is trained in illusions and poisons
Queen--a witch who rules the Blood; is considered to be the land's heart and the Blood's moral center; as such, she is the focal
point of their society
The Blood have a legend--which will, over the course of the trilogy, prove to be entirely true--that all the Blood races inherited their magic from a dragon queen. All the Jewels were originally dragon scales. Because the magic came from a female dragon, females of all the Blood races were the first to develop magical abilities and have consistently had more powerful magic.
Caste (Warlord, Prince, Warlord Prince, Healer, Priestess, Black Widow, Queen) is mostly inborn. A child's parents can immediately tell that the child is (say) a Queen (except in one case where they can't. However, it's also possible to become a Black Widow without being born one--even, in rare (once in the history of the Blood to date) cases, for a male to become a Black Widow--and possible to cancel a Black Widow apprenticeship partway through. (Can someone who was born a Black Widow choose not to be one? I'd say probably not, but I don't know for sure.) I have no idea how much of becoming a Priestess is choice; it seems odd that a woman could be born with "you're going to witness marriages and care for altars" stamped on her forehead in a way it doesn't seem odd that a woman could be born with "you're an instinctive ruler" stamped on her forehead, but none of the protagonists is a Priestess, which means it gets less exploration than any of the other castes. Note that which caste you are is not directly hereditary. A family with powerful magic is more likely to produce a Queen or a Warlord Prince, while one with weak magic is more likely to produce Warlords and witches with no further titles, but a Queen does not mean someone who necessarily has something to rule over; it means someone with magical instincts to rule who magically causes those of other castes to want to submit.
Warlord, Princes, Warlord Princes, and Queens are entirely born that way, and their caste shapes their reactions through their lives. Healers seem to be born that way as well, though whether this influences them in any way other than giving them certain magical abilities non-Healers don't have is unclear. Healer and Black Widow can be combined with the other castes (someone can be a Healer, a Black Widow, and a Queen, or a Black Widow and a Priestess. Or a Black Widow and a Warlord Prince).
Somewhat contrary to the text given in the glossary, a character in the second book sums Blood society up as, "Warlords are equal in status to witches, Princes are equal to Priestesses and Healers, and Black Widows only have to defer to Warlord Princes and Queens. And Warlord Princes, who are considered a law unto themselves, are a step above the other castes and a step--a long step--beneath the Queens."
Males serve, instinctively, though a male can rule "on behalf of a Queen"--and it doesn't even have to be a Queen who's alive yet.
If you have any questions about any of this, please ask them, and I'll try to clarify--either in comments here or, more likely, in future entries.
When making the Offering to the Darkness, a person can descend a maximum of three ranks from his/her Birthright Jewel.
Example: Birthright White could descend to Rose.
the Gray again
the Black again
Text follows. If it's in bold, it's Anne Bishop; if it's not, it's me.
What can I say about a story that has been a part of my life for more than a decade? What can I say about characters who became people I cared about--and still do? Perhaps the best thing is to answer the question I'm most often asked: "How did you come up with this story and these characters?"
The answer is both complex and simple. I asked, what if?
What if a culture was based on the dark side of fantasy? What kind of morality would it have? What kind of code of honor? What protocols would develop to protect the weaker from the stronger? What if it was a culture that was elegant in its darkness and had tenderness as well as temper, passion as well as violence? What if the males were aggressive, intelligent, passionate, sensual--warriors with a veneer of the civilized? What if the female was the dominant gender and the males served, so that the Nurturer controlled the Warrior? What if some of the social and sexual mores that had applied to females in our world were applied to the males in this world? How would they act? How would they live? Who would they be?
From these wonderings, among others, a three-layered place called the Realms and a people called the Blood slowly emerged. For a while, I was content with making up scenarios and playing them out in my head to see how the characters that were taking shape reacted to different situations. I had fun developing the different races--the unicorns and the rest of the kindred, the Dea al Mon, the Eyriens and others. I had fun with the characters--Daemon, with his cold elegance and his passion for Jaenelle; Lucivar, with his earthy approach to life and those glorious wings, Ladvarian, who was the first of the kindred to appear; and Jaenelle, with her immense power and emotional scars.
Then, one day, came another what if?: If the survival of the Blood's culture depends on dancing on the knife edge of trust, what happens if it goes wrong?
I didn't have an answer, so I continued to play with the puzzle pieces of this world--until the High Lord showed up one day, a man with power that was feared, a past that held regrets, and the hard-won wisdom that comes from experience. Suddenly all the pieces clicked into place. I had a father and two estranged sons whose lives were tangled with two greedy, ambitious High Priestesses. I had a world gone wrong and a culture spiraling toward destruction. And I had a dream that, when made flesh, changed the lives of those three men and, by doing so, changed everything.
I had a story about love and betrayal, magic and mystery, honor and passion...and the price that is paid for a dream. I had the story you now hold in your hands.
Enter the world of the Blood.
Welcome to The Black Jewels Trilogy.
Hm. I remembered--it's kind of hard to forget--the magical gender essentialism that the Blood cultures turn on, but I didn't remember the more prosaic gender essentialism in her too-bedrock-to-acknowledge association of female with "the Nurturer," even as she talks about playing around with gender tropes. It's not inaccurate to say that Jaenelle changed everything--well, it is and it isn't, which I'll go into later--and it's inarguably accurate to say that she changed the lives of the three other characters Bishop names, but insofar as she did change everything, did she do so by changing the lives of those characters? I don't think so, but, again, I'll go into that later. When I've gotten far enough to expect a reader of this blog who hasn't read the books to recognize the names.
That was the introduction. Next time, I'll lay out the magical and cultural ground rules for the series. Oh, I'm calling it a "series" rather than a "trilogy" because, from the vantage point from which I'm writing this, there are seven novels, and two books of short stories. The omnibus edition I'm working with here comprises the initial trilogy, but I'm not planning on stopping when I come to the end of it.
I remember a great deal of the quote. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate it online to quote directly or link to. Although, while I was trying, I did come across the information that the Black Jewels series was previously targeted by one Requires Only That You Hate/Winterfox/acrackedmoon. If you're not familiar with any of those net-names, let's just say that her criticism of it was (ahem) in no way concerned with being fair. Luckily, I'm pretty sure I'd have to be deliberately trying to be awful to manage to be anywhere near as bad as her.
Bishop's stated goals for the series make analyzing it sometimes tricky: does she mean for this horrendous thing one of her protagonists did to be seen as horrendous?
My answer is "sometimes, but not nearly as often as that's what she achieves, and almost never to the extent she achieves it."
I'll go into more details for each specific example when dealing with those specific examples.