Happy Thursday, all! What a week, am I right?! I received the ARC for The Queen’s Weapons recently, and since it comes out March 9, I know it was time to get off my butt and read book one. I have been semi-avoiding The Queen’s Bargain for a while now – this came in the mail as soon as it came out, and finally picked it up. This isn’t because I didn’t want to read The Queen’s Bargain. I am a major Anne Bishop devotee, and the original Black Jewels Trilogy was one of my first breaks into adult SFF. However, reuniting with favorite characters after almost a decade apart can be hard. So I took the plunge and read Queen’s Bargain and Queen’s Weapons in basically one sitting over three days. What a ride! So while I will be releasing my review of The Queen’s Weapons closer to the release date, without further ado here is Bargain.
(Okay a little ado) as a general trigger warning, Anne Bishop books are all graphically violent and sexual. While I would call these new Queen books “Black Jewels Lite,” there is still definitely some dead bodies and rough sex.
From the Publisher:
POWER HAS A PRICE. SO DOES LOVE.
Return to the dark, sensual, and powerful world of the Black Jewels in this long-awaited new story in the New York Times bestselling fantasy saga
After a youthful mistake, Lord Dillon’s reputation is in tatters, leaving him vulnerable to aristo girls looking for a bit of fun. To restore his reputation and honor, he needs a handfast—a one-year contract of marriage. He sets his sights on Jillian, a young Eyrien witch from Ebon Rih, who he believes has only a flimsy connection to the noble society that spurned him. Unfortunately for Dillon, he is unaware of Jillian’s true connections until he finds himself facing Lucivar Yaslana, the volatile Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih.
Meanwhile, Surreal SaDiablo’s marriage is crumbling. Daemon Sadi, the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, recognizes there is something wrong between him and Surreal, but he doesn’t realize that his attempt to suppress his own nature in order to spare his wife is causing his mind to splinter. To save Daemon, and the Realm of Kaeleer if he breaks, help must be sought from someone who no longer exists in any of the Realms—the only Queen powerful enough to control Daemon Sadi. The Queen known as Witch.
As Jillian rides the winds of first love with Dillon, Daemon and Surreal struggle to survive the wounds of a marriage turned stormy—and Lucivar has to find a way to keep everyone in his family safe…even from each other.
What I Loved:
- Jillian. The Queen’s Bargain, like most Anne Bishop books, are character studies of very real, normal emotions amplified by a magical world. Jillian is an Eyrien, meaning she is from one of the long-lived races (see thousands, and potentially tens of thousands years old), with an adolescence that lasts for centuries. She can also fly. Yet Jillian is, in many ways, a normal young teenager. You would think she is fifteen, with all of the emotions of a fifteen year old. She wants more independence but has a healthy fear of the unknown, she wants to be loved but has never even been kissed. In comes Dillon, a short lived race (i.e., normal aged) who is about 20 I think? And who is a good guy led very astray but bad people in his life. What made this dynamic so great was that Dillon and Jillian both forgot that what could have been a simple semi-inappropriate romance (15 year old to 19 year old), but when Jillian ha a chance to shine, you remember that she has experienced centuries worth of life already. She is thoughtful, quiet, and has eons and the world ahead of her. I also loved her pseudo-dad relationship with Lucivar, one of my all-time favorite Black Jewels characters.
- The World… aka mostly the Scelties. I forgot how much I missed the kindred. The kindred are animal and mythological species that are just as magical as their human counterparts, who can hold jewels and are in castes…meaning there are Warlord Prince and Queen horses, dogs, and unicorns. One of the few kindred races that stayed in touch with the humans after Witch passed away was the Scelties, which are basically Shetland Sheepdogs (look them up, they are perfect) who become extremely attached to a particular person, are often bossy, and “herd” people to their liking. They also imprint on human behavior, and can communicate with people through mind speak. Sometimes, they become an integral part of a human village (see: the young Sceltie who almost gets adopted by a grocer because he can tell the shoppers which produce is the freshest and ripest). I normally feel that when my favorite characters are animals, the author got lazy. But in Anne Bishops’ case, she makes the Scelties family, and makes the kindred backstory a part of the overall world build for the Black Jewels world.
- Bringing back old favorites. While the new Queen series feels a little like a gimme, given that Black Jewels readers are easy marks (myself included), I couldn’t help but love that Chaosti and Karla get to shine in Queen’s Bargain. Like most of Jaenelle’s friends, they were from short lived races. However, for whatever reason Karla and Chaosti are demon dead, meaning that they had a large reservoir of magic when they died, so they now get a second “life” as… sort of like a vampire. They operate at night with a “”sun allergy,” drink blood, and try to only peripherally contact the living. However, we all know that the Dark Court never followed the “rules,” and with Daemon the High Lord of Hell, the rules are even less acknowledged. Chaosti is a Dea Al Mon, basically a dryad assassin, and he is as cool as ever. He is predatory with a dry sense of humor, and often balances Lucivar and Daemon when they go a little off the rails. Karla, on the other hand, was a powerful Queen, Healer, and Black Widow – meaning she can see visions in webs. Karla has a savage sense of humor, is one of the first asexual characters I ever encountered in fiction, and always kept Witch in check. These two powerhouses coming back added flavor and a hefty dose of “new nostalgia,” meaning I wasn’t expecting them. They are like a new cheese in your favorite mac and cheese.
What (Sort of) Killed it For Me:
- Surreal, the elephant in the room. Why, Anne Bishop, why? Why take an assassin, one of the only living women in the Black Jewels world who wears a Gray Jewel, who has worked her ass off for a new life, and turn her into a ball of fear and lust? It feels like Anne Bishop never wanted to kill Witch, the living myth, Daemon’s first wife, and she took all of her regrets out on Daemon’s new wife. Surreal’s fear of her husband’s vicious side may be warranted, but her not speaking to him about her fear and having essentially no support left Surreal a shadow of her former self. It is not often a beloved character becomes one of the most hated, but reading reviews about her broke my heart. I also expected better of Daemon, who did not recognize his own mental illness in time to repair their bond. Also, not a big fan of basing an entire plotline around a glorified sex addiction.
- (Related) Jaenelle Saetien. I basically refuse to believe that this child daughter of Daemon and Surreal, who is so loved and has centuries of watching good people in her life, who was given the Twilight’s Dawn by her namesake Jaenelle (Witch), could turn into this little nightmare child. She is, frankly, a brat. Jaenelle Saetien ignores her protocol lessons, thinks that she is special and demands to be treated as such. It is so sad juxtaposing Jaenelle’s character next to Lucivar’s children, particularly Titian and Daemonar, who are both honorable and fundamentally decent people. It almost feels like Anne Bishop is punishing Surreal and Daemon (yet again).
Despite there only being two “cons” about The Queen’s Bargain, I feel battered by one of my favorite characters falling so low. This also felt like “Black Jewels light”; as in, the drama and the violence and malevolence were dialed back a little. Not sure if it is because this series seems more like a coming of age book for Daemon and Lucivar’s kids, and I don’t *hate* it, but it doesn’t have the bite I wanted.
The Queen’s Bargain is like half decaf coffee. It is still pretty good, but doesn’t hit quite the same way that the original Black Jewels Trilogy did. The characters for the most part are still amazingly written, and the world is just as magical and addictive. However, I would save this for people intimately familiar with the Black Jewels world. This is not for the uninitiated. With that being said, I am going to shamelessly plug the first Black Jewels book here, Daughter of the Blood. Give it a look, and if you want to skip the formalities, buy the original trilogy as one volume here (saves money and time!) (or only $2.99 on the Kindle!!) If you are, in fact, an Anne Bishop-ite like myself, get your copy of The Queen’s Bargain here to satiate a craving we all forgot existed (and on sale at Bookshop!). Three and a half waves out of five.