Anne Bishop’s original Black Jewels books—Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, and Queen of the Darkness—end with the world being saved from a big evil by powerful magic. Ever since, I’ve gotten the sense that Bishop was struggling with the question of what to do after that. She went back in time with the prequel The Invisible Ring, filled in cracks with a book of short stories, and went temporarily crazy with a sequel called Tangled Webs, where several characters get trapped in a haunted house that, of course, goes terribly awry. This note appears in the font of the book:
In the Realms of the Blood, the war has been fought, the battle has been won, and the epic tale has been told. But life goes on, so there are other challenges to face, smaller battles to be fought, and other stories to tell.
This is one of them.
Okay, yes, but you don’t have to explain yourself or apologize unless you’re doin’ it wrong. In Shadow Queen, Bishop has hit her stride and found her next large project: what do you do after you save the world? You rebuild it, of course.
In the aftermath of the magical apocalypse, the Territory of Dena Nehele is in need of a strong Queen. Believing Prince Daemon Sadi owes them a favor, they ask him to help find one (a ballsy move if you remember Daemon from the originals). After a little snapping and snarling, Daemon in turn asks Jaenelle, his wife and the woman who saved the world. She sends Cassidy, a not-very-magical, not-very-pretty woman of Queen status who got booted by her last court.
Shadow Queen strikes a good balance between familiar characters and new ones, and it’s nice to follow some people in this interesting world who aren’t the be-all and end-all of powerful magic. I like that Cassidy and the Dena Nehele heir, Theron, don’t get along and maybe never will, but they have to suck it up and work together anyway. Thank you, thank you, Anne Bishop, for not having them overcome their dislike and get together in the end, although I’m a little squicked by Cassidy’s love interest. In the same way that we have to trust Anne Bishop that magic-wielding men have insane tempers and magic-wielding women have a connection to the land, we have to also believe that because of the imperatives of being Blood, this man who was mentally fragmented by torture can be a consenting adult. But that is a Serious Thematic Issue, and most of the book is about talking dogs, a cute little toddler with wings, blood, gore, and gardening.
Bishop’s characters are unfailingly lively and entertaining, like Saetan, assistant librarian and the High Lord of Hell, or Jaenelle, the living embodiment of power, who can’t cook. It sounds silly; it’s addicting. There’s also a fair amount of overblown emotion in the books, partially because of the way Bishop structures her magical system, but if it didn’t feel good on some level, we wouldn’t call it “wangst.” What’s not to like? Good summer reading, I say.