Sunday, March 28, 2010
Title: Shalador's Lady
Author: Anne Bishop
Series: The Black Jewels [8th book of 8]
Publisher: Roc (2 Mar 2010)
Copy: bought myself
From the inside cover: For years the Shalador people suffered the cruelties of the corrupt Queens who ruled them, forbidding their traditions, punishing those who dared show defiance, and forcing many more into hiding. And even though the refugees have found sanctuary in Dena Nehele, they have never been able to call it home.
Now that Dena Nehele has been cleansed of tainted Blood, the Rose-Jewelled Queen, Lady Cassidy, makes it her duty to restore the land and prove her ability to rule. She knows that undertaking this task will require all her heart and courage as she summons the untested power within her, a power capable of consuming if she cannot control it.
And even if Lady Cassidy survives her trial by fire, other dangers await. For Black Widows see within their tangled webs visions of something coming that will change the land – and Lady Cassidy – forever.
Background: Shalador’s Lady is the eighth book in Anne Bishop’s series and a direct sequel to The Shadow Queen. It would not be the best introduction to the Black Jewels world, which is rich, dark and intricately layered with protocol, power and magic. I would certainly recommend that one reads The Black Jewels Trilogy before embarking on Shalador’s Lady. This is Jaenelle’s story, set in a three-layered world called the Realms: Keeler, Terreille and Hell. This is dark fantasy, with cruelty, corruption, violence and sexual deviance being the order of the day. Queens are the rulers of the Blood, an elite ruling class with magical abilities determined by the darkness of their Jewel. Females are the dominant gender and Males serve. Protocols are in place to protect the weaker from the stronger… but this is a corrupted world, one where the balance has been lost. We are introduced to Saetan, High Lord of Hell and his sons, Daemon di Sadi and Lucivar, all pivotal characters, with Jaenelle, throughout the series.
The previous book, The Shadow Queen, introduced us to Cassidy, Theran, and Gray. Talon is the link between the current political situation and the story of Jared Blaed in The Invisible Ring.
Cover art: I dislike the cover intensely… it does not represent the content, indeed it implies a light medieval romance a lá Kathleen Woodiweiss. Shalador’s Lady, while being less explicit than previous books, is more political than romantic and maintains the air of dark elegance first seen in The Black Jewels Trilogy. The legacy of corruption and oppression is explored, yet the darkness of the culture, nor the political intrigue is reflected in the bland cover.
Review: As a fan of long-standing I was disappointed with Shalador’s Lady. The ‘edge’, so dominant in previous books was blunted, the darkness implied by the reader’s past knowledge of the series and largely missing in this volume. Although Saetan and his family are still central characters, they are more benign and family-oriented than ever before. The threat of sadistic violence and ruthlessness remains but only if you are aware of their actions in past events. It is not overt here, sadly.
This book explores Protocol and how one inexperienced Queen can win the hearts of her Court and her people in the face of opposition. Cassidy is a Queen part-way through a one year contract, has a deteriorating relationship with her First Escort, Theran Grayhaven. The arrival of another Queen, Kermilla, with whom Cassidy has history, puts Cassidy’s position in jeopardy. We see how Cassidy sets up her Court and gains the loyalty and trust of her First Circle and the people of Dena Nehele. Guidance and tuition in the intricacies of Protocol are provided to Gray, Cassidy’s main supporter, by Saetan and Daemon as they guide him through the legacy of his torture at the hands of now dead Queens to take his rightful place at Cassidy’s side.
Kermilla is the villain… a spoilt and petulant Queen with no respect for anyone. She wants Cassidy’s position as Queen of Dena Nehele and has Theran’s support. Quite a shallow and selfish character, she embodies the corruption of the previous Queens and all that went wrong for the land and it’s people. Previous encounters with Kermilla fuels Cassidy’s insecurities and dashes her self-esteem. Anne Bishop describes the emotions of her characters very well and choices they make are in keeping with their personalities. Cassidy is an endearing character and her quiet determined manner gives her a solid strength.
The men in the First Circle, particularly Ranon, get more attention in Shalador’s Lady. These Warlord Princes are warriors with a veneer of the civilised, quick to rise to the killing edge, yet intelligent, passionate and sensual. How they choose to support their Queen shows the depth of their bond to her and their trust in her ability to rule in accordance with Protocol and the Old Ways. Both Ranon and Gray are well-realised characters, both having their flaws and weaknesses yet possessing an inner strength that serves them well.
Overall, my view is that, while an enjoyable and comfortable read, Shalador’s Lady is one of the weaker books in the Black Jewels series. I much prefer the pre-Witchstorm world, where corruption, cruelty and oppression were the backdrop to live in the Realms.