Daughter of the Blood
By Anne Bishop
I remember when I was younger, there was a book I read about princesses whose powers were stored in the form of jewels and each princess ruled a particular territory or domain. The Sapphire princess had a sapphire jewel and ruled the lakes (I think), the Ruby princess had a ruby necklace and was characteristically rebellious in nature…
The Dark Jewels Trilogy is the mature version of such a tale. With its ample description of gore and bloodshed, a long-awaited blossoming romance and scrumptious settings, this book reads very much like lore.
The story starts out relatively simple, with an unassuming, innocent young girl being caught up in a complex web of intrigue and deception, and as the story unfolds, more and more of how the world works and the twisted, disturbing thinking that underlies every move is revealed. Because of the lengthy lives of the characters, each move or action is like the placing of a chess piece; everything is calculated to have an effect somewhere along the distant lines of the future, and manipulation is the main tool used against rivals (and friends).
Although I didn’t like how the story started out with another one of those ‘The Great Hero/Heroine Shall Lift Us from Our Misery’ prophecies, it didn’t threaten to overdose the story with a repeated occurrence of precognition. In fact, the character who served as the ‘messenger’ of this world-changing news is an interesting, likeable character that grows on you after a while. Sure, she’s slightly insane, but who isn’t? It’s difficult to get mad (pun unintended) at an old woman that is left with the shattered, chaotic remains of her profession and life, and is but a powerless bystander in the events that are to follow.
What was most captivating about this story and one of the main reasons that I will be willing to read the second and third installments is the society that the author describes. It is executed well enough that after reading it, I found myself hating the puppet-masters and wondering about what life would have been like if the women of this world had been the dominant gender instead of men. Are both sides prone to subduing the other sex? All throughout history, females have been portrayed to be gentle, considerate and kind maintainers of the family. In Bishop’s world, it is the complete reverse. Men are forced to bow down before women and cruelty and torture run amok in the various households of the Jeweled witches–they are slaves, playthings or consorts. Bishop completely murders the illusion that women are harmless and forgiving. In fact, a majority of the women in this story have been sharpened to be relentless in their search for power, hungry for dominance and deep in their lust.
This fact is highly contrasted by the character who will be either the redemption or destruction of the Blood (the term used to describe the people of this other realm). Janaelle, the heroine, is soft, gentle, naive and innocent in this world where survival depends on using any means possible to stay on top. On the flipside, Janaelle, too, sometimes reveals her darker side, where her passion and instinctive nature to do good may worrisomely cause her to execute good intentions in not the best means. Always straddling the edge between her naivety and the requiem of innate wisdom that is Witch within her, it is no wonder that those on her side constantly fear for her sanity.
However, it would’ve been interesting to see a Janaelle that grew up in the current Blood culture and watch her change to become the willing apprentice of her benefactor and High Lord of Hell, Saetan (her almost-surrogate father), based on the fact that she had been exposed and brainwashed to the particular way of thinking that the society instills among its children, rather than have her sheltered by him so early on in the book. The struggles to understand differences in opinion and perceive differences in point of view would be much more emphasized in this way.
Personally, while I find that her struggles at home with her true family are actually quite awful, it’s harder to feel her growth in character from naivety to awareness. And it’ll be interesting for the reader to grow from hating a character to tolerating her as the reader’s own knowledge expands. But I think it was Bishop’s intent to keep this contrast constant throughout the story, which provided an occupation for the High Lord of Hell (with a past). As Janaelle grows, plans for her future are constructed by both those that support her and those that wish her ill.
You have to feel the most pity for Daemon, Janaelle’s preordained lover, though. Even though I don’t like his character insomuch the fact that he was pretty much born as the epitome of perfection, a wait of seven hundred years is quite a long time and you have to give him credit for his consistency. It’s unbelievable that he didn’t feel attraction for any other women (a lot of them probably being of great beauty and at least a handful of acceptable intelligence), but his willingness to sacrifice anything (as do two other men revolving around Janaelle’s life) for the future Queen of the Realm can be touching.
The cast list is kept relatively small, with key players in the story being people of considerable power (in both magick and influence)—naturally, as they have to be able to execute a political maneuver large enough to shake the realm. Since this is just the first book, it is difficult to say how side characters will flit into and out of the plotline, though some of them do show promise.
If you love your fantasies gritty and edgy and don’t mind skittering the surfaces of the mildly forbidden, then this is a book you might want to consider picking up. It’s definitely not for those who will cringe at the mention of blood or the perverse torture methods of maintaining control throughout the story and even less so for younger audiences. Keep in mind, though, that you’re going to have to stretch realism a bit at certain points in the novel, as it is, after all, fantastical.