The Black Jewel trilogy by Anne Bishop
You will notice there is no star rating on this review. That’s because I finished it a week ago and I still can’t decide how I feel about it. It’s as dark as they come (and then a shade blacker), but woven through it are brightly spun strands of redemption, love and sacrifice.
The characters are insanely intense…they absorb you to the point of reading to the exclusion of all else. Who needs meals and/or sleep? I read the whole trilogy in 2 days flat and they’re not short books. It’s another series full of damaged souls, but even the blackest night still has stars shining up there somewhere.
The story centres around Jeanelle. We meet her first as an odd 5 year old child, later a 12 year old, then a 17 year old and on into a young woman. As a child her parents send her to the equivalent of a mental institution, which is really a cover for a place where men go to abuse children. She sees and experiences unimaginable horrors, which colour and shape her as she grows into all powerful Witch.
You meet Lucivar and Daemon…the brothers who have survived years of torture of the most exquisite and brutal kind. They are fearsome, frightening, vulnerable and lovable all at once. You also meet Saetan, the king of Hell, who’s actually a total sweetie. He probably scores highest on the laughter scale throughout the books. His dry humour is excellent. There is a supporting cast of great characters, from Surreal the assassin right through to Tersa, the crazy old witch. The characters are what make these books. I don’t know how to describe it other than to say that it’s an intense ride.
The world it’s set in is incredibly complex and deep. It’s dark…so dark. Twisted torture and sexual perversion are the way the power rules. There’s magic, politics and sentient animals, megalomaniac queens and witches and downtrodden poor. What you see through the eyes of the characters is an astonishing tapestry of history and concept.
It’s also where the books totally fall down. I finished the first book of the trilogy with no idea what was going on, who anyone was or how it all came to be. There’s a very short glossary at the beginning of each book, but it hardly explains anything and the writing is very light on description. It keeps it fast-paced, but it also makes it very difficult to understand anything. I noticed a couple of other reviewers said that it was like the author forgets not everyone knows the world as well as she does, and I happen to agree with them. I think she assumes a depth of understanding the reader just doesn’t have because it’s new to us.
I never did quite get the geography all down. I didn’t know who at least a dozen of the characters were or where they came from. I didn’t really understand the spiralling, what the abyss was about. I wanted to know where the spiders came from…what was the deal with the webs, the winds and the black widows? I had only the faintest grasp of the ranking structure…I still don’t really understand what makes someone a Queen, or how the jewel power ranking fits in with the caste system. Simply put, it’s such an epic and complex world that you can’t comprehend it without at least a little basic history. I found myself thinking at one point that it was a cross between the Merry Gentry books by L K Hamilton and A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin, but condensed into a trilogy instead of an extended series.
The whole thing is bound together by the interactions between the characters and they are almost enough to forgive the lack of understanding everywhere else. I got to the end of the first book without understanding anything and still went on to buy books 2 and 3 because I couldn’t bear to not find out what happened with Daemon and Lucivar. Will I buy the rest of the Black Jewel books (which I think are stand alone)? Hell yes! Will I understand the world when I’m finished with them? Probably not lol.
It rates 3 on the tears and 1 on the chillis.