THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN
FOR SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS THEY HAVE AWAITED THE FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY, NOW THE WAIT IS FINALLY OVER
Daughter Of The Blood
(The Black Jewels Trilogy, Book 1)
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
Date: 6st March 2014 (First Published 1998)
In a world of demonic realms, ruled by a sadistic matriarchy of rival witch queens; where men are subjugated and enslaved via magical penis rings, to be used as both sex slaves and as weapons (to destroy young, soon-to-be witches by savagely fucking away their virginity, leaving them permanently damaged and unable to use the Craft), a long overdue reckoning is coming. Three men: two brutalised sex slaves (half-brothers, and the illegitimate offspring of The High Lord of Hell) plus their estranged father, await the fulfilment of a seven hundred year old prophecy that will overturn the decadent, corrupt order of The Blood; the arrival of an all-powerful witch who will rule over all the realms. But there’s just one little snag. When she shows up, she’s a prepubescent kid who has no idea who she is destined to become; and so it is, the mismatched trio (and allies) must protect her before she can be destroyed, or worse, corrupted by The Blood.
To say that Anne Bishop’s dark fantasy tale, Daughter Of The Blood, is a strange novel would be putting it mildly. The story is downright weird, especially in its setting and characters; not to mention that many of its themes are borderline (or maybe outright) disturbing. After reading such a book it’s hard not to wonder how many publishers rejected the manuscript before it was eventually published. Aside from being a debut novel, this first instalment of The Black Jewels Trilogy is also a difficult book to pigeon-hole as it doesn’t sit easily in any specific niche; an observation that would have been even more pronounced in the nineties. It’s doubtful publishers were falling over each other to acquire the rights for such an unconventional story.
While at its most basic the central plot is surprisingly very simple, any attempt to provide a more detailed description of the storyline would likely prompt howls of laughter. Indeed, in the hands of a less capable writer, Daughter Of The Blood could have been an unintentionally very funny affair. However, Bishop is undoubtedly an accomplished wordsmith, which is just as well in light of her world building for this story. The setting is so unusual that the use of evocative prose was absolutely essential for the successful depiction of her vision; failure in this regard would have made it incredibly difficult for readers to visualise the story’s strange world and characters. Fortunately, the author was up to the task of delivering the requisite ornamented writing to avoid doing her readers a disservice. (Though it must be said, depending on how vivid your imagination is, the images that your mind conjures up won’t always be pleasant.)
In spite of the weirdness inherent in Bishop’s setting, the fantastical civilisation depicted is a rather compelling one. What’s not to like about distinctly otherworldly realms ruled by an elite ruling class known as The Blood, whose pre-eminence has been bestowed upon them by virtue of their possession of magical jewels that allows them to practice the Craft? Jewels that confer hierarchical status and determine magical strength based on how dark they are; the darker the jewel more powerful the wearer. And what’s not to like about these different realms occupying parallel planes of existence, one for the living, and one for the dead? Realms that jewel wearing members of The Blood can traverse via a magical psychic “spider” web that connects the various territories.
Interestingly, although The Blood are comprised of men and women, most of the realms are ruled by a hierarchy of witch queens. And while once upon a time the males of The Blood had willingly been subservient to their queens, in the myriad centuries leading up to the start of the story a brutal matriarchy has been established that forcibly subjugates the men. This situation is especially bad for those men who don’t know their place.
Anyone now wondering how it is that the women of The Blood are not only able to subjugate the men (who are still the stronger gender in Bishop’s world) but also compel them into sexual slavery, the answer to the question was alluded to at the start of this review. Magical Obedience Rings are attached to the penises of the enslaved allowing the female owners to inflict excruciating, debilitating pain to any men who forget their place. This generally has the desired effect of breaking the spirit, ensuring that men remain docile, compliant, and above all else “entertaining.” Of course, the prospect of being publicly “shaved” also provides motivation to not get on the wrong side of a witch of The Blood. (Yes, shaved is in quotations because it is a euphemism for castration.) As for the souls who are condemned to that fate, the lucky ones are those who have their testicles taken swiftly with a sharp blade; the alternative method is the stuff of nightmares, which doesn’t bear thinking about.
The weirdness doesn’t end with the setting for the story; the characters who populate this world are not exactly conventional, either. From the suitably demonic names of some of the protagonists, Daemon Sadi, Saetan SaDiablo, Lucivar Yaslana, to the preternatural abilities that they (and others) possess, it’s never entirely clear if the people of the realms are supposed to be human. While certain individuals are referred to as demons, all the characters are obviously humanoid, though based on physical descriptions at least some characters aren’t intended to be fully human. Lucivar’s possession of wings, for example, being one of the clearest manifestations of this.
Bishop’s story unfolds from the third person viewpoint of a handful of characters, all of whom are compelling in their own right, and the protagonists (perhaps surprisingly) are sympathetic, even likeable, in spite of the occasional unpleasant actions some of them are guilty of. But given that they each have very legitimate reasons to be bitter, resentful and angry, it is rather easy to forgive a needless murder here, or a brutal bloodbath there.
While it is very much an ensemble cast, if any character can be described as the book’s central character (even more so than young Jaenelle, the prophesied Witch) it is the impotent sex slave, Daemon Sadi. Yes, you read that correctly; Daemon takes great pleasure in refusing to “rise to the occasion” for any of the women his queen passes him around to, driving them crazy and frustrating them in equal measure. That his intransigence often leads to the meting out of severe punishment is not sufficient to break his resolve. Daemon is a wearer of a dark coloured jewel that makes him powerful and difficult to control; his infamous temper and homicidal rages occasionally even allows him to resist the pain of his Obedience Ring, which augurs a very savage demise for unwary, careless witches. It’s fair to say Daemon’s reputation as The Sadist is well earned.
When all is said and done, Daughter Of The Blood is a novel that many readers will struggle with. Some will no doubt have a negative reaction to its dark themes, others will be confused by its world building, while those hoping for a fast moving, action driven story will quickly realise they should be looking elsewhere. Bishop’s tale is very much a character driven affair that luxuriates in its languid, decadent narrative. Readers who appreciate such things will regard the book much more favourably, despite the rather anti-climactic conclusion. Hopefully, the rest of the trilogy will build upon the great foundation laid in this first instalment, while maintaining the quality.
In summation, it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to use the word enjoyable to describe a story that prominently features sexual slavery, sadistic torture, child abuse, paedophilia and rape. Nonetheless, for readers able to cope with the disturbing subject matter it is a worthwhile, uniquely weird novel. And despite its bizarreness (or perhaps even because of it) Daughter Of The Blood is a compelling read.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.