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Beauty and Violence: A Review of The Black Jewels Trilogy
I was reading reviews on Goodreads the other day about The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop. The majority of reviews were good, however the people that did not enjoy the book, really did not enjoy it. Reading through a lot of reviews, I saw that it was the kind of book that people either love or they hate. I am one of those that loves the book, but I do understand where the people who hated the book are coming from. There is a quote in Heir to the Shadows, the second book in the trilogy, that I think accurately describes all three books:
"A dreamscape, a nightscape, shapes rising up from and dissolving into others. Kindred shapes. Human shapes. Blending. Entwined. Fierce and beautiful. Ugly and gentle."
The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop
*Opal is the dividing line between lighter and darker Jewels because it can be either.
When making the Offering to the Darkness, a person can descend a maximum of three ranks from his/her Birthright Jewel.
Example: Birthright White could descend to Rose.
There is a lot going on in it and most of it is difficult to get through. Not that it's hard to read, rather that it's so disturbing. There is a lot of violence, rape, pedophilea, maiming and torture. The details are gruesome to say the least. However, there's a sweetness and complexity to the plot and the characters that is what makes me love them and the book. Each character is strong in his or her own way, but he or she is also vulnerable and the way the society is in the book, the characters aren't afraid to show their vulnerability, at least not to the people they love and trust.
The Black Jewels Trilogy, as Bishop explains in her introduction, is about the society of the villains of fantasy stories. It shows several characters as their lives change because of this wondrous little child that is Witch. Witch is a living myth, it is what every Blood being has wished for. Her name is Jaenelle and she exists to repair the corrupted society the Blood has become.
The Blood are the people in the book that can use the power of the Darkness. They have jewels that each represent a different layer in the Darkness; the darker the Jewel, the lower the layer, the more powerful the person. Their power is intended to take care of the land and all those that live on it. They are deeply connected with nature because of this responsibility. The Blood have what they call Protocol, a system of rules based on honor and courtesy. In a matriarchal society, it keeps both the men and women of the Blood in check so no one steps out of their boundaries. However, there are those that are greedy and overly ambitious that have corrupted the Blood and twisted the rules of Protocol to fit their desires. The main characters Daemon, Lucivar, and Saetan, cannot stand what the Blood have become, but Jaenelle has come and she is everything they'd wished for and more.
The books in the trilogy are told from an omnipresent 3rd person, however each section of each chapter tells the story from a certain character's point of view. The story is never told from Jaenelle's point of view. I believe this is a tool used by Bishop to show her "otherness." Jaenelle is set apart from the rest of the Blood because she is one of them, but also different from them. She is Witch. As a natural Black Widow, Healer, and Queen she is the strongest Blood that has ever existed, born with Black Jewels, the strongest of the Jewels. But she is born into a corrupted world and therefore, as an innocent, vulnerable child she is easily hurt by the people that surround her, both mentally and physically. The family that she was born to do not understand her. They think she is a mentally sick child, and she believes them.
Blood Hierarchy/ Castes
- Landen — non-Blood of any race
- Blood male — a general term for all males of the Blood; also refers to any Blood male who doesn’t wear Jewels
- Warlord — a Jeweled male equal in status to a witch
- Prince — a Jeweled male equal in status to a Priestess or a Healer
- Warlord Prince — a dangerous, extremely aggressive Jeweled male; in status, slightly lower than a Queen
- Landen — non-Blood of any race
- Blood female — a general term for all females of the Blood; mostly refers to any Blood female who doesn’t wear Jewels
- witch — a Blood female who wears Jewels but isn’t one of the other hierarchical levels; also refers to any Jeweled female
- Healer — a witch who heals physical wounds and illnesses; equal in status to a Priestess and a Prince
- Priestess — a witch who cares for altars, Sanctuaries and Dark Altars; witnesses handfasts and marriages; performs offerings; equal in status to a Healer and a Prince
- Black Widow — a witch who heals the mind; weaves the tangled webs of dreams and visions; is trained in illusions and poisons
- Queen — a witch who rules the Blood; is considered to be the land’s heart and the Blood’s moral center; as such, she is the focal point of their society
Daemon is the strongest Blood male that has ever existed. His father, Saetan, is also a Black Jeweled Warlord Prince and a Black Widow, but Damon's power is a little darker and as a natural Black Widow (a Blood that can see visions spun in webs they create, and they can create spells that make others see things or think things) he is the most dangerous male in all the Realms of the novel. Despite his strength, Daemon was raised as a sex slave for almost his entire life. He never knew a life apart from abuse, scorn and torture, and because of this life, his mind is fragile. Sometimes he can't stand the evil witches and queens he serves and destroys them, quite dramatically. Jaenelle is his one hope at happiness. When he thinks he's lost her forever, he can't take it and plunges into the Twisted Kingdom, the place where the minds of insane Blood go.
Lucivar didn't have much of a better life than Damon. Though he was able to join his winged people, the Eyriens, and learn to become a warrior. He was sold into slavery and also experienced a great deal of abuse. As an Ebon Gray Warlord Prince, Lucivar is the second strongest Blood male, in Terreille, the Realm they live in, next to Daemon. Whenever they were able to be in the same court, they would destroy anyone that got in their way. That didn't save either of them from the torture, however. Lucivar was finally able to break away and join Jaenelle in Kaeleer, but he and the others from the Realm of Terreille still suffer from the trauma. It makes him angry and volatile.
Saetan is Daemon's and Lucivar's father. As a Guardian, one of the half-dead, he is the High Lord of Hell, another realm in the novels. He was the strongest Blood male until Daemon was born. Jaenelle is the daughter of his soul and until she showed up he had withdrawn and isolated himself from the world. He always assumes the worst in any situation that arises. He does have good reason because sometimes he is correct, and some of the worst things that could happen to a man, having his children taken away from him, have happened to him. But his weakness is that it takes him too long to realize the worst isn't what is happening.
There is so much more that I could go into about even just these few main characters, but to do so would mean me writing an article as long as the books. The point I'm trying to make is that these four characters are the strongest, most powerful people in the existence of the Blood, and yet, they are also the most tortured, and the most vulnerable. Their vulnerability binds them together and makes them dependent on one another. It has made a bond between them that no one could possibly break. It is what makes them the strongest force to reckon with in all of the realms in the novels.
I think what I like most about these books is that it deals with real issues that anyone, not just the characters in the book, would have to deal with. We don't like to think about rape, but it happens, and it scars it's victims. This book shows how one dealt with, and overcame the scars left behind from her rape. I wouldn't say that this trilogy should be a guideline of how to deal with trauma, there are many mistakes being made. However, that too is like real life. Mistakes are made by family members and friends, and by the victim his or herself. And as it's shown through the characters in the book, one must push through, become stronger, and live one's life.
That is where I find the beauty of The Black Jewels Trilogy. There is so much that goes wrong, there is so much torture and pain. But the characters overcome. They become stronger and they fight as hard as they can for the life that they want. They accept their vulnerabilities and use them to make themselves better, they bind together so that no one can break them apart.
So while many people may not be able to get past the violence, and that is completely understandable, I urge readers to give The Black Jewels Trilogy a try. Try to see the beauty behind, and sometimes coming from, the violence and the bad things that happen.