Paperback, 1204 pages
Published December 2nd 2003 by Roc Trade
Anne Bishop’s critically-acclaimed Black Jewels Trilogy is the saga of a young but still-innocent Queen more powerful than even the High Lord of Hell—and the three sworn enemies determined to win her and gain a prize that could be terriblebeyond imagining…
So. This book and I, we spent a day and a half intimately entwined together. Hours passed and I forgot to eat, drink and sometimes blink as I tried to finish this book. It’s infinitely readable and it has all the elements that would appeal to lots of readers. I liked it well enough that I finished it in a day and a half but when I was done with it and I had time to think about everything I had read, I was left with some troubled feelings. Particularly where gender construction was concerned.
Fantasy novels occupy their own niche and have their own stereotypes and tropes. There are probably critical papers written on them though whether this book has been a subject of one of those papers is not something I am sure about. However, if anyone were to write a paper concerning gender construction and expression, this book would prove to be fascinating material to analyze.
However, as I am ‘reviewing’ this trilogy, let’s first talk about stuff that I found troubling. There is a rape in this trilogy, a horrific rape that wasn’t addressed with the detail and solemnity that I wanted. I am leery of any novel that contains rape as a plot point but it is particularly horrific here and while I understand that it wasn’t used with the intent to trivialize it, I don’t think I can ever read anything like that and be accepting of its use as a plot point. The transitions in this series are abrupt and jarring. One moment to another without any linkage occurs more than once. Fights and conflicts occur without any apparent reason and what was a bit laughable was that the antagonists of the piece, both women, are once and again shown to be lacking power that the protagonists have in abundance but they, multiple times, get the best of the protagonists which obviously made me question how powerful the good guys were to begin with. If someone is the ruler of the underworld, how can a measly shade get the best of them?
Time does not appear to have the same meaning to the characters as it does to the readers. These people have lived for millenniums and yet, they don’t behave like that. There is no discourse about time and the length of life and how this great length has given them ennui or anything. I mean, there are consequences to living that long. There is an accumulation of experiences and knowledge. There is a distinct lack of discourse on this that I found particularly curious.
Then there was the whole gender thing. Females are the dominant in this world, supposedly. Yet, many of the times I found that women were seen as creatures to be indulged, who were entertaining and whose foibles were curious. While there is no overt condescension, there is this oily feeling that made me feel that women were being infantilized. And women in turn treated men much like men treat women in traditional fantasies, as objects to be desired and as a vessel for sexual pleasure. I am not articulating myself very well and I cannot point out exactly what it is about the portrayal of women in this trilogy that offended me but it was this feeling, this lingering feeling that for all the power wielded by women, it is the men who are the saner ones. Ah, I don’t know.
All in all, the book is readable and tremendously fun while you are reading it. However, once you are done and you begin to think about what you have read, you’ll have some questions to mull over and think about.