Daughter of the Blood

by Anne Bishop

Cover image

Series: Black Jewels #1
Publisher: Roc
Copyright: 1998
Printing: December 2003
ISBN: 0-451-52901-4
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 375

Buy at Powell's Books

The publication information (except for the page count) is for the omnibus edition that includes the complete Black Jewels trilogy.

There is a certain type of story I'm drawn to that I find particularly hard to justify. I think it could be written in any genre, although I've so far only encountered it in fantasy. It's a character-driven story, the background there just to provide something for the characters to react to. It's full of strong emotion, love and despair, with steadily growing power levels among the characters and a cycle of horror and suffering followed by triumph over the evil that caused it. The plot can be something stock and familiar, the supporting characters cliched, the background flimsy, and even the writing can be iffy, and yet if a story plucks those strings well, I will tumble into the book and only come up for air when I've finished it.

Bishop's Daughter of the Blood, the first book of a fantasy trilogy, sets up one of those stories, although most of the heights and depths of the pattern are in the second two books. This is not necessarily a compliment. I have a tendency to overlook all sorts of writing flaws in my enjoyment of a story with this sort of emotional edge, and if you don't have the same preferences, you may find the same book dreadful. This book is definitely in the class of popcorn fiction: books which one devours like popcorn, that have a similar depth of flavor, and that stand up to close scrutiny about as well as a single kernel of popcorn would. However, if you like this sort of thing like I do, this is a find, although with a rough beginning.

The basic plot is the fantasy ur-plot. An evil usurper has taken power over the land, the land and the people are suffering as a result and good is either in hiding or in danger. The true ruler is born somewhere quiet and out of the way, possessing power that she (in this case) doesn't understand, and a coming of age story will ensue, leading to the true ruler destroying the evil usurper and saving the land. You've all read this story before. There are, however, a few interesting twists.

For one, Jaenelle (the true ruler) is not the viewpoint character and never becomes the viewpoint character. The story is instead told from the perspective of those who discover her and have to train and guide her through her coming of age and her discovery of her fated role. For another, Jaenelle starts off knowing most of the hard bits of power; she still needs training, but in basic magic. The complex and frightening comes as naturally to her as breathing. Both of these together add a nice twist to the standard plot, keep the viewpoint characters off-balance, and help you identify with how much they love her and want to help her. (It helps that she's a precocious, likeable, and vulnerable child. Yes, the emotional string-pulling isn't exactly hidden.)

The world background, I must admit, is a bit of a hash and suffers from an awkward introduction. Bishop has devised a complex scheme of power ratings, ranks, and abilities that form social hierarchies and is a little too enthusiastic about explaining it and her magic system, to the point that the first hundred pages or so periodically sound like a role-playing sourcebook. There's also a bit of too-cute capitalization, and one gets somewhat tired of Jewels, the Blood, and Craft prancing pretentiously about the page. Thankfully, after the stumbling start, Daughter of the Blood settles down to some serious story-telling, and at that point it becomes a page-turner (at least for me).

I will warn that this book is dark. Apart from female domination BDSM (I am convinced that there is no way to insert cock rings as standard equipment in a fantasy novel without sounding like bad porn) that is the featured undercurrent for the series, Daughter of the Blood features explicit child abuse, child rape (mostly but not entirely off-camera), torture, and pedophile villains. Bishop does truly nasty things to all of her characters, an integral part of the emotional string-pulling that makes this sort of story work for me but something that's not to everyone's taste.

This book hooked me on the series, but that's for the idiosyncratic reasons described above. If it weren't for that, I expect that I could pick it apart rather thoroughly; it's far from the best writing I've read. Recommended if you like the same sort of thing I like, and not otherwise.

Note that the book ends somewhat in medias res, so you're going to either want the omnibus edition that I read or have the next book available to start immediately.

Followed by Heir to the Shadows.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-04-03

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