There will be necessary spoilers for some earlier Black Jewels novels, particularly the first trilogy, and also very much for Twilight’s Dawn, but I think after ten books in a series, that’s to be expected. There are also triggers for sexual and emotional abuse typical of this series, usually surrounding the gendered social and magical structure of the world.
POWER HAS A PRICE. SO DOES LOVE.
Return to the dark, sensual, and powerful world of the Black Jewels in this long-awaited new story in the New York Times bestselling fantasy saga
After a youthful mistake, Lord Dillon’s reputation is in tatters, leaving him vulnerable to aristo girls looking for a bit of fun. To restore his reputation and honor, he needs a handfast—a one-year contract of marriage. He sets his sights on Jillian, a young Eyrien witch from Ebon Rih, who he believes has only a flimsy connection to the noble society that spurned him. Unfortunately for Dillon, he is unaware of Jillian’s true connections until he finds himself facing Lucivar Yaslana, the volatile Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih.
Meanwhile, Surreal SaDiablo’s marriage is crumbling. Daemon Sadi, the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, recognizes there is something wrong between him and Surreal, but he doesn’t realize that his attempt to suppress his own nature in order to spare his wife is causing his mind to splinter. To save Daemon, and the Realm of Kaeleer if he breaks, help must be sought from someone who no longer exists in any of the Realms—the only Queen powerful enough to control Daemon Sadi. The Queen known as Witch.
As Jillian rides the winds of first love with Dillon, Daemon and Surreal struggle to survive the wounds of a marriage turned stormy—and Lucivar has to find a way to keep everyone in his family safe…even from each other.
I didn’t pick up this book for a while (despite the Black Jewels series being one of my favourites) not just because of the hardcover being the only thing available*, but also because I saw some of the criticism being levied at this book, and I didn’t want to be upset with how the world and characters were developed. And having read The Queen’s Bargain, I can understand where the people criticising Daemon and Surreal’s behaviour as out of context are coming from, even if I don’t agree with it.
I think the problems that arose within their marriage in this book were well foreshadowed, and while I’m fond of both characters and would like them to be happy, I’m not sure that Surreal and Daemon becoming each other’s ideal match overnight (especially with Daemon’s perfect partner having already lived and died by the time of The Queen’s Bargain) would have been a great option either. That being said, an entire book of the two of them having problems because they expect the other party to read their mind or fundamentally change without a single conversation on boundaries or expectations was too much.
I got tired of the angst, and had the entire book centred on Surreal and Daemon’s relationship (with profuse descriptions of how irresistible Daemon is to everyone of every age and gender) I would have been bored to tears. I was annoyed that a large portion of the conflict could have been (and indeed, eventually was, to all possible extents) fixed by a minuscule amount of understanding and communication. I understand that the series focusses on scarred people who had traumatic upbringings, and that at times requires avoidable situations to become more difficult than they would otherwise be, but I do think the unhealthy way that events played out did read as a way to end or at least significantly damage the relationship that fans had responded so negatively too.
While I’m on the topic of things I didn’t like, I understand that in the Dark Jewels series ‘bitch’ is used as a term to mean a woman who demonstrates a specific kind of exploitative/unacceptable behaviour; but hearing Surreal and Daemon both use the word towards their child was weird, and I didn’t like it at all. I also think at this point in the series there should be more LGBTQ+ representation, especially with how gendered the magic and societal system of the blood is, I’d like to know how trans people fit into society. The elaboration of the abuse that Lucivar and Daemon suffered, and the response that Surreal had to this, was something I also thought was unnecessary in the series, and wish hadn’t been included.
I did enjoy The Queen’s Bargain, despite the criticisms I’ve just shared, because I like the idea of a group of people sticking to their morals and being rewarded for it. I like the examination of gender, society and trauma that the Dark Jewels series always allows for, and I’m a sucker for the found family trope. The nuanced world-building that multiple books allows for is also a bonus of a long-running series, and The Queen’s Bargain, possibly more than any other book in the series previous, really shows the awkward situation that arises between races with different life spans.
I liked Jillian’s coming of age arc in this novel, and I was glad that the ending of the book wasn’t as black and white as previous books have been. Satisfying as ‘bad guy dies gruesomely’ undeniably is, I enjoyed the way the antagonist of this book was more fleshed out, allowing for a subtler conclusion.
Marion and Lucivar were as wholesome and enjoyable as ever, and I liked seeing a Lucivar that solved problems in ways that didn’t involve a stick or the closest body of water. The Queen’s Bargain seems to be opening a new, mature chapter for the brothers, and I can only imagine that this will continue in The Queen’s Weapons.
Overall, despite several things that I didn’t enjoy, I do think The Queen’s Bargain progresses the series in interesting ways, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in upcoming books. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Anne Bishop’s other work; people who enjoy Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter or Psy Changeling novels; Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders or Soldier Son trilogies; or any fantasy that focusses on strong people, and the trauma they often suffer in their attempts to improve the world.
*Hardcovers are terrible for re-reading, and far more expensive than I like, I only buy them when I’m being impatient because long term they aren’t good choices for me