Review: The Queen’s Weapons (The Black Jewels #11) by Anne Bishop

As always, The Black Jewels series (and all of Anne Bishop’s work actually) is filled with content that might be better avoided if you dislike mentions of abuse—physical, sexual, animal, child, domestic or otherwise; racism, violence, or torture.

I don’t know what this cover is supposed to represent. It’s not offensive, but it’s relatively inoffensive and it does look cool

Enter the dark and sensual realms of the Black Jewels, a world where power always has a price, in this sweeping story in the New York Times bestselling fantasy saga.

They are Warlord Princes, men born to serve and protect. They are the Queen’s Weapons, men born to destroy the Queen’s enemies–no matter what face that enemy wears.

Daemonar Yaslana knows how to be bossy yet supportive–traits he shares with his father, the Demon Prince, and his uncle, the High Lord of Hell. Within his generation of the family, he assumes the role of protector, supporting his sister Titian’s artistic efforts and curbing his cousin Jaenelle Saetien’s more adventurous ideas. But when a young Eyrien Queen, someone Titian thought was a friend, inflicts an emotional wound, Daemonar’s counterattack brings him under the tutelage of Witch, the Queen whose continued existence is known only to a select few.

As Daemonar is confronted by troubling changes within and around the family, he sees warnings that a taint in the Blood might be reappearing. Daemonar, along with his father and uncle, must uncover the source of a familiar evil–and Daemon Sadi, the High Lord of Hell, may be forced into making a terrible choice.

My apologies for this review. I usually try to keep them relatively spoiler-free, but the original Black Jewels trilogy are some of my favourite comfort reads, and I really don’t like where the story is heading. Because of that, there’s going to be some out-and-out judgements and comparisons (which I usually try to avoid) in this one, but as the plot is pretty expected anyway, with only a twist or two, so there’s not really a completely spoiler-free way for me to give my opinion on this one.

Feel free to steer clear if you haven’t read The Queen’s Weapons (or the rest of the Dark Jewels books) yet, but if you continue to read, you’re doing so at your own risk.

I’ve realised why The Queen’s Bargain and The Queen’s Weapons are less enjoyable than The High Lord’s Daughter and the other short stories that are set after the initial trilogy. The main characters—Lucivar, Daemon and Surreal—have stopped evolving. In a short story, that’s fine. It seems like a treat for long-time fans of the series, a chance to revisit favourite characters; as a short story doesn’t give much chance for character development anyway, their lack of growth is what you want. In a book, it starts to feel stilted and cheesy, and really doesn’t leave much room for growth.

The Queen’s Weapons really seemed like a re-hashing of events from the original trilogy, almost like fan-fiction, right down to the villains having similar names. I love the original trilogy, despite its flaws; and I enjoyed the books about Cassidy and her court, despite the more rural, less high-fantasy stakes. So it’s not that I think the Realms should be in peril at the conclusion of every book, but I really think more could have been done with the next generation of SaDiablos and Yaslanas.

 I did like the plot elements revolving around Lucivar’s children, and I’m glad Marian got some interests outside the home in this book. Just because she’s a hearth witch shouldn’t mean she’s a fifties housewife who only appears to dispense food and take care of the children/home. I was glad that Daemonar and Titian came into their own in this book, and I liked the new characters introduced as well, though I wish that their position hadn’t been ‘justified’ by a blood relation to formerly beloved characters. It reeks of nepotism and an insecurity about the strength of characterisation. ‘If you don’t like this character yet, you should know they’re the great-great-grandson of your fave! Eh?’

Not only does it make me start getting annoyed at the SaDiablos for hoarding wealth generationally and only apparently employing the same five families, it takes away from what was so satisfying about the original trilogy—having good people make good choices and eventually be surrounded by a found family and a world that reflects that; while the self-interested, abusive dictators die the (usually horrible) deaths that their choices lead to. It’s cathartic, it has sacrifice and loss, but the relationships and happy endings feel earned.

When you’re reading about the hottest, richest, most powerful people around running a full-blown sting on high-school students; the suffering in the meantime feels allowed, and the end result seems inevitable and doesn’t really have the same ability to drive tension and thus plot.

I also really hated how Surreal is apparently being excused of being a mother because her teenage daughter was mean in a fight. I don’t think anyone would still have parents who loved them if that was the bar. Teenagers are cruel and heartless, I used to be one, I remember. I also hated the idea that protecting your children from trauma apparently turns them into narcissistic monsters. While there definitely was reasons given throughout the book for Jaenelle Saetien’s behaviour, and Surreal and Daemon’s permissiveness of it, I got sick of the angst and the flimsy excuses pretty quickly. Again, a short story about an entitled brat, fine, parenting struggles are relatable to a lot of people. Much like the marriage difficulties of The Queen’s Bargain I wouldn’t relate to it or really enjoy it, but I can understand why it would be included. But an entire book of a child being held responsible for her crappy behaviour when her parents way of dealing with it is to call her a bitch, tell her the rules (knowing she doesn’t apparently know the importance of them, and spends her time in an environment where they’re not taught, upheld or valued), then get shocked and surprised all over again when she doesn’t follow them; seems like the book is written to justify or excuse crappy parenting.

I’m not excusing Jaenelle Saetien either. I’m unsure what exact human level of maturity she’s supposed to be, but if her peers are just starting to have relationships, I’d guess somewhere from thirteen to sixteen. Regardless, she really came off like an entitled child sometimes, and I really didn’t relate to her desires or choices either.

I was glad to see more LGB (no trans people so far, which I think is a shame, as the gendered magic and social system could be an interesting way to explore that) representation in this book, and I absolutely hated the continued sexual element that apparently can exist between Lucivar and Daemon. They are brothers. Stop. I’m glad that Surreal and Daemon sorted out their issues though, and even though I wish they both had a happier end, at least they’re both acting in character now.

The plot of The Queen’s Weapons was a bit unsatisfying, largely because of the unsubtle rehash of the first three (excellent) books, which is a shame. I really think there could have been a timely message about not becoming complacent, because bigotry and the normalisation of abuse can creep back into a society much faster than you’d imagine. Case in point, it hasn’t been a hundred years since world war two and we have freaking nazis back. I don’t think it’s unbelievable that corruption would creep back much faster than you might think. I do think it’d be ridiculous if a guy named Adilf Gitler and his buddies Chimmler and Mangle set themselves up in opposition to Winston Churchill’s and FDR’s grandchildren. That sounds like the plot of a crappy anime, and a cheapening of the forces that really lead to such dangerous sentiments.

The whole idea of bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, classism and other huge problems being so hard to fight (and impossible to wipe out completely) is that they’re easy excuses for behaviour we know is crappy, and corrupt figures of power spread and normalise that behaviour. Reducing it down to ‘some people/bloodlines are evil and some are good and cool’ treads pretty well over the line into the exact sort of prejudice advocated against in the original trilogy.

I’m not giving up on the Black Jewels series. I still think the original characters, and the upcoming generation (minus Jaenelle Saetien for the most part) are interesting, and will have fun, meaningful interactions with each other and the Black Jewels world. I think the magic and societal systems that have been set up are interesting and nuanced, with plenty of room to explore complex social and political problems. I just hope we get a few books without pointless angst, and with some original storylines.


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