REVIEW: Twilight’s Dawn by Anne Bishop
Breaking from our usual procedure at Dear Author, this is an early review. Twilight’s Dawn doesn’t come out until next March but Jane and I believe that readers should be forewarned. The first half of the review is spoiler-free. The second half, however, is not. I’ve clearly marked where that section begins so readers can skip the spoilers if they so wish, but this is one of those cases where you don’t want to skip the spoilers. Trust us.
Dear Ms. Bishop,
I’m a long-time fan of your Black Jewels books. The series has occupied a place on my comfort reading shelf ever since I devoured Daughter of the Blood over a decade ago. The series has had its ups and downs since then, but I have a soft spot for them despite their flaws. Alas, all things must come to an end and unless I’m mistaken, this collection of four novellas is our farewell to the Black Jewels world. And what a farewell it is. As for whether that last sentence is a compliment, I’ll leave that up to the readers to decide.
“Winsol Gifts” takes place after Tangled Webs, in which Surreal escaped a haunted house with the help of Lucivar. I wish I could find something meaningful to say about this novella, but I can’t. It’s 75 pages of domestic antics as the characters we’ve come to know and love speed towards the Black Jewels’ version of Christmas.
There’s nothing especially new or original here. It features the character dynamics and interactions Black Jewels readers know well: Lucivar and Daemon being confused by their women and the things they do, Saetan laughing at his sons, and Daemonar destroying everything in his path.
It’s familiar and comforting, and I can see why people would like this sort of story. But speaking for myself, this isn’t why I read books. If I wanted to see my favorite characters in domestic scenarios, I would read fanfiction. In fact, I have read fanfiction of this sort. That said, “Winsol Gifts” sets the stage for the three novellas to follow and echoes the larger theme of the Black Jewels books: the ties that bind families, both blood and chosen, together. D
“Shades of Honor” immediately follows “Winsol Gifts” and covers both Surreal’s emotional healing from the events of Tangled Webs and Lucivar dealing with his second-in-command, Falonar, who’s grown dissatisfied with the Eyriens’ lot in Kaeleer. Readers may also remember that Falonar is Surreal’s former lover (as shown in the original Black Jewels trilogy) and that in the Lady Cassidy books (The Shadow Queen and Shalador’s Lady), we learned that something unfortunate happened to him. “Shades of Honor” details the events leading up to that fate.
To my surprise, this novella ended up being my favorite of the entire collection. It featured the intensity and drama I loved about the original trilogy. It also focused mostly on Surreal and Lucivar, which is always a plus in my book. One of my biggest disappointments with Tangled Webs was that Surreal lacked the bite I’d come to expect from my favorite courtesan-assassin, and I think we see her regain a bit of that edge here. I also enjoyed the closer look at Eyrien society and what it means for a race of warriors to live in a place of peace.
Like “Winsol Gifts,” “Shades of Honor” sets the stage for the two novellas to follow, especially with regards to Daemon and Surreal. B
Fast forward ten years, and we come to “Family.” The story opens with Lady Sylvia, the Dhemlan queen and Saetan’s former lover, taking her two sons for a visit at another Blood family’s estate. We soon discover that not all is right at the estate, a serial killer with a penchant for young boys is on the loose, and things take a rapid turn for the worse.
The first chapters of this novella are misleading. Maybe “Shades of Honor” set me up for false expectations but based on the novella’s opening, I thought we’d be getting a more mystery/thriller-based storyline. Serial killers, missing children, hostages, ransoms… The premise and what happens in those first pages certainly lent support to that assumption, as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, that tension peters out quickly and the drama is resolved easily, leaving the final chapters to reprise more of what we saw in “Winsol Gifts.” It was a little disappointing to see the tone shift but I think some readers might be interested in the resolution to the Saetan and Sylvia issue. C-
The interesting thing about Twilight’s Dawn is that the novellas all build upon one another, leading from one to the next. We did see a similar effect in Dreams Made Flesh, the previous Black Jewels novella collection, but I don’t recall the thematic arcs and foreshadowing being as strong there. I mention this because the first three novellas in Twilight’s Dawn serve as the foundation for the final one, “The High Lord’s Daughter.”
Before I continue with the review, I must give a very strong SPOILER WARNING. I cannot talk about this novella without spoilers, and they are going to be detailed spoilers, and I am not going to hide them behind a spoiler cut because I think these are spoilers that Black Jewels readers should know before going into this collection. Why? Because I think these spoilers are potentially series-destroying, in the sense of being able to destroy a fan’s love for a series. If readers absolutely do not want to be spoiled, then stop reading now. But don’t say I didn’t give advanced warning. I think what I am about to say will be of great interest to the readership of Dear Author, which in the end is a romance blog. I consider myself a fantasy reader first and foremost and even I am aghast at what happens in “The High Lord’s Daughter.”
We have always known that the great romance between Daemon and Jaenelle would not last forever. Like his father, Daemon comes from one of the long-lived races. His lifetime will span millennia. For all that Jaenelle is Witch, dreams made flesh, she does not come from the long-lived races. By comparison, her life is short and fleeting. We have always known this in the back of our minds.
But I never expected the Black Jewels books to go there. I never expected it to happen on-page. And to be honest, given the Mary Sue-nature of Jaenelle’s character, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see her become something akin to a god, complete with extended lifespan. That doesn’t happen here. Jaenelle grows old. She grows old with Daemon, and fans may be pleased(?) to know they kept sexing it up well into her 80s, but you can’t fight the onslaught of time. She dies.
Yes. She dies. And that’s not all.
Now how does Surreal play into all this? After all, she’s enjoyed more page time in these novellas and there’s been heavy foreshadowing about things to come. There’s a reason why I kept bringing her up and it’s not just because she’s my favorite character. When I reviewed Tangled Webs, I wondered why Surreal couldn’t seem able to find her true love, her grand romance. Why, as with Falonar, they always tended to fail. “The High Lord’s Daughter” finally answers that question.
At some point after “Family,” Surreal became Daemon’s second-in-command. She’s also taken on the unofficial role of scaring off women who’ve come to harass Daemon, especially in Jaenelle’s later years because what could Daemon — still in the prime of his life — possibly want with an old woman like that. And so, as should be no surprise to anyone who’s read a Harlequin Presents, Surreal is also in love with her boss, Daemon.
Surreal being in love with Daemon is actually not a surprise. Like I said, when that was explicitly stated in the text, so many pieces fell into place. We already had a hint of this in the very first Black Jewels book, when we first meet Surreal and learn about the awkward state of her relationship with Daemon. Readers may recall that she’d wanted to know what it’d be like to sleep with him (as the Sadist) and of course, he obliged in all his cold rage. (This was pre-Jaenelle.) Time, and Jaenelle’s presence, healed that rift but it’s something that’s always lurked in the background.
Before she died, Jaenelle made Daemon promise that he’d mourn for only a year and then would go on living again (including finding love again). He does obey this final command from his Queen but only to a certain extent. He never lets another woman into his heart. Surreal is willing to go along with this, and they probably would have continued on doing so but then Saetan dies. And after his father’s death, Daemon assumes the mantle of the High Lord of Hell. And in their shared grief, Daemon and Surreal have a one night stand. After which Surreal becomes pregnant.
Yes, that is correct. The “daughter” in the title does not refer to a daughter of Daemon and Jaenelle. They never had any children. The “daughter” refers to the child of Daemon and Surreal. And I think it was at this point that my already-taxed suspension of disbelief snapped and catapulted straight into WTF-land. I say this well-aware of the fact that I probably left many readers behind on the page where Jaenelle died.
This is a very tricky narrative. I actually like the idea of this narrative. It’s a storyline I would like to read elsewhere: two people have known each other forever but one married someone else, and then when that someone else dies, they find love again with the person they’ve known forever. Unfortunately, the characters involved are Daemon and Surreal and a part of me recoils at the thought, even though I like Surreal and the idea of Daemon and Surreal as a couple makes sense once you stop and think about it (and pretend Daemon and Jaenelle never happened).
However, the Black Jewels series is centered around Jaenelle. Jaenelle is dreams made flesh. She may never have had a narrative role in the novels but without her, there would never have been a story to drive these novels. Even when I thought the books should have moved on to other characters and stories, she was still there and ever-present in her influence (the Lady Cassidy books, for example). Because of everything we’ve seen before, I cannot imagine a Black Jewels story without Jaenelle and I don’t even like her.
And for Daemon to find love again with Surreal is upsetting in two ways. First, it bluntly reminds us that HEAs don’t last forever, even in fantasy worlds featuring near-immortals. If HEAs can’t happen there, then where can they happen? Secondly, Surreal still doesn’t really find her grand romance! She plays the role of the second wife who Daemon will never love as much as his first. And while I think the narrative was trying to show that Daemon’s two loves for Jaenelle and Surreal were different but equal, I was never 100% convinced. And I know part of that is because we saw Daemon’s love for Jaenelle shown over the course of several books and novellas while Daemon’s love for Surreal is depicted in a single 100-page novella through the lens of raising their daughter. That’s a tall order and it falls short here.
If “The High Lord’s Daughter” is meant to provide closure to the Black Jewels series, it does do that. I’m not talking about the general WTF reaction to the premise to the novella but in terms of the narrative itself. Daemon and Surreal’s daughter is also dreams made flesh but a different set of dreams than the ones that gave rise to Jaenelle Angelline. I suppose you could say it brings the series full circle. Some people don’t like that sort of thing but I’ve always been fond of that kind of indulgence, even if the execution ends up being twee here. Of course, this is the Black Jewels world we’re talking about so accusing something of being twee is silly. The main problem, however, is that this closure is overshadowed by the premise.
I’m very conflicted about “The High Lord’s Daughter.” It has many aspects I like, many ideas I normally love, and a core concept I would be all over if it’d been executed well. Weighing all those things against each other, I would probably have given this novella a C.
But the premise still leaves me speechless even now. I would not at all be surprised to see many Black Jewels fans swear off any and all future Anne Bishop books because of this novella, especially if they go into it unaware. (The cover copy does hint at what’s to come but I don’t think it encompasses the full WTF factor.) To be honest, there’s still a part of me that wonders if I had read bad fanfiction because Daemon and Surreal read like caricatures of themselves, even accounting for their ridiculously long lives and a love that developed over decades.
Because of this, my grade changes from a C to a Do Not Read At All. That’s not a proper grade but it’s the only way I know to express my feelings. I cannot send any reader, let alone a Black Jewels fan, towards this collection and especially the final novella without any warning. If a reader loved the Daemon and Jaenelle romance, never wanted to see it split apart on-page, never wanted to see Jaenelle die, never wanted to see Daemon find love again (and especially not after only twenty years instead of something properly over the top like five thousand), then I hope that reader does herself a favor and skips this book. Maybe they can pretend the original trilogy (and maybe The Invisible Ring) is the only thing that exists. I’m sure it will prevent heartache and book rage. Because I am still boggling. I suspect I will be boggling for a very long time.
The digital links won’t work until closer to the release date.