BY SEAN CLARK
[Sean had to read this book and review it because of reader votes in Junk Novel Roulette. Find more JNR here.]
Note: [We’re not scoring or filing JNR books as reviews–that’s just too mean.]
My initial thought was to do this write-up in the style of an adventurer’s journal, as if I were traveling across the great unknown with only a small sheet of cryptic clues to guide me. I found myself often lost and confused, as in a dark forest. Other times I found myself zoning out, staring blankly ahead while trudging onward across a barren plain in a tedious march. But since I was just able to get my metaphor across in three sentences, I’m no longer going to bother with that approach. Here’s the only thing I’m going to write about Queen of the Darkness that could possibly be construed as praise: this novel was nothing at all like what I expected.
In the interest of getting us on the same page as quickly as possible, I’m going to excerpt the two pages that preceded Part 1 of this beast in their entirety:
*Opal is the dividing line between lighter and darker Jewels because it can be either.
When making an Offering to the Darkness, a person can descend a maximum of three ranks from his/her Birthright Jewel.
Example: Birthright White could descend to Rose.
The “Sc” in the names Scelt, Sceval, and Sceron is pronounced “Sh.”
landen–non-Blood of any race
Blood male–a general term for all males of the Blood; also refers to and Blood male who doesn’t wear Jewels
Warlord–a Jeweled male equal in status to a Priestess or a Healer
Warlord Prince–a dangerous, extremely aggressive Jeweled male; in status, slightly lower than a Queen
landen–non-Blood of any race
Blood female–a general term for all females of the Blood; mostly refers to and Blood female who doesn’t wear Jewels
witch–a Blood female who wears Jewels but isn’t one of the other hierarchical levels; also refers to any Jeweled female
Healer–a witch who heals physical wounds and illness; equal in status to a Priestess and a Prince
Priestess–a witch who cares for altars, Sanctuaries, and Dark Altars; witnesses handfasts and marriages; performs offerings; equal in status to a Healer and a Prince
Black Widow–a witch who heals the mind; weaves the tangled webs of dreams and visions; is trained in illusions and poisons
Queen–a witch who rules the Blood; is considered to be the land’s heart and the Blood’s moral center; as such, she is the focal point of their society
Yikes. I hope you got all that, because otherwise nothing in Queen of the Darkness will make much sense.
Most of what takes place in this book assumes you have a thorough understanding of these needlessly complex, yet poorly rounded societal rules. Characters are often described only by their title and Jewel color. Of course, these change, so pay attention or what you think are two different characters might be the same. I had the great misfortune, as this was my draw in JNR, to get the third novel in a trilogy. I suppose if you’d read the two preceding books you’d have a somewhat firm grasp of the hierarchy and also what the heck is going on in this world. But still, there is too much preoccupation with differentiating this as its own universe (I mean, what does the “Sc” pronounced “Sh” bring to the table? Really?) and not enough on making a banal story even marginally interesting.
Basically, Daemon, who had been in exile since presumably the second book, returns to the Dark Court, where he is (as far as I could gather) both an Ebon-gray Warlord Prince of utmost rank, and indentured–he is purchased at a border checkpoint market in the first few chapters by his half-brother. He is fulfilling his destiny to be the Consort (mate) to Jaenelle who, since making her Offering to the Darkness, is now Queen of Ebon Askavi.
This is a matriarchal society, but Ebon Askavi seems to be ruled by the creatively named Prince Saetan Daemon SaDiablo, the High Lord of Hell (a rank not listed in the caste-ing call). There are a bunch of other people that are maybe related to one another and are mostly bearing equally dumb names (Surreal, Lucivar, Hekatah, Philip) living in the keep. Trying to keep track of who was related to whom got so confusing I eventually just gave up.
Jaenelle is supposedly, with Daemon’s companionship, expected to rid the Shadow Realm of all their enemies. Cool, you might think, this is a good-and-evil kind of thing told from the perspective of the evil, a la Milton’s Paradise Lost. That would be cool, too bad that’s not the novel Bishop wrote. There really aren’t any enemies, just a few cousins they don’t really care for. And the world is devoid of a complementary opposite to the darkness, there are no light people (er, demons…it’s never really clarified what these characters are–but there are also animals with human souls or something milling about) to battle, or any real threats amongst the dark. I’m also pretty sure there was never a character bearing a Jewel above Opal.
Most of this book revolves around aristocratic bickering over rank changes that occurred due to the ending of the second book, when Jaenelle became Queen. I don’t think it’s possible for me to impress upon you just how utterly, crushingly boring and banal this book is.
So nothing happens besides squabbling over who’s in charge of this place that isn’t really defined besides as an underworld to a perhaps non-existent overworld where “Sc” is pronounced by blowing through your teeth. And nearly everything is strictly relative to a confusing and mostly unnecessary caste system. (Here’s another quote, because sharing them is the biggest joy of JNR, small a victory may it be):
“Queen[‘s]…courts are set up by a different Protocol. So if you accept Graysfang before the other males realize you’re here, he will hold the dominant position over any male except your mate, even if the other male wears darker Jewels. Since he’s not old enough to make the Offering to the Darkness and still wears his Birthright Purple Dusk Jewel, the odds of a darker-Jeweled male becoming interested in you are rather high.”
I think I’d rather cut off a finger on my dominant hand than read this novel again. Actually to be perfectly honest, I have no idea how it ends. I tried my best to finish it, I really did. I am going to bet I got farther than most of the other JNR participants and yet I tossed the towel on page 322 of 429. I even brought this thing on the T with me and willingly gave Boston commuters the impression I’m a complete weirdo. But hey, at least the writing was good:
Accepting the invitation, he eagerly sniffed her hand, sniffed her feet, sniffed…
“Get your nose out of my crotch,” Surreal growled.
He took two steps back and sneezed.
“Well, that’s your opinion.”
His mouth opened in a doggy grin. “Rrrf.”
Of course, you’d have to descend from your Birthright Jewel to at least Green (and, obviously, not be landen) to appreciate the intricate brilliance of Bishop’s prose and “tangled webs of dreams and visions.” Ugh. The next season of JNR can wait a while.