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Daughter of the Blood is the first novel of now-prolific American author Anne Bishop, and the first book of the Black Jewels trilogy. In it, we find ourselves embroiled in various schemes and plots centering around a young girl who appears to be prophesied to be very powerful and very strong. As she is as equally pursued as protected as fawned over as lusted over by various of the surrounding cast, a sinister plot is uncovered and various brooding hunky men stride around. A LOT of sex is hinted at, danced around and utterly not at all described, and various really tropey set pieces abound. Not a terrible book, but definitely one that seemed almost schizophrenic in its inability to know what kind of book it was.

The Dark Kingdom is preparing itself for the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy–the arrival of a new Queen, a Witch who will wield more power than even the High Lord of Hell himself. But this new ruler is young, and very susceptible to influence and corruption; whoever controls her controls the Darkness. And now, three sworn enemies begin a ruthless game of politics and intrigue, magic and betrayal, and the destiny of an entire world is at stake.

The story starts off promising enough. A mysterious magic-user with the ability to see the future passes along a prophecy to a particular person who seems delighted to find out what is going to happen. Then, we jump, though it isn’t immediately clear that we’ve done so from the narrative, 700 years later before anything actually happens. Good thing most of the principal characters are, I guess, functionally immortal? They also have various kinds of either magic or power or magical power that are somehow keyed to a colour of a gemstone. Darker gems are stronger and, it seems, somehow more evil too? So this is a group of all evil people? Why I’m supposed to feel bad for evil people being out-eviled by other evil people is sort of strange to me. Generally I feel like we should be totally okay with all of the protagonists of this book coming to bad ends.

The system of gems and colours and rankings is also very ill-defined. There’s a chart at the start of the book and a sense of “darker is better” but there’s people who have one gem, but maybe secretly have another one that nobody knows about? And then some people have more than one gem and that’s not really explained. They use this magic to communicate telepathically, and to fast-travel around the….world? Planes? City-states? The geography is even less well-defined than the magic system. All I really even picked up from over 400 pages of novel is that the women are in charge, except a bunch of the main male characters can pretty much do anything they want even though several are controlled by, wait for it, magical cock rings that women can use to inflict pain on them.

Here’s where the story goes completely off the rails. This is erotica. This novel is 100% absolutely positively erotica. Except it isn’t. What this reads like to me is that Anne Bishop wrote erotica, and then her publisher said there was no market for erotica and this had to be a teen novel instead, and the editor wasn’t allowed to change or add -anything- and could only remove things, and then basically censored out all the actually erotic bits of erotica and published the rest. There is a huge amount of off-screen sex happening in this novel, like, so much that I don’t understand why it wasn’t included and published as erotica. It might have been good erotica, instead it was just incredibly awkward, and in some places very uncomfortable and inappropriate almost-erotica. As a romance novel it was mostly creepy. As erotica it was entirely unfulfilling.

As a regular fantasy novel it was totally inconsistent in the tone it was going for. I’m really not sure I can handle a character named Saetan, with a son named Daemon Sadi who is sadistic and who has to deal with sexual urges for a pre-teen, while his mother controls him with a magical pain ring on his penis, even if the magic system or geography were remotely well explained, and the plot was otherwise solid. Since none of those things were true either, it was a bit slow going by the end there. It wasn’t bad enough to abandon completely, but it felt like this book was either very much not -for- me, or if it was trying to be, it really had no idea how to be.

Now, this is the first book in a trilogy, and there are other books set in the same world, so maybe taken as a whole, some of these things are explained a little better, but if you can’t pull somebody in by the end of your first book (And man I wish authors would stop just planning a trilogy from the start, and actually EARN those later two books through the strength of the first one) then you haven’t pulled them in. I’m going to give this book the benefit of the doubt and chalk up my problems to a) Debut novel and b) The assumption that the story was supposed to be a lot more erotic and was forcibly toned down. The alternative is that this was a very random book with many important elements not remotely properly explained, with a hugely varying tone that has some pretty screwed up ideas about sex and sexuality.

Still a better love story than Twilight though.

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