Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ode to Anne Bishop

Anne Bishop is one of my favorite fantasy writers, but when compared with fantasy's top names - J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Mercedes Lackey, and of course, King Tolkein - she is an unknown. And thus deserving of an ode (sans the stanzas, lyricism, and poetic structure)!

And So it begins ...

In 2001, I read Anne Bishop's romantic fantasy series known collectively as The Black Jewels Trilogy (Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Throne, Queen of the Darkness) for the first time. In the seven years since, I've read the books at least half-a-dozen times and have lent or recommended them to twice as many friends - leaving my personal paperback copies in tatters (but at least I got 'em back)!

Simply put, the trilogy is wonderful. Bishop has created one of the most fascinating dark fantasy worlds I have ever read. In the world's three realms (the living Terreille, the dead Hell, and the shadowy Kaeleer), there are those who are the gifted Blood (read: magical) and those who are not. The Blood races must adhere to a strict hierarchy of power, determined by their social caste (Warlord, Witch, Priestess, Queen, etc) and the strength of the jewels they wear - the darker the jewels, the more powerful the wearer. To further complicate matters, the entire trilogy revolves around the corruption of this hierarchy (read: nothing is as it should be) and the determination of one vulnerable, but extraordinarily powerful young woman to save the realms by putting everything back in order.

Even attempting to summarize the world's many nuances is enough to make your head spin, but Bishop has put so much thought into the details, that the balance of power, realms, and races unfolds beautifully within the series and its companion novels (including The Invisible Ring and Dreams Made Flesh).

Bishop's writing is not without its flaws. She has the tendency to overuse her own brand of character archetypes - overly headstrong and fiercely volatile women, and men who are either too quick to anger or too easy to pushover. The characters often laugh raucously over jokes or missteps that the reader won't always find quite so funny.

Fortunately Bishop's strengths and creativity far outweigh a couple of bad jokes. In addition to her expressive and highly visual prose, she is particularly adept at writing characters that you can really connect with. Her trilogy's heroine, Janelle, is particularly lovable as she matures from an eccentric, love-starved child to a powerful, compelling woman who must struggle to retain her natural goodness when forced to make the kinds of world-changing decisions that could shatter anyone's humanity. Bishop also excels at the romance, and the trilogy is full of love stories of all shapes, with the central story epic enough to satisfy all romantics (and their boyfriends).

The books aren't for everyone, as there's enough sex and sexuality to categorize the trilogy as erotic fantasy (and more than enough to make a 10th grader blush).

Would Also Recommend ...

For readers who love the Black Jewels Trilogy, I would also recommend aforementioned companion books set in the the same world, as well as another Anne Bishop trilogy known collectively as the Tir Alainn Trilogy (Pillars of the World, Shadows and Light, The House of Gaian). This trilogy is more classically pagan in style, with witches whose powers are based in natural elements (fire, air, water, earth), and with themes of women persecution, suppression, and empowerment.

I am reluctant, however, to recommend Bishop's recent duology Sebastian and Belladonna. In this Ephemera series, the author tries to create yet another fascinating new world that she ultimately spends most of her time trying to set up and explain the way-it-all-works rather than developing her characters and plot beyond two-dimensional archetypes. Readers who are familiar with Bishop's style and who go in with high expectations will be particularly disappointed.

I'm looking forward to next year's The Shadow Queen, and hope to introduce more readers to Anne Bishop's worlds, in the meantime.

Anne Bishop's Official Website

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