Series: The Black Jewels #1
Published: 1 March, 1998 by Roc NAL (New American Library) Penguin
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Daughter of the Blood is a dark fantasy novel by Anne Bishop. And I do mean dark. I started reading this book around a decade ago. There were things I loved about it, but I was also deeply uncomfortable with some of the more graphic violence, including sexual violence. But sometimes books that don’t work for us in one era of our lives end up being treasured years later, and Daughter of the Blood was definitely one of them.
I’ll start with the setting. Daughter of the Blood is set in a drow-like society that’s dominated by women. People can have magical powers, and the strength of those powers is measured in part by the type of jewel that comes with them. The darker the jewel, the greater the power. So in this society where gender norms are flipped from our usual expectations, the normal order of things is that women rule and men serve. And it’s supposed to be a balance where both parties get something out of it, where the women are good and benevolent leaders, and the men are proud to serve their queens. But this society has become corrupted. Women enslave the men, often through the use of magical cock-rings. Men who break from their control commit violence against young women. Powerful women destroy their rivals. There used to be another way, but it’s a distant memory. But there’s a prophecy that one day a particularly powerful Witch will come, and there will be a reckoning.
But even Witch is born as a child. A little girl named Jaenelle is born, and she has incomprehensibly strong powers. But because her powers are so strong, they don’t look like anybody else’s, and her family thinks she’s powerless. Jaenelle is a great character because she’s a child with god-like powers, and the story explores what that might be like as she slowly learns how to use and control them. And Jaenelle really is too pure for the world that she’s born into.
Jaenelle can wander between worlds, including the realms of life and death. She befriends Saetan, the lord of the underworld, and he becomes a father figure to her, teaching her bits of magic, but also being exasperated by her antics.
And then there’s Daemon, Saetan’s son. Daemon has spent most of his live as a pleasure slave to a cruel woman named Dorothea SaDiablo. He’s been hurt both physically and emotionally, and Dorothea uses Daemon’s feelings for his brother to control him and keep him in compliance. And through the centuries, Daemon has built up a simmering rage against everyone who has caused him to suffer. After he loses his temper, Dorothea sends him away to another noble woman, and in that household, he meets Jaenelle, and he sees her as she truly is, and as the coming of Witch. And through her kindness and playfulness, she teaches him that there is more to life than his rage, and starts to break down some of the walls he’s put up to protect himself. He swears to do everything in his power to protect her.
When I first read Daughter of the Blood, I wasn’t jaded enough to appreciate Daemon. Now he’s one of my favorite characters. And I think it’s because Anne Bishop deliberately plays with what structural inequalities will do to people over time. And by flipping the gender norms in the book, you see everything with fresh eyes. The message resonates even more today than it did before, because Daemon’s rage is at it’s heart the same rage that’s behind #MeToo. Despite being written in the late 90s, the book feels like it could have been written yesterday.
I’m so glad that I picked up Daughter of the Blood for a reread. I breezed through it, staying up past my bedtime on more than one evening so that I could finish it. I’m excited to read the rest of the trilogy and to see how Jaenelle will adapt to and change the world around her.