Review of DREAMS MADE FLESH by ANNE BISHOP
(fifth in THE BLACK JEWELS series)
This book compiles four stories set in THE BLACK JEWELS universe. Lighter in tone than the original trilogy, the tales provide a chance for readers (and the writer) to play a little more with beloved characters. "Zuulaman" aside, the stories have a sweet and comforting feel that balances out the despair and tragedy overwhelming the initial trilogy.
First: "Weaver of Dreams," an abstract look at the magical spiders who spin tangled webs. Told in tiny snippets, this little bit of a story makes more sense combined with the last one, "Kaeleer's Heart." Readers have been informed time and time again that Jaenelle - or rather Witch, which isn't her entire identity - embodies "dreams made flesh." Witch only comes in times of great need and these peculiar spiders gather the longing dreams and yearning fantasies of everyone wishing for a larger than life savior with a sense of honor and tradition and a kind heart. If the spiders have enough material, they can spin the dreams together into something real.
Second: "The Prince of Ebon Rih," which takes place between the events of HEIR TO THE SHADOWS and QUEEN OF THE DARKNESS. In the third book of the trilogy, Lucivar's suddenly married, so this story tells how he and Marian met and fell in love. Bishop has always walked the genre line between romance and fantasy, but this story's the first of her work that struck me more as romance. She's mentioned in previous books that Blood males can go into "ruts." Like many aspects of the Blood, this concept comes from real nature. When a Blood male goes into a rut, his aggressive instincts overpower all else and he becomes a dangerous threat. He picks one woman and focuses his more or less insatiable sexual needs on her for a few days. If he can't find a willing woman whom he desires in turn the need twists into violence. (Sounds like a useful writer's tool to skip over a long courting process and throw a man and woman in bed together, huh?) I've always admired Bishop's talent for juxtaposing the dramatic against the mundane and that skill’s sharply pronounced in “The Prince of Ebon Rih.” Right now I'm thinking of cold toes. Read the story and you'll know what I mean. The ending comes off a little hurried and abrupt, but all in all a warm (and, yes, I mean warm-sweet and warm-steamy) story that shows Lucivar and Marian fit well together.
Third: "Zuulaman," the exception to the upbeat tone of this collection. Fair enough, since the story takes place before the original trilogy, during the darker times. Now this tale is verrrry dramatic. For those who read the trilogy, it's along the lines of Jaenelle's statement, "I’ll adhere to the Council’s decision when the sun next rises." Some will likely find Saetan's actions (and the fact that he can do that) overdone, but Bishop's a skilled writer and she always wins my adoration, even with the stuff I would find indulgently dramatic in a less capable writer's hands. Saetan’s still married to Hekatah in "Zuulaman.” Not happily. She married the High Lord of Hell for the power she assumed such a position would grant her, but Saetan rules his people with a wise and compassionate hand and won't indulge his pretty new wife if the outcome will hurt innocent people. So Hekatah uses their son as a bargaining chip and discovers the temper behind Saetan's calm exterior.
Last: "Kaeleer's Heart," which takes place right after the end of the trilogy. I treasure this story, because QUEEN OF THE DARKNESS had a happily-ever-after type ending, despite being bittersweet. By adding all these sequels, Bishop shows readers what happens after the happily-ever-after, and in the process gives her characters more depth. In "Kaeleer's Heart," Daemon and Jaenelle's relationship teeters on a cliff edge. They're drifting apart, and, thanks to poor communication on both their parts, neither knows why. It's refreshing seeing such strong characters show their insecurities and a liberating reminder that even the happiest couples don't have a perfectly smooth ride. Aside from her troubles with Daemon, Jaenelle, "dreams made flesh," also feels the weight of everyone's expectations crushing down on her. She saved the world in QUEEN OF THE DARKNESS, but she sacrificed her tremendous power to do so. She's lucky to be alive at all, but still her former court mourns the loss of her immense power. No one knows what to think of her new jewel, Twilight's Dawn, which fluctuates in its strength - most of the time falling on the weaker side. Only Jaenelle appreciates the silver lining. Her Ebony power was so great that she couldn't do simple craft; she could perform impossible, remarkable feats but she couldn't channel a small amount of magic. Now she can! Her gleeful realization that she can now summon her shoes with magic made me laugh out loud. Another sweet ending and this one ties into "Weaver of Dreams" with a comforting and moving revelation.