Review of SHALADOR'S LADY by ANNE BISHOP
(eighth in THE BLACK JEWELS series)
This book tugged at my heart in a major way. It concludes the story about Cassidy started in THE SHADOW QUEEN. Those who read that book already know what went wrong with Cassidy's first court: they turned against her in favor of a younger, prettier, wealthier queen. Well, that queen, Kermilla, has already spent everything her territory can offer and more, so she hunts down Cassidy, convinced the previous queen owes the new queen a monetary "gift." Of course, Cassidy refuses this outrageous demand and orders Kermilla out of her territory. The problem? Theran falls hard for Kermilla on first sight. She's exactly what he wanted as a queen, someone who can take a man's breath away. Unlike Cassidy.
Needless to say, Cassidy's catapulted back to the painful memories of when her first court left her for Kermilla and fearful that she might soon relive that excruciating experience. The reader sees early on that this court (excepting Theran) not only remains loyal to Cassidy but detests Kermilla. Cassidy, though, buries her mind in the past, so it takes her longer than the reader to recognize that this is a different court and a different circumstance.
It still only takes one person to break a court. Bishop really created a brilliant setup with this one. Theran's an antagonist without a doubt and his disloyalty could be the single factor that destroys Cassidy's court. However, he's not evil; he's blindsided by Kermilla, but at the root he wants what's best for his land and it's people. Even when he sees glimpses of Kermilla's recklessness, selfishness, and downright cruelty, he rationalizes and denies. Throughout the story, I wished and yearned for him to reconsider his allegiances and make amends with his friends and family. He's not a bad person (deep down at least; on the surface, yeah, he's a jerk), so it's sad and painful watching him make bad decisions and suffer the consequences. As Talon warns him, I would rather Theran break his own heart than his honor.
Talon makes another point with which I agreed. When the court considers putting some distance between Theran and everyone else, especially Cassidy, Talon realizes that Cassidy has done some amazing things for this land but with every decision she comes up against the wall of Theran. By stepping away from him, maybe they can see what Cassidy can do without someone challenging her at every turn. The answer: a lot.