Daughter of the Blood (Black Jewels, Book 1)
Powers, blood, jewels, webs, geography, cosmology, death and sex are all tied together in some way that only glimmers of are revealed in book one. The characters and the setting are plenty fascinating and drew me in easily enough before the action really started. As expected book one wraps up some minor plots only to get the majors moving and (as noted below) to being the protagonists together in their struggle whether they know it or not. The deep themes of tradition, protocol, and the costs of things resonate quite well with me and will provoke further thought before I get to read the next book.
See also Kaeleer Rules
The different movie, television adaptations of classic complex novels such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
, A Song of Ice and Fire
, The Lord of the Rings
always have to make hard decisions about exposition. In one version of Dune as a movie Princess Irulan starts the movie as a voice reading the introduction to one of her books about Muad'Dib to give the viewer some background about the setting and characters in which the story is set. In one movie version of Dick's story the internal dialogue of Deckard is available to the audience to explain and add depth and colour to dialogue and the events of the plot. It's also pretty common for backstory and endings to change entirely in adaptation but hopefully I won't have to contend with that in The Black Jewels. Exposition, however, is lacking, though hardly absent.
With no foreknowledge of the story or world and the barest crumbs of exposition in the preface (which also contains a prophecy, de rigeur) I have had the damnedest time understanding the world. Having finished book one I'm still not entirely sure what the Black or the Jewels are. This is not exactly a criticism so much as an preface for any remarks I may make about the story: I have only seen what the author has shown and could easily have missed something ... though so much is revealed throughout the book and wonderously so.
Although a great deal does happen in this (only the) first novel it also contains a great deal of stage setting. Of course much as with other authors a little bit of plot advance and small scale violence can set the stage for major plot movements and much larger scales of destruction. Characters, pantheons, geography, species, cosmologies, systems of magic, other technology ... and of course the titular character. Well she qualifies anyway (as do a few others) and is on the cover of my copy: Jaenelle.
It is indeed a dark story as was advertised. Sex, slavery, and violence are commonplace and fully intertwined in the worlds of the setting and their cultures have developed around them and the magic systems for centuries or millennia (depending on who you believe) as well as segregation by gender, race, and caste. There are also systems of honour and ethics in play but a major theme of the the story and the tide of history in it is that too few still follow these old ways and the corruption is deep-set. Amputation it seems, at least, will be necessary to right the world and the protagonists are certainly blood-thirsty enough for it.
Lest we draw too-temporal parallels and muddy the story up I will instead focus on the code of ethics that underlies the elder cultures. This is inexorably linked with the gender relations and political systems and I'm not spoiling anything to tell you that the fullblooded nobles are as different from the commoners as all males are from all females (though especially the aristocrats and magic users). There is a lot of thought and effort put to these old ideas by some of the major characters, though some of them are trying to finish destroying it and others simply don't care about it at all. It is held as a common belief by many that the powers some have, the political power they wield, and the relations between the genders are all part of some compact between the ancient ancestors and ... something or someone very powerful. Although the idea that the powerful are granted power to protect the weak is strong with many of them the exact nature of the compact is not revealed in the first book. Or I missed it.
Power dynamics of all sorts pervade the novel. Many are shonen-esque "I am very powerful but his power is so great it makes me hurt to look at him." and "Ha ha! You thought that was my full power?!" as well as some "Actually, I am not left-handed." bits. Will and power is matched against anothers', sometimes in mere court conversation. And to be clear this is before they actually start throwing around power which they are all loath to do for various practical and political reasons. Practical reasons include not draining resources you may need later and not blowing up large stone buildings you are still standing in. Both are important enough plot mechanisms in the first book that I don't want to go into any more detail. Power can be stored in the titular jewels though I doubt that is all they are for. Power (of various kinds) is inseparable from seduction, sex, and mind control. Oh and telepathy and teleportation too. Probably.
The book also makes some strong points about education. These are by no means made with any subtlety but they are besides and behind the gender struggles, major plot development, and most of the power games of all sorts. The way that attitude and perspective affect various characters ability to teach and learn from Jaenelle speaks volumes about how education works without such weak aphorisms as "two-way streets".
Also there is no mention of any exams, or formal marks. Teacher and student are both keenly aware of their performance and effectiveness through natural communication (and the occasional tongue-lashing or beating).
The enemies of the protagonists in this novel are only given so much detail and little effort is wasted trying to make them sympathetic. They are weak and petty, even those that rule nations and the tide of history / mandate of heaven is no longer theirs though they haven't figured it out yet. Also, no much likes pederasts and so any alignment of that cause with the local opposition fairly nullifies any attempt to humanize or complicate them. The good news in all of this is that the "good guys" aren't good, and don't get along all that well. In fact a theme of book one here is getting them together and mostly rowing in the same direction.
Hot anger is scary but cold anger is terrifying. The author understands this and uses it to great effect in interpersonal difficulties, power struggles, and the loss of a building of two. If some of the characters understood it better they might live longer, happier lives.
Book Three and the whole of the first trilogy