Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review: Shalador's Lady

Shalador's Lady by Anne Bishop
A Dark Jewels Novel

This is the eighth book in the Dark Jewels Universe, which debuted with Daughter of the Blood.  The books are set in an original, fantastical universe where some people have magic (the Blood) and other’s do not (the landen).  All of the books focus on the ruling class, the Blood.  Shalador’s Lady is the second book with the protagonist Lady Cassidy, who was introduced in Shadow Queen.  At the open of the book, Lady Cassidy is the ruling Territory Queen of Dena Nehele, with a full court.  However, Prince Theran Grayhaven, the Warlord Prince who instigated Lady Cassidy’s move to Dena Nehele, isn’t happy with the bargain he made.  The book is about Lady Cassidy’s growth as a ruler, and Theran’s attempts to remove her and find someone more to his liking.

Let me start off by saying that I did in fact enjoy this book.  I make it a point to only blog about books I did enjoy, so if you see something listed here, it’s because I don’t see it as a complete waste of money.  I started this book last night, and read it straight through.  That being said, the book has some major issues.
First of all, this book is likely the lightest, fluffiest book in the entire series.  The tone of the book is a lot closer to Bishop’s Tir Alainn trilogy than it is to any of the other Dark Jewels books.  What initially captured my attention, and caused me to pass along the original trilogy, was Bishop’s dark sensuality.  Everything had a hidden horror about it, and a sense of desperation.  This book utterly lacks all of the above.  Now, I read a lot of books that aren’t like this, so it wasn’t exactly a problem, but I did feel somewhat disappointed because I expected something else.

Next: plot holes you could drive a semi through.  Old characters march through in vignettes that have nothing to do with the main plot, and don’t fit together to make a subplot.  It’s like Bishop wants to write about her original characters, but she can’t bear to torture their lives further.  So every once in a while, for no real reason, we see the SaDiablo family (and a few others) peek in and say hi for the sake of saying hi, I’m still here, life’s good, how are you?  On top of that, the main plot doesn’t feel at all plausible.  I know, I’m talking about a fantasy novel here, but the characters had so many options, so many ways to gather information, use said information, and they don’t.  They don’t explore their situation, they simply react to it.  Motivations are impressionistic brushstrokes on the page, and it feels like Bishop thought that this was a good story arc and then didn’t take the time to ask the hard questions and make it solid.  It’s just there for the characters to hang off of and look pretty.  There’s also that I felt this plot could have been thickened, fleshed out, and used to create two solid books.  The bones are there, the dedication to it is not.

To top that off, the characters, while enjoyable, are not well developed.  While Bishop had her initial three lengthy books to develop the SaDiablo family, she’s tried to fit the same amount of character building and growth into two much shorter books for Lady Cassidy, and one for two other main characters.  And, let’s not forget that a decent proportion of the shorter books has been given over to the SaDiablo family, who we already know.  So not only are the main characters of Shalador’s Lady competing with the SaDiablo family in my mind, they have to do it right there on the page and the SaDiablo family wins.  Except the book isn’t about them, it’s about the other guys.  By the end of the book I was fighting mild bemusement at the changes in character interactions, because I didn’t feel that Bishop had substantiated them.  Most of the growth was happening back stage.  This is a prime example of ‘show, don’t tell’ because the telling wasn’t enough to support everything else.

Again, I should end this by re-iterating that I did enjoy the book.  Bishop still knows how to string words together in a highly pleasing manner.  I just wish she’d remember how to write a novel, and not just tell a story.  There is a difference.  If you have read the Dark Jewel’s Trilogy and other supporting books, you’ll likely enjoy this book for what it is.  If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and read the original Trilogy first.  You’ll be much less lost, and they’re better reads anyway.


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