The Shadow Queen is the latest installment of the Black Jewels series, either Book 6 or Book 7 depending on whether you count only the novels or include the novella/short story collection. It is a series in the loosest sense; the books are set in the same world and there is some overlap of characters and timeline, but some are designed to stand alone.
The Shadow Queen is both a sequel of sorts to the original Black Jewels trilogy (Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, Queen of the Darkness), in that it picks up with a new set of characters right after the cataclysmic world-changing end of the trilogy, and also a sequel to the only true stand-alone novel, The Invisible Ring, because it follows the descendents of the characters in that story. This book introduces Theran Grayhaven, the last descendent of the Gray Lady—the last good Queen in his homeland of Dena Nehele—who needs to find a Queen who lives by the old ways to rule his people and help bring his land back to life. He is sent a Queen named Cassidy, a woman who isn’t sure she’s up to the job and needs the validation of being useful as much as Dena Nehele needs a good Queen. In order to accomplish the job she was sent to do, she must learn to trust herself—and convince the embittered, angry members of her new Court to serve her willingly. If she can’t, Dena Nehele will fall.
This novel seems like it is meant to be another stand-alone, but it isn’t. Not really.
I’m not going to say that someone who hasn’t read the trilogy could not pick this book up and understand and enjoy it. But a good third of the book is told from the points of view of various members of the SaDiablo family (the main characters of the trilogy), and their interactions don’t have much to do with what’s going on in Dena Nehele. And, unfortunately, the book suffers for it. For anyone who hasn’t read the other books, I think those sections would seem a little bit confusing and certainly pointless. They don’t tie into the action of this novel. They don’t add anything to this story.
To be fair, as someone who has read the other books in the series, I liked what was being dealt with by the SaDiablos. But I would much rather have seen it on its own, as a novella akin to the ones in Dreams Made Flesh, and had this new story be completely new. Obviously the SaDiablo family would have been involved, but I would have preferred to see events through the eyes of only the new characters. It would have made the novel more streamlined and compelling—it would have had more punch without the distractions.
I really enjoyed the slow development of trust between Cassidy and her new Court, and I thought the sections where she bonds with the emotionally undeveloped Gray (Theran’s cousin) were especially well done. Sweet, hopeful, and full of promise for healing and happiness.
Bishop’s usual easy prose was in place, and the gentle mocking of “silly males” was limited to a minor character so it was there for those who like it but not ad nauseum for those who don’t.
The book came to rather an abrupt ending, however. It brought the main conflict to a resolution, but there was a lot left unanswered. I think I read on her website that there will be a sequel, so no doubt that’s why…but in my opinion, the story would have been much better served by dealing exclusively with this cast of characters. Then there would have been enough room to satisfactorily conclude the story arc, rather than having to go into a second book because of all the wasted time exploring the problems of the characters of the trilogy.
Bottom line: if you like Anne Bishop, you will like this book. If you are a fan of high fantasy with some romance and a limited amount of spell-casting, Bishop is a good choice for you. If you like stories of broken/damaged people finding the path to redemption.