Well only one way to find out, right? To buddy review this book, I asked Li from Me and My Books to join me, because I know she was looking forward to this book as well :)
The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop
published by ROC in March 2009 (Hardcover)
Dena Nehele is a land decimated by its past. Once it was ruled by corrupt Queens who were wiped out when the land was cleansed of tainted Blood. Now, only one hundred Warlord Princes stand—without a leader and without hope…
Theran Grayhaven is the last of his line, desperate to find the key that reveals a treasure great enough to restore Dena Nehele. But first he needs to find a Queen who knows Protocol, remembers the Blood’s code of honor, and lives by the Old Ways.
Languishing in the Shadow Realm, Lady Cassidy is a Queen without a court, a castoff. She is not beautiful. She thinks she is not strong. But when she is chosen to rule Dena Nehele, she must convince bitter men to serve once again.
Theran’s cousin Gray is a Warlord Prince who was damaged in mind and body by the vicious Queens who once ruled Dena Nehele. Yet something about Cassidy makes him want to serve—and makes him believe he can be made whole once again.
And only Cassidy can prove to Gray—and to herself—that wounds can heal and even the whisper of a promise can be fulfilled…
Series: Black Jewels series, book #6
Nath: What did you think of The Shadow Queen, Li? I thought The Shadow Queen was a great set-up for the new trilogy.
Li: Is it a trilogy? I know there's definitely a sequel out this time next year, but didn't know there would be one more.
Nath: Yeah, it's going to be a trilogy. All I know is that the next book is titled The Shalador Lady and is supposed to come out around the same time in 2010. Then, the third book in 2011.
What did you enjoy best in The Shadow Queen? I really liked Cassidy's character as well as Gray.
Li: Right... let me gather my thoughts...
Okay, I was actually slightly squicked out by the Cassie-Gray romance, mainly because I figured his mental age for around early teens and Cassie's 31. Sure, am all for the older woman-younger man thing, but the operative word is "man", and he's still very much a teenager inside. So I felt slightly uncomfortable reading those scenes, especially with Daemon and Lucivar giving him advice on how to seduce Cassie! I just flipped through my book, and Gray was captured at 15, so I'm assuming he sort of stayed at that age mentally.
Nath: I actually enjoyed the Cassie-Gray romance! It was so sweet and definitively one of the highlights of the book! Gray's character was just endearing and sweet.
I have to admit though, in any other situations, I would have felt like you, Li, and be put off by Cassie-Gray's romance. However, I think that Ms Bishop handled it very well. Yes, when we first meet Gray, it is the 15 y.o. boy that dominates... However, as the book progresses and Gray falls in love with Cassie, we see him try to overcome his fears and become the man he should have been... and we get quite a few glimpses of the man :)
What is interesting about your comment though is that Ms Bishop didn't ignore this fact and as a result, the heroine even shares your opinion! LOL! :) It's mentioned in the book after the moon-time episode that she was wary because she didn't know who she would have to deal with: Gray the boy or Gray the man. Also, near the end, she reflects how uncomfortable she is sometimes when she feels she is kissing Gray the boy. I guess that my mind is already made up :) I'm just assuming that at the end of the trilogy, Cassie is going to get her HEA ending with Gray and that Gray will have recovered emotionally.
I also have to add that Cassie didn't feel like 31. Deep inside, she is so vulnerable and she's been hurt so badly... She feels younger... and LOL, I thought it was cute Lucivar and Daemon giving him advices LOL :P
Li: I liked Cassie and I would love to see her grow more in confidence in the next book. I also liked how she is one of the more ordinary people in this world - not everyone is as all-powerful as Jaenelle, or even Daeman or Saetan.
Nath: I get what you're saying and I agree with you. Indeed, it's nice that Cassie is sooo normal. Actually, when you think about it, everyone in Jaenelle's entourage seems so powerful. Jaenelle's First Court, the scelties... even the butler! LOL :) In contrast though, the characters in Cassie's court all seems quite weak ^_^; However, I thought they were quite likable... all with the exception of Theran. He was such a PITA ^_^;
Li: I didn't find Theran a sympathetic character at all, but can sort of see where he's coming from. He wants an incredibly charismatic queen to rule his people and he sort of assumes he needs someone with a strong and powerful aura, and he ends up with this gawky-looking female. I think what Ms Bishop is trying to convey is the "don't judge a book by its cover" message, I'm not sure Theran was completely won over at the end though. Maybe that's for the sequel :-)
Nath: My problem with Theran is that he just keeps assuming things and jumping to conclusions. He didn't even try to get to know Cassie. Yes, he wants to save his people, but how can you do it with such a small mind? Also, like Saetan said, he's setting a bad example and people are following his lead. Luckily, Cassie is a strong woman... and hopefully, Theran will change after reading the letter. I think it'd be fun to see Theran coming off his high horse and be humbled a bit. I'll admit though, his love for Gray is definitively a point in his favor.
Li: I'm hoping Theran gets more time in the next book, I would love a redemption-type plot for him.
Nath: I would too.
Li: Have you read the sort-of prequel to this one, The Invisible Ring? I have, but it's been a few years since I've read it, and because she had so many references to previous characters, who I only recall faintly, that it almost distracted from this book. I was trying to remember who Jared was and why Daemon would owe him a favor, and Shira's ancestors were, and so on, that I couldn't get into the story properly.
Nath: I did, but like you, it's been a number of years and I couldn't remember much. Took me a while to put back everything in place - I was quite confused at first. I believe The Shadow Queen will be more enjoyable for someone who still have the Black Jewels background and storyline fresh in mind.
Li: Also, and I'm not sure completely sure how to describe it, but when I read The Invisible Ring, I don't remember wondering why Daemon (who made a cameo appearance) was so feared. Whereas in this one, it's almost as though Ms Bishop is so familiar with Daemon, Jaenelle, and co that she doesn't bother to flesh them properly out, which may leave readers new to the series wondering just what is so special about them. Does that make sense?
Nath: I can't remember if The Invisible Ring was written before and after the ending of the trilogy... but the feel I get from reading The Shadow Queen is that Ms Bishop assumes that everything is fresh in our memory and therefore, takes our knowledge for granted. As a result, Ms Bishop goes forward and doesn't spend time reminding us the basics. What's unfortunate is though is that I don't feel like Daemon, Saetan, Jaenelle characters are growing or moving. It's the same issues once again :(
Li: Oh and what did you think about the Saetan subplot? Did that seem out of place to you?
Nath: Personally, I would have done without all the Daemon and Saetan subplots. I mean, it was sweet to get a better glimpse of the father-sons relationship, especially the part where Saetan read to Daemon, but I think it distracts the reader from the main plotline. I think that Ms Bishop has difficulty parting with those characters. I have no problem for casual/cameo appearances, but it was more than that.
Although I could have done without the subplots and would have preferred the book to focus on Cassie and her court, I did enjoy them a lot. There were many funny and sweet moments :) The Shadow Queen wasn't perfect, but I'm giving a B+... because I enjoyed it a lot and it caught my interest.
Li: I agree that if the book had focused more on Cassie/Gray/Theran, it would have been a stronger read for me. I think I gave it a B- after finishing it. It stays in the B range for me because of my love for Ms Bishop's Black Jewels world, but I would not rec this at all for readers new to her world. I'm not sure whether I'm outgrowing this series - the last book I loved was Dreams Made Flesh, the anthology - and it's been years since I've re-read the original trilogy, it would be interesting to re-read it at some point and see whether it captures my imagination in the same way.
Nath: Definitively not the right book to start this series. As for outgrowing the series, I think not. The problem is that since Dreams Made Flesh, the books that have been published are simply not as good as the rest of the series. In my opinion, Tangled Webs and The Shadow Queen would have been much better if Daemon and cie didn't have such major "screen time." Still, there is potential for The Shadalor Lady... Just too bad we have to wait a year to find out ^_^;