Twilight's Dawn, the latest offering from Anne Bishop in the Black Jewels series, is an anthology of novellas that does more than just fills in a few gaps in the series arc but also moves it along. The four stories string together in linear fashion, each one setting up the next and spanning almost a hundred years in the saga of the SaDiablo family. Typical of Bishop's storytelling, there are moments of blazing brilliance offset by ham-handed plot progression. It's entertaining as a whole but comes up short in areas.
Winsol Gifts (Takes place after Tangled Webs): Daemon gets more and more settled into both married life and being the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan. This particular holiday season finds him being pulled in several different directions at once due to the obligations of his position and family, and he's not very happy about it. The subplots concern Surreal and Prince Rainier, both on the slow path to recovery from the injuries they've suffered, and are due to spend some time with Lucivar getting their strength back. Saetan is beginning to feel his age and wants a singular gift from everyone this year- solitude. Daemon, of course, won't stand for it and looks for a way to include him in the festivities without breaking his word. Feeling intrigued yet?
This one is only interesting for the revelations of some events during Daemon and Lucivar's childhood when they were still with Tersa and Luthvian. But those events feel forced and there's too much info-dumping involved: hey- did you know Lucivar and Daemon are half-brothers? And they wear the darkest jewels any male's ever had? Plus eyriens have wings, Tersa's crazy, Surreal used to be a whore... oh sorry, did I ruin it for you?
Shades of Honor (Takes place after The Shadow Queen): Falonar returns to Riada, still chafing at the way Lucivar runs things- especially during the time Witch was incapacitated. In his eyes Lucivar will never be more than a half-breed bastard, ignorant of their culture and traditions. There's also his relationship with Surreal, who not only didn't know her place as a woman- and a half-breed whore, at that- but also carried the unwelcome burden of the SaDiablo name (I see a pattern developing here). The evidence is clear to him: as long as Lucivar controls Ebon Rih his taint will spread to all the eyriens living there. Surreal and Rainier are both in their own way haunted by what happened in Dreams Made Flesh, and must find a way to come to terms with it and rebuild their lives.
Falonar's fate was implied in DMF, and here we get the sordid details. This also feels a little flat because Falonar had never been fleshed out in any way before; all we had was some brief exposition about his character. From the outset of the story he's portrayed as a full-blown racist, elitist and sexist, barely above a knuckle-dragger- though there's been a strong argument for this being standard Eyrien male behavior. Bishop's worldbuilding has always been weak, and the picture she paints of Eyrien culture seems unsustainable. Falonar is our window into it which leads to some half-baked explanations and nonsensical actions which only underscores his function as the fall guy. Surreal and Rainier gain pivotal roles as events unfold, but you can already tell how their story arcs are going to play out, and seeds are planted for Daemon as his father's heir. As the longest story in the book it takes a while for things to unfold, and could have used some paring down.
Family (Ten Years Later): While visiting an aristo family in Little Terreille with her two boys, Sylvia is attacked by a mysterious masked warlord. The savagery of the assault alters her life forever as well as bringing the questions of who is this man and what does he want? There's been a spate of missing children in the area, coinciding with several new arrivals in Hell. A masked molester known as No Face is believed responsible, but why does he hold Sylvia responsible for the ruination of his looks?
Seems like Bishop realized things were stagnating and used these two stories to increase the drama and tension. The attack on Sylvia is pretty brutal and drives her into the arms of the High Lord, and they make a decision about their relationship. There's even a very darkly amusing scene involving Tersa as Daemon sets a trap for the man which makes for a classic Anne Bishop moment and helps to save it from being just another soap-opera story.
And finally...**Spoiler Alerts**
The High Lord's Daughter (Spanning the Decades): They'd had seventy years together, seventy glorious years. At the last Winsol they shared she'd made him promise that when her time came he'd take one year to grieve and then move on with his life... and now it's time to do so. Not surprisingly Saetan is resolved to follow the daughter of his soul into the Darkness, and begins the long process of letting himself slip away. In the wake of Saetan's passing Daemon begins to cocoon himself in the mantles of the High Lord of Hell and Warlord Prince of Dhemlan but finds solace and companionship in someone who's always provided it for him- Surreal, who becomes pregnant. The opportunity is too much for Daemon to pass up, and Surreal has her own reasons for agreeing to his marriage proposal. Together they begin the journey of sharing their lives and healing the wounds within their spirits as they raise their daughter, Jaenelle Saetien, whose life seems to fall into a pattern that while different, is eerily familiar.
The title could have a double meaning as there's no subtlety involved here- there's no reason to think it doesn't refer to both Jaenelles. And once things get underway there no mystery to them- there's no way to misinterpret young Jaenelle's constant references to her secret friend that visits her in her dreams. This is one of Bishop's failings- always relying on the lure of the characters and subtleties of life among the Blood to make up for obviousness of the plot. But that's why you keep reading; the characters have ensnared you in a tangled web. Unfortunately the biggest disappointments were the handling of the passing of both Jaenelle and Saetan. Without going into details, both scenes could've deliver an emotional gut punch but whiffed big time.
Twilight's Dawn is slow to pick up speed, gains some momentum and then eases back into tedium. Soap opera dramas aside the plotlines are as nicely woven and layered as we've come to expect. The advantage it has over other anthologies is there's no filler here; every story advances the mythology of the series and resolves many smaller issues and loose ends while still ignoring many others- Jaenelle's family, for one. Overall I liked it because things move forward, but the fact remains that there's no longer any real threats to be faced other than the day-to-day ones and who doesn't have enough of their own? If this is the bookend to the series, all that remains is the story we need to see- Dorothea and Hekatah.