SPOILER ALERT!

More Of The Same

Shalador's Lady: A Black Jewels Novel Publisher: Roc; Reprint edition - Anne Bishop

The conclusion to the Shadow Queen Duology is much improved over its predecessor. Unlike the first book we actually get a villain to deal with and a focus on the main storyline. Even so, anyone can see through all the mysterious visions and ambiguous warnings to predict what's to come.

This book has all the drama and tension of a daytime soap opera- much like the mighty SaDiablo family and their friends have been reduced to. This is the problem that's existed since the original trilogy- when you're dealing with the most powerful individuals that have ever lived, what can possibly threaten them? Artificial restraints have to be installed to maintain even the faintest possibility of difficulty. It's even pointed out in the story itself: Daemon wants to deal with the antagonist directly but Jaenelle stops him for no other reason than she thinks it would violate their personal sense of honor. Seriously.

Their appearances in the story mostly feels like dropping in on old friends for tea and gossip; there's a few sub-plots thrown in to extend their presence, but some folks completely disappear after their cameos (Surreal and Rainier, especially), leaving you to wonder why they were ever brought in.

Prince Theran turns out to be the most interesting person in the story. Whereas in the previous book he was simply a whiny chump pouting about not getting what he wanted, he actually has a story arc in this one; as forced and paper-thin as it is in places, it does work for the most part. The more dramatic and poignant moments of the story almost always involve him in some fashion.

The antagonist, Kermilla- who also turns out to be the one who broke Cassidy's former court- is weak. For a Queen who studied Protocol around all these legendary figures and was schooled in the Old Ways, she's singularly stupid and one-dimensional. She's exactly like every other bitch queen who's appeared since Jaenelle's purge; since they're not allowed to be outright evil anymore, they're just shallow, vapid, wholly self-centered... and completely boring.

Just when you think Cassidy has it all figured out... she doesn't. Kermilla's arrival naturally throws her for a loop, shaking her confidence. But after three-quarters of the book with most of the Blood siding with her and finally getting her man, you'd think she'd be about past it all- and you'd be wrong. One fit of panic nearly undermines everything; even her Circle is left asking why she's acting like that.

Gray finally comes into his own (surprise!) and claims his lady. Amazing how the prospect of a little nookie can help undo over ten years of stunted development and emotional scarring in less than one year.

The lack of originality in the character's names is also annoying. While expecting some level of continuity, making every major character being a variant of or namesake to the cast of the Invisible Ring made it seem like Bishop wasn't even trying. The Sceltie dogs had better monikers than this crew.

This is no longer the intriguing and compelling storyline it used to be; there's no way it can be. The only real question remaining is when do we get the story we're all waiting for: When Dorothea Met Hekatah. This one gets 3-stars for the visit with old friends and a few interesting moments. Other than that, it is what it is- not much.