Plain, non-aristo Cassidy was given one year to restore Dena Nehele, a Territory that had been ruled by twisted Queens for centuries. Their reign of terror is finally at an end, but the scars remain, on the land and on the people. In The Shadow Queen, she created a Court to help her rule and began the hard road to recovering Dena Nehele.
Just as her Court is settling down to work at demonstrating that they intend to restore honor and fair dealing to the Territory, Cassidy's old nemesis returns. Kermilla is pretty, aristocratic, and wields more powerful magic than Cassidy. Years before, she stole Cassidy's old Court and Territory from her. Now, she seems poised to do so again. And the visions of the Black Widows say that if Kermilla takes power, Dena Nehele will be plunged into war once more.
But of course she's not going to get power. Kermilla is pretty, but Cassidy is bffs with the HIGH LORD OF HELL, the Sadist, Luciver, and last but not least, the freaking LIVING MYTH of WITCH. Plus, her quiet honesty and kindness charm everyone around her, and every other page details how much all the other Warlords and Warlord Princes around her think she is just so wonderful. Kermilla, meanwhile, spends her days spending huge amounts of money, stealing from everyone, getting drunk, and making catty comments. Oh, and making sexy pout lips at men. That's seriously her biggest weapon--pouty lips. Even if I didn't know from the start that Kermilla would lose, because she is The Villain and Cassidy is The Heroine and this is an Anne Bishop novel, the fact that every single page
talks about how no one likes Kermilla and everyone yearns to serve Cassidy might give me a clue. I have no idea why the Black Widows kept seeing these terrible visions, and I never had a single moment's fear for a single character.
The one thing I will say for the plot is that, in the Black Jewels trilogy, every single character was The Most Powerful Magic-user Ever, to the extent that Bishop had to start inventing more words for black just to come up with ways people could have darker jewels. Cassidy and Kermilla both have Light jewels, and so instead of the usual magic ex machinas we see two women struggling for power using political intriguing, legal documents and policy decisions. And Bishop deals a little with the effects of living in a constant warzone, where one's culture is outlawed. In a ham-handed sort of way, of course, but I'm still glad she's slowly showing recognition that her main characters aren't the only ones to have suffered great and terrible traumas. (Speaking of which, less rape in this book! In point of fact, very little talk of sexual violence at all, and no child rape! I think this is the least in a single book she's ever managed. Well done, Bishop!)
This is not a good book. The dialog is stilted and unnatural, the Sceltie (magical talking dogs, oh yes you heard me right) are deeply annoying, the characters are each and every one of them idiots, and unlike the Black Jewels trilogy, there's no undercurrent of darkness and passion. And yet, I tore through this book in a single afternoon, forgoing all other books I got out of the library.