Anne Bishop, Dreams Made Flesh(Roc, 2005)

Anne Bishop, in The Black Jewels Trilogy, created one of those stories that the reader wishes would never end, if only because the characters are real enough and appealing enough that we're not quite through with them when the story is over. This problem is at least party ameliorated with Dreams Made Flesh, a collection consisting of one story (although I tend to think of it as a vignette more than a story) and three novellas centered around the more engaging characters from the trilogy.

The first piece, "Weaver of Dreams," takes place far in the past, as the last of the dragons are preparing to return to the Darkness -- save for one, a female with a talent special even among the dragons. She finds herself trapped in the web of a golden spider, whose descendants become the Weavers of Dreams. Call it a prelude. It's not the strongest piece in the book.

"The Prince of Ebon Rih" takes place between Heir to the Shadows and Queen of the Darkness and tells the story of the unusual courtship between Lucivar Yaslana and his housekeeper, Marian, complicated by the perennially-in-heat Roxie, whom we will remember as the most forward, if not the most advanced, of Luthvien's students, and by Luthvien herself, tangled up in her own dreams of status and high blood and her mixed feelings toward Lucivar, her son.

"Zuulaman" takes place far in Saetan's past: he is still among the living, and Hekatah is pregnant with his third son. She and Dorothea, both of whom seem to have been born scheming, have found a new and particularly grisly way to get at Saetan, using the Queens of the Zuulaman Islands as their pawns. What they learn is that there are limits to how far you can drive the Prince of the Darkness.

Jaenelle's life after Queen of the Darkness is the basis of "Kaeleer's Heart." She no longer wears the Ebon jewels, but a new color, Twilight's Dawn. Daemon, who was her Consort when she formed her court, is still her companion and would be her lover except that he is convinced that she is still so fragile that his touch is enough to leave bruises. The renewal of their relationship is complicated by Roxie and her new sidekick, Lektra, who has it firmly fixed in her mind that, since she is attracted to Daemon, he must be in love with her. She doesn't seem inclined to let reality affect her reasoning at all, until both plotters finally learn the price of crossing a Black-jeweled Warlord Prince.

The stories keep the magic of The Black Jewels, displaying the same strengths and suffering from the same faults. Bishop's habit of overwriting antagonists is especially annoying in "Kaeleer's Heart": we know Lektra's off her rocker the first time we meet her. Repeated illustrations of the fact don't really provide any additional illumination. My favorite piece was "The Prince of Ebon Rih," probably because Lucivar is one of Bishop's most extreme characters and one of her most appealing. The story of his courtship of Marian is both humorous and touching and shows a facet of Lucivar that we suspected might be there but that didn't have room to grow in the trilogy. "Weaver of Dreams" is a fairly insubstantial piece, a nice lead in that provides some welcome backstory for the trilogy, but really nothing more. "Zuulaman" offers a chilling explanation of why Saetan, in spite of his loving nature, is so deeply feared.

One thing I found interesting, albeit tangential to the stories themselves: the mass-market paperback, as is usual these days, includes several pages of praise for The Black Jewels Trilogy and The Invisible Ring, the other books set in this universe. The interesting part is that the quotes come almost equally from Locus and other sources concerned with fantasy and science fiction, and from Affaire de Coeur and sources that focus on romance. I must admit, thinking of Bishop's work in those terms gives an infinitely better odor to the phrase "supernatural romance" than did my last experience with that particular subgenre. I still, however, consider to be fantasy.

All of which is by way of saying, for those familiar with The Black Jewels, this collection is almost required reading; for those who have not yet been introduced to this magical universe, it's a great place to start.

[Robert M. Tilendis]

Anne Bishop's Web site is at Anne Bishop.There is also a useful site that calls itself simply"Lady Angelline's (unofficial) site..." devoted to the places and characters of The Black Jewels.