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the black jewels trilogy - recent rereading and general vagaries
children of dune - leto 1
Originally, this was goign to be a list of things that annoyed me, but I erased that because I suddenly realized that what I really wanted to do was to randomly wander through my most recent re-reading of The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop.

To preface: this is probably my favorite fantasy series ever. I mean, the flaws are there, and I can cheerfully name them off, but the truth is, I don't really care. The sheer--I don't have the right word? Audacity? Utter insanity?--glee. This writer who said, hmm. So I can do anything, right? Awesome. Let me start with this list of totally random stuff and see what happens.

So below. Points of random pondering, since I finally read the Dreams Made Flesh in June and have re-read them all to the point that I no longer have a copy of Heir to the Darkness. I mean, I do? And it is in pieces gently cradled on my bookshelf. I have read it that many times.

1. Body Count

I love that trilogy so much. I mean, it's fun. It's insane. It's one of those fantasy stories where the author didn't go near a single known convention and just said, huh. I wonder what I can do with cock rings and male sexual battery? Oooh! Fun.


For the life of me, I have yet to understand why some of these people lived. I have yet to work out why in the name of God (or the Darkness), Daemon just didn't kill Dorothea. He killed lots of other people! He killed many Queens. Do not tell me that Mr. I Wear The Biggest Black Jewel Ever and Also a Virgin and Hey My Name is Sadist could not just kill her. She was a Red Priestess! Take him like, five seconds! I read the books. I totally get the unleashing of the Black thing. It's called lots of dead people. That, my friend, would have taken care of that ring of obedience and you know, maybe saved us all a lot of stress at the end of Book 3. And hell, quite a bit of Book 1 as well. And that entire extraordinary vivid castration scene that I could live without remembering. And God, that thing with Lucivar and that chick and the safframante and the God, I still wince when I read that so many kinds of ouch.

Same for Lucivar. They both talk about OMGALLTHEEVILPEOPLETHEYKILLED except you know, the ones that really needed to die. Hekatah. Why. Not. Dead. God. Dorothea, mentioned. Prythian. Jesus God in heaven, Luthvian, who I spent all of Book 2 and 3 (and every second of the Marian and Lucivar romance in the short stories) wanting to die. I mean, I'm just saying--the High Lord of Hell should not make idle threats. And that's all he did! All through it! I WILL SEND YOU TO HELL ALIVE. NO, WAIT. I WILL STRIP YOU OF YOUR JEWELS! NO, WAIT. I WILL LOOK AT YOU STERNLY. Argh.

And just--okay. Luthvian peeved me most. At least Dorothea et al had a plot function of Horrific Evil and Bane. Luthvian was just there to make me stare at her and think, please die. Please stop talking. Please fall into a ditch. And die.

Then Hekatah did and perhaps that was the only time I ever really liked her.

I have issues with that. I just think if you are going to have Amazing Cosmic Powers, you damn well better use them once in a while. Look at Jaenelle! You people could take lessons from her. She said, I will kill them all. And then she did.


(Randomly: they really did make things a lot more complicated than they needed to be, considering they don't actually have laws against murder. Rape, yes, but murder? A-okay. A lot of their weirdness works if there were strong social stigmas on killing, but since there weren't? It felt weird.)

2.) Briarwood

One of the few times that you will ever hear me argue on teh rightness of a Mary Sue is this trilogy and Jaenelle. If you are going to be dreams made flesh created by the dreams of a lot lot lot of people (and animals), you had damn well better be not only cosmically powered but super awesome all around. I think my biggest disappointment with her was the fact she didn't waltz into the Dark Council men and wipe their asses out.


However, the Briarwood storyline bothered me. Not the place or the concept--but the fact that they were breaking witches regularly and no one noticed. Not just lowborn witches, but highborn ones as well. Through all the books, it's made clear you can tell when a witch is broken. So I am completely and utterly bewildered that for however-many-years, highborn girls went there, got broken, stripped of their jeweled power, and no one noticed or you know, went huh. So my sister got sent there and she came back doing basic Craft, but there's no connection, let me send my daughter.

It's this massive disconnect even in the society as it was presented to us; almost an active sense of denial. I almost had this feeling that all these women knew, knew, watched it happen, and kept thinking that if they just denied it, then saying it wasn't true made it true.

I still struggle with that one. I guess it could be seen as a symptom of how their society had fallen apart, but it felt like too much.

3. Alexandra, Queen of Chaillot

I've been trying to classify her for a while and I almost want to call her the Anti-Sue, in which everything she says and does is wrong. Which is an interesting balance.

Actually, she got on my nerves in a differnet way, mostly because I couldn't understand her jumps of logic, but in a way I liked because it was very consistent. Her constant reinteration of how she Could Not Sleep With Phillip Because He Loved Her Daughter and She Could Not Do Such a Thing felt like her mantra of Good and the thing I noticed most (two or three times! Jeez. We get it. You do not nail Phillip. Yay you). But it was more than that--it was a really creepy sense of non-responsibility. Everyone was to blame but her. She did everything right and if that is an absolute truth, everyone else is not only wrong, but they're actively against her.

It makes a weird sort of sense why she would start sending Jaenelle off to Briarwood so young; it wasn't social embarrassment or thinking the girl was ill, though she told herself that. Jaenelle must have been hideously uncomfortable, a living, breathing, watching, and completely unconscious refutation of Alexandra's belief in her own rightness. Jaenelle wasn't her reflection, like Leland and Phillip.

Which is part of the reason I didn't blame Leland and Phillip all that much; while they fucked up, they actually did occassionally go to the place of saying, huh, maybe I did something wrong. But they didn't fight Alexandra that hard, which made a weird kind of sense; Daemon and Lucivar and some of the others got somewhat warped, but they had a solid sense of something better basing them, an inner bedrock, if you will. I never felt that even when they did something wrong, they thought of it as anything but a betrayal of that sense of right. That's something that neither Leland or Phillip ever had. They had a landscape of Alexandraness as their base (kind of like, in the words of a QAF fanfic writer speaking of an entirely differnet, yet at this point strangely related topic, navigating by clouds; it's insane and you know it, but that's all you have and it's not like anyone gave you a compass and a map), and a vague sense of disquiet--this is not right--but no ability to figure out what right is. It was kind of horrific in a way; a person could do that, create that in her own family a dissonance that powerful.

(Interesting point: Wilhelmina escaped it. I think Jaenelle had something to do with that, gave her the bedrock to know the difference between right and wrong. She just couldn't do anything about it except at the most subtle level, but she really did do a lot to protect Jaenelle, more than her age and her position could really have expected of her. Which I bet is another reason Alexandra wanted to get rid of Jaenelle--she stole Alexandra's reflection in Wilhelmina.)

It's almost a worse evil that what Dorothea did both to the Blood and to her son; Dorothea never pretended she was doing right. She was just evil and spread it. Dorothea was a celebration of immorality, of working against good, of a classic dark/light struggle--ooh. Entropy? I think that's the concept I'm searching for. Chaos. Alexandra was something more insidious and more terrifying, something that treds close to amorality - I say this is right, and therefore it is. She wasn't saying, go out and do evil because you can; she was saying, this evil is right. And evil is that which opposes what I think is right.

4. Sexuality in the Realms

Things I always really wondered. Mostly because the author tended to throw it in so casually that I wasn't sure if she meant what she wrote. Which may say a lot about the fantasy genre in general.

1.) Saetan and Andulvar. I still wonder if they had a sexual relationship. Lucivar in Book 1 confirmed that Eyrien hunting parties had sexual relations with each other. I'm still curious about that. And by curious, I mean--okay, honestly. Who does not want to know if Lucivar and Falonar ever had a really passionate night after taking out some jhinkas? Come on.

2.) Daemon attempted to seduce Lucivar--and by attempted, I mean, would have succeeded if he hadn't chosen to back off. Lucivar did have sex with other men. Daemon's performance with Ranier in Dreams Made Flesh shows he was familiar both with seducing other men and the lack of stigma attached to it. He worried that Jaenelle would be horrified, but I tended to read that as due to Jaenelle having serious sexual issues, one, and two, the entire thing with male fidelity rather than any kind of social stigma. Especially since Ranier was introduced as gay and was in Jaenelle's Second Circle and had no problem inviting Daemon to dance in public.

3.) Honestly, I have to put Saetan and Daemon in their own strange, strange category. Their behavior with each other, their friends, their family, their blood relatives, dead people, random furniture--it's one of those rare time I kept having to go back and read again, because I did not just read Daemon licking his father's neck. No, I did.

4.) Karla was confirmed either a lesbian or asexual; from the wording, I think lesbian, because the emphasis was put on interest in males, not on disinterest in sex. I'd noticed in Book 2 and Book 3 that she was the only featured coven member who didn't have a consort. Which actually doesn't mean much in itself; Dreams Made Flesh did a surprising amount of work in confirming a lot of the subtext in the books without making it glaringly obvious.

Hmm. I don't know. I think I'm used to writers either completely sidestepping the issue (aka Anne McCaffrey's really bewildering way of going about it by not explaining a damn thing for freaking ever) or Mercedes Lackey, who throws out entire series, or the authors who token-place it in.

It didn't feel token; it felt more like there are some chapters I'm missing. It's very odd.

5. Rut, The Weird Biological Imperative.

I really got vaguely freaked out by Rut. Now, this is one of those things that seems to be only in Dreams Made Flesh; unlike Zuulaman, which was foreshadowed by a conversation in Book 1 between Daemon and Dorothea (and hey, nice work there, Ms Bishop. Subtle but memorable), the first three books didn't have any of that. We knew Warlord Princes are, you know, insane. But are supposed to be and this is a good thing. And okay, so their biological imperative is to protect and serve. Awesome.

Then you have Rut. Which is explained in a way that makes their normal insanity very sane, and crazy, and right, with added amnesia. Saetan's nervousness, Lucivar's terror, and Marian's mental litany of all the many horrors that result from it--this is like Pon Farr with a sexual casualty rate.

(Randomly: The entire mini-novella of Marian and Lucivar managed to have more sex than all three of the other books put together. I still can't get over that. It was almost like reading fanfic. Good fanfic. By someone I really, really like.)

So--what was the point of Rut? It's not sexual bonding, because they don't mention sexual bonding at all. I don't see what it's supposed to do, other than give drama (which I am A-Okay with) and provide us all finally with sex that does not involve maiming (though it could is my point). And most of that world has some kind of--something to base it. I really did think they were going the "this is how a Warlord Prince gets his woman; lots and lots of bonding sex!" It's dangerous to the women they have sex with, which is 180 from what their stated function for three books was supposed to be, and I just--can't. Figure it out.

They go totally violently insane and fuck in a way that can lead to maiming or death. And I don't know how that fits with the mythos she created.

And I rambled long enough. *blows out breath*

Still my favorite books. *happy*

ETA: Tangled Webs comes out in March 2008! Available for pre-order from Amazon! AND THERE IS NO FREAKING TEASER ON WHAT IT IS ABOUT. I AM GOING TO HAVE A BREAKDOWN.

Er. Carry on.

Ok, so TBJ is one of my favorite series ever. If you have the opportunity to read The Invisible Ring, do it. Doitdoitdoitdoitdoit. You will not regret it, I think. But it talks a little more about the rut, too.
Re: Briarwood
There is an apartment complex about 3/4 of a mile from mine named Briarwood. I have read the books so many times that I get cold chills every time I see the sign.
Also Re:Briarwood
I think it also shows how far Dorothea's poison has spread: to the parents who are willing to sell their daughters, the men willing to use them and break them, the women seeing stronger witches as threats (to their power, their position, their lives), to the ones willing to ignore the breaking. The lowborn girls would have been taken, but the aristos would have been the girls like Jaenelle, I think--the ones who interfered in the plans of the matriarchs, who just made the family uncomfortable, who didn't fit well enough to be loved. Saying that a girl was "ill" and had spent time in the hospital would be an excuse to disguise the fact that they'd been broken. And in a family like Alexandra's, you wouldn't mention that the witch was broken, because Alexandra would say that she wasn't. (Especially because Alexandra was never willing to acknowledge the fact that Jaenelle wore the Jewels at all, let alone the Jewels she wore.)

Ooh. Okay, I hadn't thought of it like that, but if the corruptive influence had spread to the point where the matriarchs/female heads of house saw their own children/girls in their care as enemies....wow.

Oooh. Good one. Thank you for that. I'd been trying to work that out for a while, because how could they *not notice* a generation of broken girls?

I have not even read your post yet, but:

Eeeeeee Black Jewels Trilogy FTW. !!!

Love, love love it.

Re: I have not even read your post yet, but:


aahaahaa omg. COCK RINGS. COCK RINGS.

…that is all I have to say on that topic.

*grins* The novels single-handedly did what the kinkiest slash did not and introduced those words into my daily vocabulary. Made of win.

I just finished reading the trilogy for the first time...

not my normal cup of tea, and I have numerous issues with the books (not to harsh squee-- to each their own), but I was strangely entertained. Anyhoo...

"It's this massive disconnect even in the society as it was presented to us; almost an active sense of denial. I almost had this feeling that all these women knew, knew, watched it happen, and kept thinking that if they just denied it, then saying it wasn't true made it true."

I read this as a reflection of something that really happens in cases of sexual abuse-- people who *know*, absolutely know that it's happening deny it, becuase they do not want to face it. So they say the child must be making up stories, or disturbed, or all of the other things people said Jaenelle was. I'm not sure if the Briarwood storyline in particular was too much or not-- so much of what happens in the books is pretty out-there. I almost found it harder to believe that any kind of order remained in Terielle if the only leaders who were allowed to survive were the ones who were hopelessly corrupt/deranged/sadistic. I mean, how does your government and economy survive if all you care about is sexually tormenting people?

Re sexuality in this universe: Something that puzzled me in "Queen of the Darkness" (and perhaps this is addressed in something I haven't read?) was this-- Okay, Daemon is "the Sadist" and whatnot. After a thousand or so years of being that, how compatable are his tastes really going to be with Jaenelle's, particularly since she has her own issues? I get that he's different with people he actually cares about, but I'm kind of skeptical.


Re: I just finished reading the trilogy for the first time...

I read this as a reflection of something that really happens in cases of sexual abuse-- people who *know*, absolutely know that it's happening deny it, becuase they do not want to face it.

*shocked* I can't believe that didn't occur to me. Wow. Okay. Yes. Yes. Brilliant. I didn't really think to connect it to that either. That's--wow. Yes. I need to read them again from that pov.

Okay, Daemon is "the Sadist" and whatnot. After a thousand or so years of being that, how compatable are his tastes really going to be with Jaenelle's, particularly since she has her own issues? I get that he's different with people he actually cares about, but I'm kind of skeptical.

Though it wasn't explicitly stated like it was with both Lucivar and Jaenelle, it was heavily implied that Daemon not only *didn't* get sexually excited when he was a pleasure slave, he hated sex itself. To me--and this is just my reading, so a ymmv--everything he did was the equivalent of a trained skill, on the order of heck, gardening.

Lucivar stated it outright--and so did Saetan about Lucivar and implied about Daemon--that he didn't like sex at all for himself; his interest, outside the rut, was the idea of being able to find someone he loved that he would *want* to please; I got the feeling that Daemon was the same way.

I have no idea if that makes sense, since Daemon's experience in sex is actually fairly limited--oral pleasure on women (explicitly stated) and perhaps sex with men (implied), but he himself never was aroused by the acts, but instead only by the woman. Which is kind of intersting when you compare to the classic romance where the heroine is often (removing the pleasure slave issue) enjoying sex only with that Special Person.

Again, ymmv on that one. The way that was set up was very--complicated.

I love these books. They're like cozy, angsty, sexy fanfic written by an author with a talent for making world-building interesting and engaging. Giving social mores a biological imperative, the interplay between jewelled status, caste status, and social standing . . . It just makes me happy.

Briarwood-wise, I always read it as something that was . . . deliberately ignored? Like Alexandra's selective blindness, the idea that Dorothea's influence had spread wide enough that high born girls who didn't fit the scared/weak category were shuffled out of the way, and no one particularly cared where, especially if they were broken but could still carry at least one child to make them valuable as marriage-property. Less that no one knew about it, and more that no one wanted to know.

As for the Rut, it fits into the checks and balances part of the mythos imho - the idea that the female anchors the dangerous side of the warrior prince, providing him with an outlet for that violence in a non-violent (ideally) way. Have you read the Invisible Ring? there's another mention of it there, and it seems like gentleness and having that anchor/balance from the female is the key to it not exploding into rage and territoriality. The Marion situation seemed to be less than ideal timing -g-

I hover between thinking way too much about this and just wanting super-hot Daemon/Lucivar slash. And I like her new series, too - Belladonna, set in an entirely new world with some even more interesting background.

Also, based on the cover of Tangled Webs, I'm guessing it's about Surreal. Which is good, because Surreal totally deserves her own story . . .

Let me just get the nervous breakdown over figuring out where to start and I'll get back to you.


Okay, good. I think a lot of #1 and #2 had everything to do with the nature of being our own worst enemies. Of seeing what we want to see (Briarwood) and allowing someone to control our lives. Daemon could have killed Dorothea, but he'd developed a slave mentality and despite the ease with which he could have accomplished it, he was still, deep down, scared to. For Lucivar, if *Daemon* couldn't do it... So yeah. Mental and physical abuse, obviously, but with all the psychological implications was always how it read to me.

#3. Yes. Just, yes. I both loved and hated the way Alexandra ultimately never *got it*. It was incredibly frustrating but felt very, very realistic. If she acknowledged it, Alexandra would have to acknowledge that her whole reality that she lived by was quite possibly *wrong* and that scared her far more than anything else.

#4. Daemon takes batshit insane to a whole new level at times, but he's lovable that way. It balances out Janelle's insanities nicely. As they say, the ties of blood and court. Sex is Daemon's weapon, the most familiar use of his power, and living with Saetan is... confusing. To say the least. Hell, just being around *Lucivar* is confusing enough because Daemon doesn't really understand any kind of relationship other than sex = power. Considering the way they fight and challenge each other, it's amazing they *don't* try to dominate each other sexually.

The whole series, I loved how she flipped the usual power structure in ways that were not so much stereotypical, but realistic. The knifes edge between desire/sex and rape/molestation. Good and evil determined not by impulses but the extent of acting on them, by intent.

Tangled Webs?! There is a new book coming out?!

Look at Jaenelle! You people could take lessons from her. She said, I will kill them all. And then she did.

/lol - so *so* true. But the end there? With the torture and the the - urgh. Still can't read it. I read it through twice and that's enough, so now whenever I read through the triology I stop about half-way through Queen then pick up the last chapter.

Still haven't read Dreams, mainly because my old roomate loved the series (more than I did, honestly) but hated that last short-story book. So I've never gotten around to it. Have you read her new Sebastian/forget-the-next-name duology? I keep poking at it in the bookstore but haven't read it yet.

New book though: huh. Realllllly curious what this is about. And no teaser? wtf?!

Hi raiining!

I really adore Dreams Made Flesh. Also, the Sebastian/Belladonna duology is good, though I liked Sebastian a million times more than Belladonna. YMMV.

ZOMG thanks for bringing this up!!! I love this series so, so much (and the other trilogy she's written, too, awesome in different ways, although I haven't read the most recent two books yet because I'm cheap and need them to be in paperback) but I've never really *discussed* it with anyone so I feel like sometimes I've missed things. Reading your points and the responses is most interesting.

I haven't re-read it recently so I can't say much in response but I do remember that I thought Karla was a lesbian for sure when I was reading it. I missed the comment about the hunting camps, though.

Now I want to go read the books again and have discussion groups and whatnot. Maybe there are some on LJ.

Hh. My. Gods. YES. About Luthvian. I am in complete and utter agreeance about how she had no function other than to exist to solely piss me off.

Re: Briarwood - I agree with what someone above ^ said about how people who *know*, absolutely know that it's happening deny it, because they do not want to face it.

Alexandra was an awsomely horrible characters. She was written so perfectly... bad. And yeah, she stayed constant THANK GODS. I was slightly paranoid that AB would suddenly go and then she realised her granddaughter was Witch and they all lived happily ever after. But no, she stayed evil and bitchy and I hated her. ^__^

And mmm sex, so much sex, lots of sex, between hot people, YAY!

Honestly, I have to put Saetan and Daemon in their own strange, strange category. Their behavior with each other, their friends, their family, their blood relatives, dead people, random furniture

Um, also [and I'm going to feel really stupid if I first read this fic after seeing the link on your LJ before or something] - have you read To Serve A Queen cos I only found out about the Dark Jewels Trilogy after reading that.

It's been a couple of years since I've read the series, even though it's sitting right there on my bookshelf. Now I'm all primed to read it again. *grin* Thanks for the reminder.

Dunno what it says about me, but what sticks in my mind the most is "Briarwood is the pretty poison", and the board eating whatsherface's leg. Creeped me the fuck out. *shiver*

I hadn't even heard about "Dreams Made Flesh"; I wonder if my library has that. And a new book, too? Excellent.

Dunno what it says about me, but what sticks in my mind the most is "Briarwood is the pretty poison"
I dunno what it says about you, but it says the same thing about me, so there you go, for what it's worth. (I again reference the fact that there's a Briarwood not 3/4 of a mile from where I live. Seriously, chills when I think of it.)

two years ago my bff and i had this convo:

bff: you need to read these, my child.
me: NO. they look retarded.
bff: three words! magical. cock. rings.
me: ... really.

now i need to look for my copies. :( THANKS, JENN, YOU JERK.


I'm seriously considering getting a coutn on how many people plan to read Threads when it comes out and have a Day of Squee for it. *thoughtful*

Well, here's the stuff about it on Anne Bishop's official site:


Looks very very good!!

THANK YOU! I read the summary and tried not to squee.

Damn I love this series, and now I'm very sad that I've lost my extra userpics and can't use my Daemon icon cuz it's HOT.

Also: good post! Although I don't remember Lucivar talking about the Eyrians having sex in camp with each other...but Lucivar/Falonar is a lovely thought. Mmmm.

I wibble between assuming Saetan and Co. are totally gay for each other and thinking that it's just a further reversal of roles. I.E., in most fiction it might not be abnormal for women to give each other massages or hugs or warm cups of tea for comfort, so here Anne Bishop is turning that on its head.

Or something? It sounds really dumb when I try to type it out. Hm.

But gay for each other -- and not really surprising, since they've been living together for tens of thousands of years -- works too.


Book One, Daemon and Lucivar at Cornelia's court, they're outside, Daemon is doing that seduction thing and asks Lucivar if he wanted him, and Luciver said he had enough of that at the Eyrian hunting camps.

...in my defense, I was re-reading this weekend becuase I was sick. *G* But I did always wonder if that would go anywhere.

Sent by raiining and, OMFG, I thought I was the only one who loved these books like this!

Oh, and I've worn out all three of my books and brought new copies but I still have the originals because they're my babies!

Seriously, BJT are the only books I've ever read that can mindfuck you horribly and make sweet Marvin Gaye love to your brain all at the same time!

Honestly, I have to put Saetan and Daemon in their own strange, strange category. Their behavior with each other, their friends, their family, their blood relatives, dead people, random furniture

Oh, and, um, I was slashing Wilhelmina/Karla since the second book, *facepalm*

How bad a shipper am I? And how much did I almost piss myself in glee when AB essentially outed her as the coolest lesbian evah!

Godfuckingdammit, I need a Wilhelmina/Karla icon!

Ahem, because I'm here for a reason and, first off, sometimes I really want to smack Jaenelle because, omfg, you're comparing a few twisted years to Daemon's thousand+ years of sexual torture?! I mean, I like her and all and she's cool and creepy but, um, godfuckingdammit, Jaenelle, do something other than snarl or cry or say something in weird tones!

*insert CAPSLOCK hysteria here*

1 - I saw it as a sign of just how completely damaged Daemon was by the last, oh, thousand or so years of sexual torture. On one hand, yes, he could kill her, but could he ensure he could save Lucivar before Prythian got to him? And, even if he could, what would happen next? What if he found himself at the mercy of someone, God forbid, worse than Dorothea?

Would he be able to survive that?

Oh, Saetan, I love you and your badass impotency!

Yeah, um, I didn't buy the Rut thing either - I was just kind of: 0_o?

I wanted to thank you. Read your post when I was on assignment in Georgia and happened to stop at a Barnes and Noble and picked up the first book.

Now, normally, I do not read a lot of fantasy, because I have never been really into all the political stuff surrounding kings and courts and who is what and what the rankings are... yada.

HOWEVER, I read your post and said "sexual deviance? So there!" and got totally hooked. I was amazed at how easy the jewel rank system stayed with me. I normally can't remember that stuff for crap but there was a point when someone of a lesser jewel was after Surreal and I was all "bitch, please! She will fuck you shit up!" Hee.

I agree with all of your points and look forward to re-reading everything- after I get the books back. I loaned them out to other newbies to the series. :)

So, yeah. Thank you for the post. Anything else you'd recommend to a fantasy novel newbie?