I wouldn't recommend this series to anyone who didn't like the trilogy, and it's not even essential for those who did, but as I have a strange liking for the world, I actually enjoyed it despite multiple spork-worthy points. For anyone interested, these are the same spork-worthy points that are there in the entire trilogy, if you want to use that as some sort of litmus test.
Spoilers for the Black Jewels trilogy
The stories consist of a short introductory story about the Weaver of Dreams, a novella on Lucivar and Marian's romance, a story on Saetan's past, and a sort of epilogue to the series on Jaenelle's recovery and Twilight's Dawn.
I have to admit, I was happy to get an explanation of Twilight's Dawn and a continuation of the Jaenelle/Daemon romance, but I still think that the trilogy ended at the correct place. The Saetan story was all right, and I had fun with the Lucivar and Marian romance, despite the many stupid yenta and anti-yenta moments.
And now, I feel I must explain why I still like this trilogy, despite its many (MANY) flaws, as I have just confessed to not liking Bujold prior to this and everyone probably thinks I am insane.
Probably for a very good reason...
None of Bishop's other books have worked for me, and by "didn't work for me," I mean that I guffawed at inappropriate moments, nearly chucked the books against a wall, and/or rolled my eyes at every other sentence.
The latest one I attempted, Sebastian, had me rolling around on the floor laughing because a piece of territory many of the incubi and succubi lived in was called the "Den of Iniquity."
Also, one restaurant in the Den of Iniquity served Penile Delights (penis-shaped breadsticks, probably with a side of creamy white sauce, no I swear I am not making this up!). The hero, an incubus who longs for love, manages to find a woman who only wants to be loved. As she is innocent and frightened and an orphan whom even the gypsies abandon to a cruel family who treats her like Cinderella, he calls her "rabbit" as a nickname, which I happen to find distinctly unsexy.
And then he takes her to aforementioned restaurant and has the owner cut the penis-shaped breadsticks into pieces so as to not frighten his poor, delicate rabbit's sensibilities. And then, while aforementioned innocent and frightened woman is eating the dismembered penis-shaped breadsticks, Sebastian (aforementioned incubus hero) grows increasingly aroused by the shape of her mouth around breadsticks (dismembered), and this may just be where I nearly fell off the bed because I was laughing so much.
Sadly, I suspect this was not because Sebastian had some sort of odd, masochistic dismemberment kink.
The final touch was aforementioned innocent and frightened woman dressing up in a catsuit and realizing her own sexual power (as signalled by a strut and actually meeting people's eyes, as all moments of taking control over your sexual power are). Sebastian, now confused by his animal metaphors, decides that she is like a tiger. Except when she is like a rabbit. Or maybe she is.... a rabbit-tiger!
I SWEAR I am not making this up!
The thing is, the Black Jewels trilogy is just as cracktastic as this, if not more so, but the crack for Black Jewels actually works for me. I suspect this is because in the Black Jewels trilogy, Bishop has written directly from her id, and everything is so over the top and insane and cracktastic that it works its own strange magic on me. I mean... there are gender issues like no other and characters who are either Good or Bad as exemplified by sexual perversions or the lack thereof and unicorns and magical cock rings and Capital Letters and Colored Jewels and the Mary Sue to end all Mary Sues and not just one, but THREE, devilish sexy alpha bastards and the most abused people ever (who also happen to be the most powerful people ever). And yet.
It works for me.
I don't think it is good. I don't even think it is Yuki-Kaori-cracktastically good. But I cannot help loving the insanity. I mean: her Mary Sue character (Jaenelle) is literally a Mary Sue! As in, she is dreamed into being by generations of dreamers who want her to be the bestest and strongest and most powerful. So she is. And not only is she the strongest bestest most powerful person ever, she is so strong and best and powerful that she has an entire new category of powerfulness created just for her! (the Ebon jewel, for anyone wondering) And she isn't just a poor widdle thing, like all Mary Sues are. No, no! She is so misunderstood that she is shuttled off for mental treatment in a place where pedophiles abuse and rape children!
And the society is the codification of all romance novel tropes if said tropes were biological imperatives -- the men are biologically compelled to serve and protect the women, and the Warlord Princes are biologically compelled to be alpha bastards with periods of rut and uncontrollable killing rages only to be harnassed by the women they love.
The women are biologically compelled to be the leaders of society and Virgin Night is not just psychologically frightening and fraught, as it is in romance novels. No, no. In this trilogy, a bad sexual experience on Virgin Night can actually break a woman's witchy power!
And you know how romance novels have that tradition of comparing romance novel heroes to Satan or the devil? In this one, the three main male characters are named Saetan, Lucivar and Daemon. Yes! And there is a race of people with wings (Lucivar has wings)! Like... wingfic! This is wingfic, except, not fic! And Saetan and Daemon and Lucivar are all so evil and so wicked and so uncontrollable that they don't just go off with sarcastic remarks, they get pissed off and leave bloodbaths in their wake.
It's just.. I can't get over how the entire trilogy is romance novels rules made into worldbuilding and how insane it is. I suspect Bishop's other series don't work because she only unleashes parts of her id; really, if you're going to have Penile Delights as a snack in your world, you may as well go all the way and go waaaaay over the top.
- laurenpburka's review of Sebastian (spoilery)