Jared, who has murdered his owner and attempted escape, is recaptured and sold to the mysterious Gray Lady. It soon becomes clear that Jared's new queen is not what she seems to be, and he joins with his fellow slaves--all of whom hide their own secrets--to protect the Gray Lady. During her desperate flight from Dorothea SaDiablo, the Black Widow intent on destroying her and claiming her territory, Jared comes to terms with his own demons and discovers what it means to be truly bonded to a queen.
Having loved Anne Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy and Dreams Made Flesh, I naturally bought this book, set in the same universe. All the same, it's taken me a while to start reading it, partly to save up the pleasure and partly because I wasn't sure it would live up to the other Bishop books.
As the book began, I was afraid that it was the latter that was going to prove to be true. A good part of the beginning of the book is spent on Jared reflecting on his bad judgement, bad treamtment and probably terrible future. He's too busy being bitter and narrow minded to actually open his eyes and figure out what is really going on.
Fortunately, once we get past that, the story really takes off. This tale is set in the past relative to the main Black Jewels trilogy (and indeed, there is a brief nod to Jared in Queen of the Darkness, as Jaenelle's solution to her problem is in part pased on Lia's solution to the problem posed in this book). At this time Dorothea SaDiablo is still trying to gain influence over all of Terielle and she is shown as both ruthless and very dangerous, in a more active way than we saw in the other books, where she has already accomplished her goal and is resting on her laurels, so to speak. I found Dorothea to be a much more disturbing character in The Invisible Ring than in the Black Jewels trilogy, where she was a more complacent kind of evil.
I do like the world Bishop has created here and once again we are given the contrast between the corruption of the ways of the Blood that is being created by Dorothea and those who follow her, compared to those who keep the true ways and with it, balance and peace. The Gray Lady is a true Queen, keeping her territory under her protection and the balance of honor, power and love between her and the members of her court is maintained, much as Dorothea is trying to destroy it. She has raised Lia to be the same, and this is part of what drives Jared so crazy when he discovers Lia's deception.
Jared, despite his insistence that he's just a slave with no honour, is nothing of the kind, and as his true instincts reawaken after nine years of mistreatment, he does find himself battling himself more than Dorothea's schemes as he tries to find a proper balance within himself. He is the main protagonist of this book and the growth story is about him - as much as Lia is a lovely character, she doesn't change much beyond the normal developments time requires of us all. It is Jared who must battle his demons and Lia offers the support of a true queen and a caring woman that allows him to do this.
I couldn't decide if I found Jared's deliberate blindness to his own honour (and later, ability to love Lia) to be annoying or endearing, but I left the book in all charity with him, so I guess it was an amount of annoyance appropriate to the behaviour more than anything else. I did like the ending - that no magic hand waving could fix everything about him all at once and that he still had some work to do before he could change the silver invisible ring for gold.
I liked the metaphor of the title as well, although again, I think it took Jared a bit too long to figure it our considering that he wasn't really all that stupid. And it was great to see Daemon again (or, techically, previously) and to see his character as he endured his life while waiting for Janelle. The scene where Jared realises Daemon does love someone and Daemon agrees, but states that it is with a queen who has been promised but isn't yet born, was poignant and beautiful, made more so I think for having already read Daemon and Janelle's story.
So after a rocky start, this developed into a very satisfying story, told with Bishop's usual talent. I like Jared a lot - but I admit I still like Daemon and Jaenelle better. Sorry, Jared.
The Invisible Ring