Jaenelle IS In Fact a Mary Sue (and I’m Okay With That)

Last year I posted an old live journal entry on why Jame (from P.C. Hodgell’s Kencyr novels) was not a Mary Sue. This post is about how Jaenelle Angeline from Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels is in fact a very literal Mary Sue, but not for the usual reasons, though they certainly play a part. The Black Jewels Trilogy (which is now a series/universe since the first three books have expanded into several sequels of varying quality) is a slightly over the top, slightly purple fantasy adventure romance that takes the usual “Dark=evil, Good=light” duality and flips it around upside down and backward. “Dark” within the terminology of the series is equated with “powerful” and “Light” is equated with “less powerful,” not with good and evil.

The basic plot runs something along the lines of this: A very ambitious and extremely unpleasant woman decides she wants to Conquer the World. To do this she has turned her country into an imperialistic juggernaut that has been slowly eating other countries for breakfast lunch and dinner for the past several thousand years. Since she always manages to stay just on one side of international (or the nearest analog) law, and because there hasn’t been any opposing power strong enough to create an alliance against her (or so I assume) she has had her way for a very, very long time.

As is often the case with evil over lords (or ladies) there is a prophecy of a sort. The traditional mad prophetess predicts that “Witch,” a sort of avatar/paragon of the Blood is coming and will “destroy the Blood or save it.” (You know the usual thing avatars and Chosen Ones are there for.) Certain persons who become very important later in the story greet this news with great delight. Of course, they have to wait a few more hundred years until she shows up.

When she does make an appearance, her life is royally screwed over because Witch is “dreams made flesh.” Jaenelle is a literal Mary Sue because she is canonically the invention of just about everyone’s collective imagination. Since the world has pretty much sucked for everyone for the past several thousand years…

So using the same traits I used for Jame, here’s why Jaenelle IS in fact a Mary Sue (and why I’m okay with it).

–Amnesia.

Due to the extremely traumatic ending of Daughter of the Blood Jaenelle is comatose through a good chunk of Heir to the Shadows. When she does finally wake up, she has partial amnesia mostly related to the events that led up to her ending up in a coma. The amnesia is more or less understandable, though a little clichéd in its handling.

–A mysterious and dark past.

Jaenelle’s past is more or less mysterious only to the people who she would periodically wander off to meet when she heard them “calling” to her as a child. The “dark” part of her past involves her being sent to a institution from the time she was five because of what her family interpreted as an over active, delusional imagination. (Said institution turns out to be a front for a club of aristocrats who enjoy abusing and raping children, and Jaenelle’s father is one of the members.)

–A super special destiny.

Jaenelle’s super-special destiny is tied to her being Witch. And being the only person with a big enough rock to squish the bad guys with. Like many other heroes who have been stuck with the job of being The Only One Who Can Defeat The Evil, she would much rather be doing something else. (What makes her interesting is that she is possibly one of the very few heroes of this type who eventually gets what she wants, more or less.)

–Mysterious super special powers.

A major plot point in this series, Jaenelle has extreme god-mode level powers that often turn around and bite her in the ass, since they also put her in danger of losing her mind, for various reasons. The first reason is that her “Birthright” Jewels are very dark to begin with, which means she has been very, very powerful from the time she was a little girl. You are not going to get a normal person out of a small child with Anthony level powers. The second reason is that her powers are apparently at such a low frequency (remember that “low” corresponds to “powerful”) that no one in her family is aware that she is actually extremely powerful. They also find it impossible to believe that she’s telling the truth when she talks about all the neat people she’s met in the Shadow Realm and the unicorns and other forest creatures she’s made friends with. The third reason is that most of her family is either extremely stupid or evil. (Or both.)

–Secretly beautiful.

Jaenelle is either described as homely in appearance, or (especially as a child) possessing features that would eventually mature into an “exotic beauty.” Jaenelle does not seem to have much interest in whether she’s pretty or not, and doesn’t seem to care very much about her appearance. (In certain part of the story, she is actively hostile toward her body, which is more or less in keeping with the extreme abuse and neglect she suffered as a child.)

As an aside, one thing I really got a kick out of was the fact that Jaenelle’s physical appearance is described as being “exotic,” rather than her physical appearance being seen as “normal/default.”

–The ability to make people love her.

Like many heroines of the Mary Sue type, people tend to like her a lot. Or hate her a lot. And you can generally tell which ones are the good guys and which one are the bad guys based on whether or not they like her or not.

–Bad guys hate/obsess over her. Good guys love her. (The Honor Harrington Effect!)

This likewise happens a lot. The bad guys want her because she’s powerful. (Their plans for coercion/corruption generally go very, very wrong because this is a universe where evil means “dumb as a plank.”)

To sum up, Jaenelle is in fact a Mary Sue. Canonically even, since she’s “dreams made flesh.” On the other hand, you can’t really blame her, given that she is the result of everyone in the story-universe playing “power-gamer” and creating the highest level god-mode character they could come up with.

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2 Comments

Filed under book, Meta, Ramble

2 responses to “Jaenelle IS In Fact a Mary Sue (and I’m Okay With That)

  1. I don't think it makes a character less of a Mary Sue if it's canonical… I mean, the author kind of gets to have her cake and eat it there, doesn't she? Funnily enough, I couldn't finish Daughter of the Blood for reasons entirely unrelated to the Mary Sue thing, those don't bother me all that much in isolation. I just found the entire Jewels thing ridiculous and the gender dynamics flipflopping wildly between ridiculous and offensive. And… okay, my tolerance for purple prose is probably lower than it used to be, heh. "Slightly over the top" is a bit of an understatement, is what I'm saying!

  2. Slightly over the top isn't an overstatement when you have characters like Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody, or certain of Ayn Rand's characters. Or Anne Rice's Lestat. Or Anita Blake. While I felt the world building was very clunky in the Black Jewels books, it didn't "feel" much more or less offensive than the Darkover books by Bradley, and much much less annoying than some McCaffery's books.

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