Kat Hooper's Reviews > Kushiel's Dart

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
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May 30, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: audiobook
Read from May 20 to 25, 2011 , read count: 2

ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

I read and enjoyed Kushiel’s Dart years ago after it won the Locus Award for Best First Novel and I’ve recently re-read it so that I can finish the series (I’ve read only the first trilogy) and move on to Ms. Carey’s newer books. This time I listened to Tantor Audio’s version, which was read by the incredibly talented Anne Flosnik.

The Kushiel series is set in an alternate Europe which is easily recognized by its geography, language, culture, religion, mythology, and politics (e.g., ancient Tiberium is ancient Rome, Alba is England, the Yeshuites are Christians, the Tsingani are gypsies, etc.). The greatest difference in this alternate Europe is the religion, for when Yeshua hung on the cross, his shed blood mingled with the Magdalene’s tears and produced Elua, who roamed the Earth in the company of the angel Naamah who supported him by working as a prostitute. Eventually he was accepted in Terre d’Ange (France), a passionate land upon whom he bestowed his beauty and whom he taught to “love as thou wilt.” And so they do, with little restraint and without any pesky hang-ups about heterosexuality or monogamy. In fact, men and women serve Naamah as sacred prostitutes in the Night Court.

Phèdre has been rejected by the Night Court because of the scarlet mote in her eye. But scholar Anafiel Delaunay recognizes the blemish (it’s Kushiel’s Dart) and what it symbolizes: Phèdre is the first anguissette born in decades — she finds sexual pleasure in pain, and the unique services she can provide will be highly valuable to certain unconventional patrons. Anafiel purchases, fosters, and trains Phèdre for his own unknown political machinations and hires Joscelin Verreuil, a warrior vowed to celibacy, to protect her. And so Phèdre serves Naamah and Anafiel by loving as she wilt (and wilting as she loves) and she and Joscelin are soon caught up in dangerous court intrigues.

It sounds kind of sleazy, with all the BDSM and the bastardized version of Christianity, but in Jacqueline Carey's hands it isn't sleazy — it's decadent. Mostly what sets it apart is the writing style which is beautifully lush, and even more gorgeous when read by Anne Flosnik’s rich smooth voice in the audio version:

I was flawed... To be sure, it was my eyes; and not even the pair of them, but merely the one. Such a small thing on which to hang such a fate. Nothing more than a mote, a fleck, a mere speck of color. If it had been any other hue, perhaps, it would have been a different story. My eyes, when they settled, were that color the poets call bistre, a deep and lustrous darkness, like a forest pool under the shade of ancient oaks. Outside Terre d'Ange, perhaps, one might call it brown, but the language spoke outside our nation's bounds is a pitiful thing when it comes to describing beauty. Bistre, then, rich and liquid-dark; save for the left eye, where in the iris that ringed the black pupil, a fleck of color shone... And it shone red, and indeed, red is a poor word for the color it shone. Scarlet, call it, or crimson; redder than a rooster's wattles or the glazed apple in a pig's mouth... Thus did I enter the world, with an ill-luck name and a pinprick of blood emblazoned in my gaze.

I should mention that one issue I had with the audio version is that many of the unfamiliar French-sounding names seemed similar when read aloud and it took me longer to distinguish all the characters than it did when I read them in print. It will help to be able to look at the Dramatis Personae in the front of the book if you listen to the audiobook. There is a map in the book also, but this isn’t necessary since the geography is an alternate Europe.

The plot is complex and the political maneuvering is intriguing, there’s plenty of adventure, and the characters are colorful. But my favorite thing about Kushiel’s Dart is Joscelin. He is one of the best male heroes in fantasy literature. Tall, strong, quiet, serious, courageous, deadly, and passionate, all he has to do is stand there wearing his mail gauntlets and steel vambraces and I’m completely entertained.
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