Richard's Reviews > Kushiel's Dart

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
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Jun 11, 10

bookshelves: bookclub, fantasy, series, fantasy-epic
Recommended to Richard by: SciFi & Fantasy Group 2010-05 Fantasy Selection
Recommended for: Romance + Mild BDSM Erotica + Kinda Fantasy
Read from May 20 to 24, 2010

Here we've got a court-intrigue romance novel with a central element that is mildly kinky — well, mild to me, but then I'm from San Francisco.

The central character, Phèdre, is born into a religious guild that provides services of a sexual nature, i.e. sacred prostitution. But she's damaged goods, so she's sold by the guild to a private party who sees something very rare in her. What he sees is a flaw in her iris — a blood-red spot next to the pupil — that he recognizes as "Kushiel's Dart", meaning she's an anguissette, a delightful term for a natural submissive/masochist. Thus she begins her career as a intelligence-gathering courtesan. Think of Mata Hari, perhaps.

The book is the very lengthy tale of her adventures as her nation is convulsed by a contested inheritance in the royal family and the related alliances with — and threats of invasion by — neighboring kingdoms. Phèdre starts her career as a minor pawn in this game, but her training and natural abilities result in a steady climb to importance.


Many readers find the pace too slow for such a long book; others object to the affected language and style. Generally speaking, you'll know within a hundred pages or so (and this is a 900 page book) whether you'll enjoy the balance.

In my opinion, this book isn't really a fantasy — just a mildly erotic romance novel. Because the central character is born to the role of a courtesan, the sex is mandatory. The acts described are pretty hardcore, but in spite of that the descriptions are fairly superficial. If you can handle the idea of what Phèdre is going through, Carey won't horrify you with too much detail. It didn't bother me at all, since I've dated women (well, one especially) that had very strong anguissette tendencies. And there are plenty of 'em out there... just see the page of fan tattoos on the author's website.


There are a few fantasy-ish elements, however. First, the fictional setting is strongly reminiscent of a swords-and-sorcery fantasy, except there's really no sorcery. The ruler of their Channel Islands can control the weather in the channel, and that becomes quite important later in the story, but that is the single example I can recall of "magic". The tale takes place in a Europe that never existed and some characters believe they are descended partially from angels, but there are stranger mythologies in our real world.

Although I gave this four stars, the last one was somewhat grudging. I'm not really happy that this took four days to read: I usually fly through most genre fiction much, much faster. But it takes a while to get through 900 pages. It would have been welcome if this had been edited down to, say, 700 or even 600 pages. I can recommend this pretty strongly for anyone that enjoys stories at the intersection of romance and fantasy, with a dose of kinky-if-mostly-implied sexuality.


This was the fantasy selection for the Goodreads SciFi and Fantasy Book Club for the month of March 2010. Visit this link to see all of the discussions, group member reviews, etc.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Louise "I can recommend this pretty strongly for anyone that enjoys stories at the intersection of romance and fantasy, with a dose of kinky-if-mostly-implied sexuality."

I'm in that group, but I have to say that I'm not enjoying Kushiel's Dart at all. The first 200 pages of the book, where the world-building is still going on isn't that interesting and I grew increasingly annoyed by Carey's style of writing and her overuse of foreshadowing. Then the story got vaguely interesting. Then I realized that I just wasn't that absorbed in the whole fight for the throne or anything that Kushiel's marque-holder found important.

There's not much romance (unless I just haven't gotten to it yet) and the only character I find likable is Joscelin, but I think I'd be horrified if I found out he ends up falling for Kushiel. The two characters are just so different from each other, and not in a "opposites attract" sort of way.

I'm surprised that this book got picked for the SciFi & Fantasy book club because as you mentioned, there isn't much fantasy going on other than just the setting and King Climate Control.


message 2: by Richard (last edited Jul 15, 2012 06:36PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Richard Louise wrote: "where the world-building is still going on isn't that interesting and I grew increasingly annoyed by Carey's style of writing and her overuse of foreshadowing."

Yeah, I saw that a lot of the reviews other readers have posted. Especially amusing was the slight parody in Zen's review, which is the first visible, and its continuation in deleted member Shmuel Ross's review. I think it is a little extreme, but Carey certainly is stylistically extreme.

I saw the foreshadowing as a narrative trick, and didn't object to it: "Ah, so this is a memoir, so we know she survives, I guess. I certainly hope nothing crucial is being spoiled here." And I don't really think it was -- this book has a lot of predictable elements, and the pleasure was more in the how, not so much in the what. That said, there were quite a few smaller details that were pleasantly surprising (even when the detail wasn't particularly pleasant).

Romance... yeah, I see what you mean. To call this a "romance novel" would imply that there was some great relationship at the heart of the story, and I guess there isn't. So I guess it's just between genres and doesn't really fit any. Carey does the courtesan-client relationship well enough, though, that I thought that Phèdre could end up settling down with one or two of her clients.

I'm also surprised the group picked it, but no complaints since I did quite enjoy it. Did I enjoy it enough to read the others in the series? Probably not -- too many other series I've got waiting, such as the thirteen sequels in the excellent The Lymond Chronicles.


message 3: by J (new)

J Did someone say Lymond?


Richard Hey, J, whaddya say?

Yeah, I was think of you and your Lymond chronicles whilst reading Kushiel's Dart. Another not-actually-a-Romance-Novel. But not historic, and much kinkier. You might try it :-)


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