The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good... and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.
Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission... and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.
Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair... and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.
Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel's Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.
Jacqueline Carey (born 1964 in Highland Park, Illinois) is an author and novelist, primarily of fantasy fiction.
She attended Lake Forest College, receiving B.A.'s in psychology and English literature. During college, she spent 6 months working in a bookstore as part of a work exchange program. While there, she decided to write professionally. After returning she started her writing career while working at the art center of a local college. After ten years, she discovered success with the publication of her first book in 2001.
Currently, Carey lives in western Michigan and is a member of the oldest Mardi Gras krewe in the state.
Did you cop a big eyeful of that? That's right. Those Tortoises are totally boning. Now, I'm sure there's many a tortoise out there who would find that image very appealing. Unfortunately, I don't.
And this is my BIG PROBLEM with Kushiel's Dart.
Not that it's full of tortoise sex, mind you. There's almost no tortoise sex at all! It's that the sex in this book just does nothing for me. In fact, I'd probably enjoy tortoise sex more.
I'm hardly going to elaborate on my proclivities in the bedroom. It's enough to say that I don't find abuse, extreme domination and severe pain or the threat of death to be sexy.
The main character in this story does and thus we are at an impasse. Only in this case I can't poison her in a clever battle of the wills, so that makes our impasse infinitely less fun.
I've read one BDSM story before but the difference was that this story was about two consenting adults both in a position to pull out (hyuk hyuk!) and both of them actually liking each other and eventually falling in love. Now that story was really damn sexy.
Phedre's first sexual partner just likes hitting a lot and wants to punish Phedre's master by beating her up. How is that sexy? That his fist got sore smashing into her face is supposed to endear us to this is kind of thing?
Now the story goes out of its way to both explain that Phedre has a biological/spiritual imperative to enjoy pain and studies into the human mind show that people's pleasure/pain receptors can go seriously squiff (that's the proper medical term, naturally) during sex but... c'mon!
My problem is that SHE'S A DAMN CHILD! Sex slave fantasies are all good if that's your thing but this is a book that glorifies the whole children being prepped for a life as a sex slave thing.
In fact, I refuse to like something that has gained pedobear's seal of approval.
Because this book totally has it...
Unfortunately, this book loses most of its charm when you start to analyse things through the haze of lust-filled prose.
Delauney turns from an intelligent, shrewd, caring father figure into the pimpmaster of prostitution - training children up from the age of ten to be his little sex-spies.
Phedre becomes a very confused, abused child who grows into a woman trying to justify her abuse as decent and proper and performed by someone who was merely saving her.
The whole thing becomes a really sad wank fantasy. The thing is, I usually LIKE wank fantasies! But this one just didn't do it for me.
That's not to say that the writing and atmosphere wasn't fantastic and that the world building wasn't spectacular. The political intrigue was fascinating and this novel would have been saved had Phedre not started the novel as a hardcore BDSM child.
I'm hardly one to start the age-old Won't Someone Please Think of the Children! Call. That isn't what it's about.
It's just fun to start yelling in a crowded area.
Hell, I know how sexualized kids can be just on their own without having a background of abuse and all that. It's all about experimentation. It's about developing their own sexuality.
I just don't want to read about it. EVER. Little girls play with their barbies and their my little ponies and they don't masturbate or want to be whipped so they can cum. Ever. Not in Katland. It's like the Tortoise thing. If you like Tortoise sex then you're going to want to read a book about that. If you like sex slave wank fantasies about being raised from infancy as a BDSM enthusiast then this is for you.
Just a disclaimer here: This will be a very difficult review to write. In order to truly review this book, I have to talk about my own views on things and how books affect me personally. I am opening myself up here, which always makes me squirm. If you are reading this review and you don't agree with my beliefs on things, that's totally fine. But, I am not going to deny how I feel, because that is very important to me when I review a book, since I read books emotionally and not from a detached standpoint. Having said that, let's get this show on the road.
I can think of a list of reasons why I should not have liked this book, and I will start there:
1. I really dislike long books. As I told a friend on here, I am a 'hit it and quit it' reader--meaning, I like to read shorter to moderate-length (and occasionally longer) books, get them read, and move onto the next book. This book was a massive 901 pages!
2. Prostitution and paid sex is something that I absolutely detest the thought of. It squicks me out that someone would pay for sex or have sex for money or financial support/livelihood. I generally avoid this content like the plague, although a big part of my nature is to occasionally challenge myself and my perceptions of the world. It's good for me, even if the process is painful at times. This book has a heroine who is a courtesan, although she is called more ugly terms that I don't use. Not only that, her prostitution is a form of worship and honor to one of her dieties (if you want to call Fallen angels dieties).
3. I don't like books where the main characters sleep with a lot of people during the book. Promiscuity and sleeping around is another area that I am just not comfortable with. I especially don't like reading about sex with no love/emotional bond. This book was kind of interesting in that Phedre's sex is a form of worship. She didn't love most of the people she was intimate with, but she loved Elua, Naamah, and Kushiel, and that was expressed through her sex with her patrons. The genesis of the sacred nature of sex in this culture relates to the fact that the angel Naamah would lay with strangers to support Elua and the angels as they traveled through the Terre D'Ange. It's probably necessary to mention that the patron can be male or female. Elua's dictate is Love as thou wilt, which eliminates any stigma to same sex relationships. Although I am more of a male/female romance reader, I don't necessarily dislike same sex interactions, so that wasn't a huge issue for me.
4. I am very vanilla about sex. Meaning, I don't like reading about kinky, dark, twisted sex at all. I especially don't like reading about sadomasochistic/painful/humiliating sex. I don't understand that need and it's not something that I personally feel okay about. The main character in this story is a masochist. She was pricked by Kushiel (who is the angel who is the keeper of Hell and punishes the lost). That punishment is out of love to save their souls. Phedre possessing Kushiel's Dart marks one of her dark brown eyes with a dash of red, which is a visible manifestation of her being favored or cursed to have a physiology which made pain pleasurable for her, including emotional pain (which means that she got sexually aroused by being humiliated or forced or treated badly by her partner). I'm not going to go into detail here. I think you could use your imagination. I'll just leave it with two words to express my feelings: Ick Factor! Most of the sex scenes were very uncomfortable for me to read. In the author's defense, this book has very elegant sex scenes (for the subject matter). Somehow, she managed to avoid them coming off as repulsive and tawdry. My repulsion was based on my own comfort zones being exceeded, instead of deliberate acts of prurience on the author's part.
5. I typically don't care for stories with a lot of political intrigue and situations. Surprisingly, I found that I really got into that aspect of this story, and I was quite enthralled with the tangled web of conspiracies against members of the royal family and nobles. I believe it was because Ms. Carey did a great job of entwining Phedre into this Gordian Knot in a very intimate manner through her adoptive father, Anafiel Delaunay. Phedre becomes Delaunay's bondservant, and is trained to be a master spy as well as courtesan. Her skills aid him in his secret avocation to the royal family, hearing and seeing all, in the line of her duties as a courtesan.
6. The whole cultural set up of this story is very different from what I am used to. Surprisingly, this part was the easiest thing to get past. When I read fantasy, I expect that the author will build her own world from the ground up, and that might include other religious beliefs. It's easier for me if the author founds a whole new religious world divorced from the real world. I can easily separate myself from what I know and accept the concepts from the story and read it with a fresh mind. In this book, Ms. Carey takes a left turn from Christianity, and creates a world in which the main diety worshipped, Elua, is the son of Jesus' blood from when he was wounded on the cross and its union with Mother Earth. The other members of the pantheon are angels that chose to fall to accompany Elua in his exile. In other words, turning their back on God to follow Elua. The people with these beliefs are called D'Angelines, because they live in the country founded by Elua and his Angels called Terre D'Ange (Land of the Angel in French). Christianity still exists in the world, and its practitioners are called Yeshuites, after Jesus' Hebrew name of Yeshua. I believe there are also Muslims, but they are called Akkadians. The people who correspond to the Celts and Picts of Alba (Britain) and Eire (Ireland) have their own beliefs, and the Skaldi, who are like Norsemen, worship the Norse pantheon. Even though it was pretty different, I thought it was a pretty creative cultural genesis that Ms. Carey accomplished in this story.
Yes, that's a lot of reasons why I shouldn't have liked this book. Despite these things, I loved this book. It was fascinating. It kept my interest. I cared about the characters. Phedre was a heroine that I loved. I didn't like her assignations, and I would sort of roll my eyes when she took another one, much like Joscelin did. But, I liked her as a person. I could see that she was being true to herself, and I couldn't fault her for that. I loved how she came from very humble origins and made something wonderful of herself. I loved her loyalty and her caring heart. I loved how clever she was. She used every thing she had been taught and all her assets to accomplish what needed to be done. Even though I didn't always like what she did, I respect why she did it. It was profound to see how her view of herself and her place in the world changed. People looked down on her for being a 'whore', but she was a great spymaster, a diplomat, and an incredible tactitian. I cheered for her to find her rightful place in her world, because she earned that after all she'd suffered and lost. I loved Joscelin as well. Although he was a bit judgmental at times, so was Phedre towards him, but in a different way. It was very clear how devoted to her he was, and he was very true to his beliefs, following Cassiel, the angel who still loved God, but felt that he had to follow Elua out of loyalty. I admired that he made sacrifices to follow his beliefs, but his love for Phedre often caused him to break his vows, which in a way showed how true to following Cassiel he was. Even though he was not the main character, my mind always went back to him, wanting to see what he was doing and how he reacted to the situations around him. All the characters were real and lifelike, some in a good way, some in a bad way. But, there weren't any disposable characters in this story, even if they played small roles. And when some of the characters I grew to love got harmed and died, it made for painful reading.
At first, I had a lot of trouble with all the names of the characters and people, and countries. But, after a while, it started to make sense, and I was able to connect them to an existing frame of reference pretty well. I think it was pretty brilliantly conceived. The various peoples were extremely culturally distinct, and I really appreciated the time that Ms. Carey took to explore their cultures. It was interesting how the D'Angelines had a lot of cultural superiority that they had to get past, in order to face a huge threat from within and from the warlike, intimidating Skaldi race.
What surprised me was that I found the military aspects very fascinating. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, because I've always had an admiration for warriors and the culture of warriors. I thought that seeing the battles and war unfold through Phedre's eyes was very interesting. I liked seeing how she used her particular skill set to aid her country in winning the war. The sacrifices she made for her country were very admirable. She showed that although she wasn't a warrior in the traditional sense, her heart was that of a warrior, willing to give everything to win and prevail, even if that involved personal sacrifice and surrender.
This was a deep book. It took me through a gamut of emotions, many not comfortable at all. It truly was epic, and I really didn't get bored, surprisingly considering its length and complexity. There were some very unpalatable aspects to this story, and the values seemed very alien to what I feel I hold sacred. However, underneath there is a commonality. Love is sacrifice, love is giving. When something is important to a person, one devotes herself to it. Even though the creeds of the people in this book seemed alien, I could identify with the idea of holding something sacred in life, and that dictating one's actions.
As one can imagine, it's not easy to sum up my thoughts on a book that is so long and rather complicated. I think I have done as best as I can, and I won't make this review any longer than necessary. I have to be honest and say I highly doubt I'll keep reading this series. It's a huge investment of my time and energy when books are this long. And since it took me to some uncomfortable places, I'm not sure I want to go through that process any more with the following books. In my mind, I want to think of Phedre and Joscelin being happy, able to find a compromise that works for both of them, and having a great love. I want to leave things that way. The good thing is, this book is a keeper, and will have fond memories of these characters who came to mean so much to me. Perhaps I will reread this book one day to revisit this fascinating world of the D'Angelines.
I enjoyed this a lot at first, in a stupid trashy way, but got bored after a while, which is why I took so long to finish it. I think it reaches its height of trashy fun in Terre d'Ange; all the bits with Phedre living with the Skaldic tribes, getting away from them in the wintry tundra etc. etc. drag a lot for me. Maybe it's just 'cos "swept away by a barbarian!" isn't my kink.
Carey has a habit of saying really obvious things in a hilariously portentous way, e.g.
I asked him to pass the butter, for though as one marked by Kushiel's Dart, my greatest pleasure lies in pain, yet I am D'Angeline, and appreciate the finer things in life. Golden butter, springing from the roseate udders of the exquisite cattle of L'Agnace, was a pure joy I had neither strength nor inclination to deny.
"It's the butter you desire?" said Joscelin, my beloved, brave Cassiline. Well I knew the agonies that tore him even to acknowledge my desires, for the Cassiline brethren are trained to asceticism. Though they appreciate the beauty that is their birthright, as any born on Elua's blessed land must, the beauty they are drawn to is stern and cold, allowing not for butter.
"Yes," said I: and truly, it broke my heart to say it.
He passed the butter, but I could tell with by one glance at his white face, still and beautiful as suffering carved into marble, that it cost him much. I do not think his heart could grieve more than mine did, that day when I asked him to pass the butter.
This isn't even that great a parody, 'cos that's *exactly how she writes*.
I did really like the worldbuilding, with all these prettily-named AU versions of European countries. I think probably my favourite character was Hyacinthe -- he was the only one who seemed to have a sense of humour.
I don't care how long a book is, if it's failed to wow me by page 361 then I think it's time to give up, right?
I understand a few things about this book. Firstly, that Jacqueline Carey is actually not a bad writer, that the world created and the politics of it are well thought out... but I still don't understand why this book hasn't got more mixed reviews. Are there that many people into hardcore bdsm? Let's face it, that's what this book is really about.
Yeah, so... sex. I am open-minded about it and like books that use it in moderation and don't swamp the story with it. Kink? No problem, spices up the dullest relationship... but even I have my limits. You see, there's a HUGE difference between a bit of handcuffs and hair-pulling, and flogging someone until they bleed (and have an orgasm!). No, I'm serious. I saw before I picked it up that this book had been tagged as "bdsm" but when I read the description and found out that the book's all about sex and violence, I thought the GR members were being melodramatic and silly.
But no, this is a fantasy world built upon some hardcore bdsm schmexing. Phedre (the protagonist) was born with a scarlet mote in her eye, thus making her "one pricked by Kushiel's dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one." Oooh, what a fanciful way of saying that she gets off on having the crap beaten out of her - literally! Not just that but she likes being mentally tormented as well, through harsh words and humiliation. I don't think I will ever appreciate this kind of sexuality, I only got so far into the novel because I was filled with a kind of morbid fascination.
I find it weird that this is so very highly rated. Books that contain subjects that are a bit edgy usually end up with mixed ratings but I constantly find this series on lists of the best fantasy books of all time... I'm clueless. Especially when it is pretty much all about sex. Yeah, it's about kingdoms and politics as well but even these matters are settled with sex. And more sex.
Also, the politics of the book I found to be very dull. It had no relation to politics in our world so I couldn't draw any parallels... just the politics of a sex-ruled world. Ah, sex and politics, two things that can add that special something to a book or ruin it. Guess which I think is the case here?
There is this new guy at my office. The moment I learned he used to work at B&N, I wanted to run to his desk and start hounding him about books.
Then I thought, Don’t scare him off. Pace yourself. I started stealthy checking the cover of the books he’d read during lunch. I tested the waters before team meetings – dropping the names of authors from different genres. Turns out he reads a lot of fantasy, which is great. I have always enjoyed the genre and seem to lean heavily toward it this year. When I mentioned this book, he started blushing. It piqued my interest immediately. He stammered a little and won’t out-right recommend it, but I knew.
When I got back to my desk a few minutes later, there was the confirmation. An email clarifying that he really loved it. Read the series seven times.
I started the book two days later. I would hold it at weird angles to hide the half-nude woman on the cover from other (completely oblivious) people at the airport, in the hotel, outside museums, on the subway. I read 300+ pages during a weekend trip to New York City. This book distracted me from the big city, people!
I am impressed by this debut. It is beautifully written. Sure, the sentences are a little convoluted. Foreshadowing is rampant. The phrase “my lord” peppers the pages. “If only I’d known, in my naïve blossoming, then mayhap my beloved, my lord may have lived to see his oath satisfied and his dear homeland avenged and dipped in honey.” I’ll admit it got old.
I will also confess I was moderately confused throughout the whole book. Even now, I think I only really understood 85% of the intrigue. The book is "intricately plotted" (to borrow from Robert Jordan’s blurb). Battles, oaths, secrets, revenge, alliances, betrayals, and politics abound. It poses a healthy challenge to keep up. And the characters, oh, the characters. They are all well drawn. Not only could I tell them apart, I actually cared if they lived or died. Phedre’s relationship with Joscelin morphs in fascinating and subtle ways.
Speaking of which, Carey has an excellent sense of pacing. The book spans over a decade and is already over 900 pages long. She craftily speeds up a few sections while telling me just enough. Last, there is strong world building. I normally find invented religions boring, but hers is poetic and important to the plot. In fact, everything is essential to the plot. For being so long, the book is oddly concise.
Given all these positive feelings, I am surprised the book is not better known. I would expect a Patrick Rothfuss-scale excitement when her name is mentioned.
It is time for The Talk.
Maybe one sixth of the book is full of sex. Some of it is standard, sparsely detailed sex, the type and frequency you expect in this type of fantasy novel. Some of it could isolate readers. Think whips, punches, blades, humiliation. That kind. Remember, in crude terms, Phedre is a prostitute who experiences pleasure through pain. (In more nuanced terms, she is a highly intelligent spy marked by their gods and respected by the highest echelons of society.) Bisexuality is also accepted in this world.
It takes a lot to offend me when reading. These scenes tested my limits. They puzzled me too. She likes that? Upside down in chains? But Carey’s writing is ever elegant and thoughtful. She helped me understand Phedre’s perspective and find the entertainment value. Most importantly, every scene is integral to the plot. They reveal Phedre’s strength of purpose, her occasional self-hate, her shrewd gauge of people, political intrigues, relationship progressions, and so forth. I cannot guarantee you can stomach these scenes. But I won’t let it turn you away from at least trying the book. They are not graphic and extended. Just think of them as adding a little spice. A sprinkling of cayenne pepper on dark chocolate.
Beware that the book differs from a canonical fantasy novel in some aspects. There are no sentient creatures other than humans. Magic is limited to a couple fortune-tellers and a mysterious force who commands the waters between two kingdoms. There is, however, a medieval-type setting and lots of lore.
If you are a fan of epic fantasy novels and can handle this type of sexual content, I would 100% recommend this book to you. And although it is part one of a trilogy, the ending is conclusive. You can clearly see the direction of the next book, but there is no great cliff-hanger. I very much appreciate this. While I obviously enjoyed this one, I would have resented being forced into reading another 900 pages so soon.
The first thing everyone usually talks about regarding the Kushiel books is the sex, so I'll get it out of the way first: S&M, not for the faint of heart, absolutely integral to the plot.
It's easy to summarize the book very briefly or very in-depth; it's almost impossible to do anything in between, so I'll keep it brief; Phedre is an elite courtesan in Terre D'Ange, a land whose residents boast traces of angelic blood in their veins. She is trained as a spy by a mysterious courtier, and must navigate the dangerous waters of intrigue both at court and internationally in order to save the homeland she loves.
Of intrigue, high adventure, and sensuality (both sexual and non-), this book boasts plenty. Carey is good at all of them. But where she truly excels beyond most of the brightest stars in the fantasy firmament is in her depiction of the subtleties of relationships, in the minute shifts that may bring down a country, and in unflinching examination of both the bright and dark sides of love, desire and loyalty. She also takes the magic in Christian and Jewish mythology to a new level, exploring their implications, their resonance with pagan belief, and what would happen if a state religion made pleasure sacred, rather than taboo.
It's about the magic of language, too; the way words can kill or save, create a world or destroy one.
And all of it is told from the viewpoints of one of the paradoxically strong, courageous, wry and magnanimous characters ever to grace the page.
A lot of people have claimed this book is "slow," or that it takes a while to get started. They're missing what it's really about. This is not a sword & sorcery novel. The adventure elements are important for how they affect the relationships of the characters, but they're not the point.
If the characters aren't what make you love books; if the subtleties of court politics and alliances and love bore you, this isn't the book for you.
Unfortunately, every single one of those things fell very short for me.
I consider myself to be a pretty patient person. I can wait through a not-so-great beginning to get to a great story. I can even wait through a bad beginning, and a lukewarm middle to get to a great, everything-comes-together-in-the-end ending.
But, no. It started so promisingly, the very beginning setting the stage for an intricate world, society, plot, and story... and then proceeded to annoy me for the next 296 pages. After page 300, it did pick up, but "fast paced" doesn't always equal "good".
Some of the annoying stuff: - Foreshadowing - Allusions - Foreshadowing - Euphemisms - Foreshadowing - Wordiness - Foreshadowing
FORESHADOWING. *narrows eyes*
Oddly enough, before reading this, my friend said something along the lines of, "I have to warn you, the foreshadowing is very heavy-handed." To which I replied, "Oh, I probably wouldn't have even noticed if you hadn't told me." (Oh silly me.) To which SHE replied, "Yes. You would."
Friend, 1. Becky, 0.
I have never, ever, seen clumsier foreshadowing in my life. Had I known, then, that this book would test my patience, stamina and sanity, would I have kept reading?
No. I wouldn't have. I finished this book because I promised that friend I would read it, so I did. Every page contained a new attempt at suspense... If books came with soundtracks, this one's theme would be "DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN!!"
But let's move on and not beat a dead horse. The foreshadowing wasn't the only thing to aggravate me, although it was the most prevalent. We also have the irritating allusions to things that apparently we're supposed to know already.
The first, and the one that sticks out most in my head, is a reference to a poem that Phedre read in which a man, who was in love with a woman, "unmanned" himself for her. No further detail than that. What does that mean? Did he humble himself before the woman, therefore removing any manliness from his status? Did he physically cut off his manhood? What was the point of the throw-away reference? It never comes up again, so it's not a "Hey, you might want to remember me for later" tidbit, it's an annoying slice of "Haha! Bet you'd like to know what I'm all about, wouldn't ya?".
There were several other situations in which Phedre mentioned things like "...the whole world knows this, so I won't mention it...". Oh. OK. Thanks. Wouldn't want you to strain something.
Then there were the euphemisms. My favorite being "Pearl of Naamah". Why do men have anatomical boy parts (albeit called the annoyingly repetitive "phallus"), but girl parts are given a name like the "Pearl of Naamah"?
Moving on to the general wordiness. Carey must have had her thesaurus handy while writing this book. So many of her sentences just seem to wander around without actually going anywhere. I'm sure she was going for an old-world feel. People back in the day didn't speak like we do now. Got it. But there's a line that when crossed takes you from "perfectly worded and appropriate for the theme you're going for" to "Can we possibly say something in between the 'twixts' and 'tweres'?".
So now let's look at some of the words, shall we? In no particular order: Bistre - Cool word for brown. Overused. Thus - Thus it was that the word thus was thus overused. Somewhat - My absolute favorite of the annoying words. Universally used to replace "something", this word just crawled onto my last nerve and dug in its heels. It jarred in every single usage and ruined the flow of every sentence that contained it. VERY overused and unnecessary. Vaster - Just sounds grammatically wrong. Plus overused. Betimes - Overused. Compass - Apparently used to replace "comprehend" in certain scenarios. I searched, and can't find a single reference to the word being used in this way anywhere - if you can, please link me to it, it's making me crazy. There were many others, those are just the ones I wrote down.
Miscellaneous other bothersome things: - "Seed": Yes, this is euphemism for semen, and you might be asking yourself why I didn't mention it above. Well, I will tell you why. Seeds grow into stuff when planted. Can someone please explain to me how it is that Phedre had so many romps with so many men releasing themselves into her and yet never got pregnant? You might be saying to yourself, but this is fantasy, it doesn't matter! Yes, it does. This is a realistic story set in an alternate world, and obviously since Phedre herself is "a whore's unwanted get", the subject might be addressed as to how she prevented her own "unwanted get". - Melisande: Pointless. Plot. Device. - Forced sequel: Carey could have (should have?) and DID end this book perfectly. And then she kept writing, and in so doing, forced the ending into a situation that would require a sequel. Nice try. I'm forgetting I read the last few pages as I type. This story is ended for me, I think.
There... Now we can talk about what I liked.
Joscelin. Thank goodness for Joscelin. I really would have had to give up on this book if it wasn't for him. He was really predictable, but I loved him anyway. He kicked ass, like a ninja priest. Hyacinthe. Loved him too - he was fun, and one of the only unique characters in the book. Delaunay. He was awesome. Smart, honest, honorable.
I did like the concept of love as a sacred act, and I liked the references to different religions. I enjoyed the different people and their customs, and enjoyed the intricate relationships between everyone and the political aspects of the story. I liked the fact that Delaunay taught Phedre to learn and think and analyze. I like the concept of the thirteen houses, which reminded me of Geisha houses. I liked the Tsingani people, who were fun and boisterous and superstitious and sly. I loved Rousse's men, who were brave and smart and thought of cool songs. I liked Ysandre, who was young and wise and fair. I liked Drustan, too. And Alcuin who was soft-hearted but had a will of steel.
I can see how some people would like this book. Unfortunately, I can't count myself among them. Too much annoyed me for me to say I liked it, but I didn't hate it either. I just think it could have been so much better had Carey had an editor with balls. It's always easier to rip apart what you didn't like than enumerate what you did, and I did NOT outline everything that I liked in the book here, so this review is a bit one sided. Sorry about that.
once upon a time, in response to the question What Would You Like To See In Fantasy, i responded:
1. i would like to see an old woman as a protagonist. 2. or an interesting demon - but not a 'sexy' PNR demon. 3. or more epic fantasies set in steamy, wet jungles rather than european-style forests or meadowlands. 4. or a hero who is also a slut (male or female). 5. or a YA fantasy series in which the hero grows progressively more villainous.
i felt confident that Kushiel's Dart would allow me to eliminate number 4. alas, 'tis not to be. Phedre is no slut. i don't care how much Carey tries to convince us otherwise, the girl is no slut.
let me just start off by venting my confusion. okay, in this world, Phedre is an anguisette, which means that she gets off on (1) ANY sexual contact OR (2) PAIN, the kind experienced by a submissive during an s&m scenario. i put the OR in there because the novel can't seem to make up its mind which kind she is. that was really frustrating. if it was the first kind, well, bravo. i suppose that would make her a kind of natural-born slut, and that's awesome for her, it's your thing, you know, do what you want to do.
but she's not a natural-born slut. she doesn't get hungry at the sight of a cute lad or lassie, she just doesn't have that kind of slutty appetite. i think someone who is chemically castrated may actually have more horniness than Phedre.
so maybe it is the latter... PAIN! but then i bumped into a bit of underlying ridiculousness there that i just couldn't wrap my little mind around. the novel takes, um, great pains to note that Phedre is the first of her kind in 3 generations to have such receptiveness to PAIN. apparently other folks couldn't possibly enjoy any level of pain, not ever - not even the subs of the Harlot House dedicated to servicing sadists. really? seriously? what kind of world is this, Narnia? the Lollipop Land? i found that to be entirely naive, and annoying. having genuine responsiveness to or enjoyment of a certain degree of pain in sex, let alone within an s&m or even rough sex scenario, is not exactly the rarest of sexual attributes. perhaps this strange lack of a not-uncommon ability, one that is actually widespread, is why this novel would be shelved within the Fantasy genre. what next - a fantasy world where no one's heard of doggy style?
okay, i guess i should actually review the book:
FOUR STARS for the first third! some excellent world-building, a sophisticated take on religion, and the emphasis on both politics and alternate sexualities was pleasing. the sex scenes were alternately graphic and subtle - i liked that, it lessened the monotony that comes with constant sexual description. the story was different things at different times: a coming of age tale; a novel of political maneouvering, treachery, and deceit; an elegant and erotic series of escalating sexcapades. Phedre & Delaunnay & Joscelin & Hyacinthe were all fun and enjoyable characters. overall, the country of Terre d'Ange is a fascinating place. if i were nobility, i would like to live there!
first: the novel becomes rather repetitious when trying to convince the reader that Delaunnay is so much more than a glorified pimp and that Phedre is totally fine with whoring herself out, no prob at all... it remained somewhat unconvincing. but maybe that's just my non-fantasy world perspective speaking.
second: all doms were portrayed as at least semi-villainous, and brutal beyond the bedroom as well. OH COME ON JACQUELINE CAREY! that isn't fair. Joscelin - a man who clearly needs to more successfully sublimate his anger - should have the wherewithal to top Phedre, and he's no bad guy. Jos, get with the program! you too, Jacqueline Carey.
sadly, TWO STARS for the rest of the novel. it was just okay, and it paled in comparison to the originality of the first third. there was nothing new, just alternate fantasy versions of the early germanic tribes, early england, early ireland. the pages turned quickly but that feeling of reading something very different evaporated quickly. the ending... eh. i kinda got tired of everyone practically shitting themselves at the awesomeness of Phedre. and "Phedre's Boy's".... ugh, that's so corny. and the use of magic, whether it be the dromonde or the "Master of the Straits" was unconvincing, abrupt, and rather amateurish. ah well.
overall, the writing was above average. at times flowery, but that fits the novel. and there was enough promise in that first third that i'll probably take a chance on the second book. it would pain me to not find out where Phedre's freaky future sexploits take her.
What a fucking sublime masterpiece, albeit with emphasis on the fucking.
A grand epic of court intrigue in a historical world evocative of the historical fantasies of Guy Gavriel Kay, Kushiel’s Dart introduces the land of Terre d’Ange in its most perilous hour, saved only by the machinations of a young and rather special courtesan.
It has perhaps the best ever example in fantasy of a feminine female protagonist (a woman who is not just a manly man in female form). It has a whole array of magnificent supporting characters scheming and fighting their way to power. It has wonderfully describes locales both new and familiar to the historical mind. In short, it is a glorious epic with a thousand pages of absolutely everything.
However, I do have to talk about the sex.
Like romance, sex can be a wonderful element to add into a work of fiction. It adds or removes tension, it explores deep character relationships, and, let’s face it, it can be rather fun to read about. One of my favourite sex scenes in a fantasy book is indeed written by Guy Gavriel Kay, in Tigana, where steaming foreplay is followed by the picking up of an unknown object and the scene fades, leaving the rest to the imagination of the reader.
Jacqueline Carey explores every single gory detail of every single sexual encounter at great length, uninteresting and occasionally disturbing though they may be. This is accompanied by the usage of notoriously, ehm, unsexy words which do nothing but break immersion. Sex scenes in Kushiel’s Dart are many, overdone, and straight up bad. In fact, it might be the most astoundingly badly written sex I have ever encountered in fantasy. And there is absurdly much of it.
It is nice, then, that the rest of the book is bloody amazing.
20/6/19 Finally acquired a copy of this. Something is eerily familiar about the map. I almost feel as if I've seen it before...
Finally! A DNF! Believe it or not, it’s been such a long time since I added a book to my beloved DNF Graveyard that my murderous babies were getting super concerned and stuff! (So much so that they even considered calling Dr. Prawn to the rescue *eyeroll* Foolish—if bloodthirsty—crustaceans can be so foolish—if bloodthirsty—sometimes.) Worry not, homicidal children mine, for your beloved father still is as easily peeved and bored as ever! Yay and stuff!
Okay, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life hours ranting about this book, so let the crap be cut dramatically! So. I kinda sorta like Carey's prose (maybe. a little. perhaps), BUT:
① Call me weird and a ridiculously over-principled, old-fashioned shrimp, but auctioning 16-year-olds' virginity and institutionalizing prostitution in the name of a religion doesn't sit very well with me. Neither do objectifying and humiliating people for one’s personal enjoyment.
② Utterly Boring Boredom of Boredness (UBBoB™) is me. Quod erat demonstrandum, methinks.
③ Call me stupid and silly and stuff, but the medieval France-inspired setting, and ensuing excessive use of French names and words bugged the fish out of me (being somewhat 38.45866% French, I think I have the lawfully lawful right to be ever-so-slightly exasperated here). Still, I have to admit the narrator did a pretty good job with the pronunciation. I don’t think she mispronounced a single annoying French word or name at any time while I was listening to this most fascinating book. Which is very lucky for my phoneEminently Nefarious Listening Device (ENLD™). I probably would have thrown it into the deepest depths of my cherished Mariana Trench, had it not been for Ms Flosnik’s Otherworldly Pronunciation Skills (OPS™). So Pop! Goes the Weasel “Phew!” Goes my SNLD™ and stuff!
➽ And the moral of this I Might Be Ancient and Ever Decaying But the Force of the DNF is Still With Me So Yay and Stuff All Hope Is Not Lost and the World Will Not End Just Yet Crappy Non Review (IMBAaEDBtFotDNFiSWMSYaSAHINLatWWNEJYCNR™) is: I think there’s a moderately good chance I quite possibly didn’t like this book very much. Not sure though. I might have to get back to you on that later. Much much much later. Say in 2458 or something. Maybe.
P.S. Now patiently waiting for the Phèdre Tattooed Hordes of Doom (PTHoD™) to unleash their vindictive legions on me for DNFing reading this book right wrong. But hey, I'm not scared. I've got Lucinda my pet ninja hamster to defend me and stuff.
This book is so overwrought, so full of tangled, convoluted prose, that I found it hard to take seriously. The world, instead of being built up as an original creation, seems to be taken fairly whole cloth from the French Court of Louis XIV. I know everybody steals, but the best writers steal the most, and I could have used some more depth of inspiration.
Then, of course, there is the sex. The constant rampant, submissive, fetishy, 'pain=pleasure' sex. Sex is fine, even porn is fine, but the sheer redundant volume of the stuff made it less than exciting, after a while--mostly because it all seems to come from the same angle, the same point-of-view.
It's a problem in most fantasy: the author wants to write about what interests them, and apparently, only that. I always appreciate an author a bit more when they are able to put in some conflict, try to provide a few sides to the story, and get out of their own heads a little. When an author is truly skilled, you'll come out not knowing which side they're on.
But that's not this book. This book is self-indulgent, and makes no apologies, and there is something I can appreciate about that. It's not like the eye-rolling fetishism of most male fantasy authors, like Goodkind or John Norman, whose sexuality always feels confused, conflicted, and furtive. Carey seems to know what she wants and doesn't let anything get in her way.
Unfortunately, it was all too much for me. The purple prose, the repetitive sex scenes, the single source world, and the sheer length of the thing. Unfortunately, Carey and I do not share a fetish, because mine (at least when it comes to books) is novelty, and while she may be vastly different from her modern fantasy contemporaries, in the end, I found her book was too similar to itself.
A buddy read with my friend Iain and the Kushiel fans:)
"...“That which yields is not always weak.”..."
Well this was ... unexpected... Maybe I should make it a point to read the blurbs of the books before I start reading them, but I like to be surprised by the content of the story I get into. As it is, all I do is check out the ratings some of my GR friends give and then decide yay or nay accordingly. I tried to erase all expectations for the Kushiel's Dartbefore opening the book, because my friend's ratings on it vary from one to five stars and in those cases I know it is something I really need to read, since it provokes such strong feelings.
"...“When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity upon me”..."
I am not exactly sure how to explain the genre of the book. It is not so much a Fantasy as an Alternative History/ Adventure. The country of Terre D'Ange is a mixture of Golden Age Rome, Renaissance Florence and Medieval France all mixed into one, where all the citizens, especially the nobility, are descendant from the son of Yeshua, conceived by his blood while hanging on The Cross and intermingled with Magdalene’s tears. The child was Elua, who traveled around the Earth in the company of 12 angels who did different things for him. One of those companions was the angel Naamah, who slept with people for money in order to feed them and take care of their basic needs. Another of Elua companions was Cassiel, who was the physical protector and the muscle. All thirteen of them are treated as deities and have Houses of Worship dedicated to each one, every house specializing in the particular aspect of each of the companions as related to their service to Elua.
"...“And Kushiel sends no punishment that we are not fit to bear.” ..."
Our main protagonist and storyteller is Phedre, a girl who was born with a crimson ring around the iris of one of her eyes, a sign of the G-ds, called Kushiel's Dart. Kushiel was another of Elua companions and he is the one whose followers endure and inflict pain, mingling it with pleasure and never separating the two. However, upon her birth her parents did not recognize it as the mark it is and gave her up as a flawed child to the House of Naamah, thus rearing her into the arts of making love, at least in theory (since the actual coming of age was not before the students turn 14), as well as educate them in court manners and other arts, an education I could best compare to that of a Geisha. At the age of 10 she is taken in as the second foster child of a noble, whose obvious inclination is for intelligence gathering and trains his two foster children in languages, information gathering, and all that could be helpful to create a useful spy under the guise of a very expensive prostitute. In the case of Phedre he is able to recognize the mark as that of Kushiel and her proclivity to specialize in the more spicy sexual desires, craving pain, subservience and humiliation in order to achieve pleasure. Her foster father, spy master and de facto pimp, Anafiel Delaunay, is playing the long game, investing in her and hoping to use her as a source for information from some of the most devious and powerful men and women in court. She lives to prove him right and worthy of his trust in her talent.
"...“Garner knowledge, by any means possible” ..."
Apart from Anafiel Delaunay, there are two other important to Phedre characters. One is her best friend from the time she was very little, Hyacinthe who is this world's example of a Gypsy, who is a very lovely character and one I personally was able to really enjoy. The other is Joscelin, a follower of Cassiel, and as his priest is sworn to chastity and trained in the martial arts of blades. I loved this character very much as well, with all of his earnest passion for his vows and doing the right thing. I think had it been a book about every day life, Joscelin might have seem like the boring stick-in-the-mud dude, but because the World described by Jacqueline Carey is so free in its indulgences of the flesh and otherwise, giving a free rain for people to Love as you Wilt! and do as you wish, pretty much, that the celibate priest was a breath of fresh air and a good juxtaposition to all the rest.
"...“If I had to fall from Cassiel's grace, at least I know it took a courtesan worthy of Kings to do it.” ..."
There are many adversaries in the long tale told in this book and many of them are worthy opponents, be it on the villainous side of things. We have traitors to the king, family and country, we have invaders and betrayers, but among all of them one name shines the brightest, both with its elegance as a villain and attraction as a strong woman - Melisande Shahrizai. I know many hate her, and I should too, since she is ready to sacrifice the lives and happiness of anyone standing in her way for her goals, but I could't! This is where Phedre and I have very similar feelings - we know Melisande is no good, but there is something hypnotic about her and we just can't help but be a tad in love with her... I have known women like that and despite knowing them for the selfish and self-centered creatures that they are, I still have this respect and feel pleasure just being in their company... Might say something about me, I guess, but whatever it is, I can't deny it:) Melisande, a woman we love to hate!!!
"...“The night court taught me to serve, and Delauney taught me to think; but from Melisande Shahrizai, I learned how to hate.” ..."
So, this is not a book for everyone, since sex is a constant, the base on which the character of Phedre builds her life and her profession. In my opinion, the sex is not offensive, but I know that this is very subjective and I can't speak for others. The author goes out of her way to make it all poetic and euphemistic, which actually bothered me more than if she had left it raw and blatant. Her prose is very descriptive and lyrical to begin with, so she did not need to try so hard. As much as I thought the writing a bit on the heavily wordy side, there is a cadence that gets you ensnared and you float with the storytelling, wanting to find out where the author leads you. The story itself is mostly about court intrigue and battles for the throne and our heroine gets mixed up in it because of her foster father. If you love stories like this with a lot of detail and posh writing, this is definitely for you! If you are easily offended by possibilities of different lifestyles, give it a try, but be prepared for possibly it not being your cup of tea... I am looking forward to reading the next books in the series:):):)
"...“Alas for we who are mortal, and are denied the luxury of dramatic license. We mus live, and go onward.” ..."
Now I wish you all Happy Reading and may you always find what you need in the pages of a Good Book!!!
This book was soooooo not what I was expecting it to be.
For some reason, I had it in my head that this was some sort of paranormal romance? And that it was sort of trashy? I have no idea where I got those ideas from, because they couldn't be further from the truth. This book is epic fantasy, well-written, has intricate plotting, seriously intense worldbuilding . . . and it's not your mom and pop's epic fantasy, either. It's sexy. Like, SEXY sexy. Sex is a vital part of the world in Kushiel's Dart.
So the background here is that we're on an alternate history Earth about 1,000 years after the death of Jesus, specifically alternate Europe, once in which Christianity never really took hold because the real focus was drawn to a group of rebel angels who believed in the union of men and angels. Their leader, Elua, is the foundation of their society and religion the way that Jesus is to modern day Christians (Jesus still existed in this version of history, he just had less of an impact). In fact, Elua couldn't exist without Jesus, having been born from the blood fallen from the crucified Christ, mixing with the soil of the Earth. Elua and his followers founded Terre D'Ange, the land of angels (the equivalent of modern day France), where they mixed with men and taught people to "love as thou wilt." The people of Terre D'Ange are part angel as a result of all this.
Our main character is Phèdre, a devotee of the angel Naamah, who taught people to worship through the gift and use of their bodies. Phèdre was sold as a child to the Night Court and eventually taught to serve Naamah, essentially becoming a courtesan/priestess hybrid. But Phèdre was also born with a mote in her eye, a sign that she is a descendant of the angel Kushiel, and who feels pain as pleasure. Early on, she's adopted by a man who educates and trains her in court politics so that she may use all her training to effect political change. She largely escapes all the hoopla surrounding stories about Special Ones because the way she uses her specialness has everything to do with her own choices, and the way that others view her as a tool or something to possess.
I was utterly captivated by this book. And it's really hard to describe, because it's so easy for people to focus on the sex parts. Granted, those are important, but it's never titillating. The sexuality in this world is so foundational it just becomes background at a certain point. And there's so much more that is also interesting. The political maneuverings, the espionage, the battles, the different cultures, the friendships and romances . . . it's like Game of Thrones if that series weren't so concerned with pointing out social inequalities by subjecting its characters to atrocities in the name of power. Here, the powerful people obliterate each other and play a version of the game of thrones, certainly, but it feels so different without the misogyny, with more focus on other stuff that is traditionally considered feminine. And yet, it also doesn't shy away from violence, and even though there is romance in this book, it's not the focus. If you're not skeeved out by the unique sexuality here, it become fascinating. Phèdre uses her sexuality as a weapon, as she's been trained, and she's not ashamed of it . . . also, the pain as pleasure thing might be a bridge too far for some readers, but I didn't mind it at all, even though I can't sympathize with her at all in that regard.
The first third of the book is basically table-setting. Setting up the world, filling in Phèdre's background, letting us get to know all the characters and the political and religious situation, and then BAM, shit doesn't let up for five hundred pages, so if you're a bit bogged down at the beginning, you should push through.
I'm so glad Malin kept bugging me to read this after she so generously gifted it to me in the last Cannonball Read book exchange. I will DEFINITELY be reading the second two books in this trilogy, and probably all the other books set in this world as well.
If you're a fantasy fan, you should for sure check this series out. I can't believe I almost didn't read it.
TW for this review: long discussion of rape and consent.
Edit: No, one more thing. WHERE ARE THE CONTRACEPTIVES. WHERE.
Edit x2: Is it bothering anyone else that Phedre's name is apparently pronounced close to 'FAY-dra', but the accent on the first e is an accent grave? as opposed to an accent aigu, which would actually produce that hard 'a' sound in French? Because it's bothering me. If you're gonna do expy!France, don't fuck up the language. What's written there is closer to 'Fedruh'. Edit x3: I stand corrected.
I first encountered this book when I was much younger and just getting into Orson Scott Card's work - they're shelved next to each other in most bookstores and libraries, and after a while I got curious about the huge books with the rather prominently placed half-naked women on them. Reading the dust jackets, I concluded a few things: 1. that these were Sex Books; 2. that the main character would get raped, probably repeatedly; and 3. that they were not for me.
I was, as it turns out, correct on all counts.
A friend of mine convinced me to give them a shot this year, insisting that the political intrigue was fascinating and the sex wasn't that bad, really. I don't like gainsaying my friends, especially in an area where they objectively have more knowledge than I do, so I agreed, tracked down an ebook, and slogged through it. I came out the other side with... well, I guess I can argue back if anyone tries to convince me to read them again.
There were two major disappointments for me in this book: court intrigue and consent. Consent is, obviously, the more important one, so let's talk about that first.
One of the interesting things about this book is that it's written as if Phedre is looking back on the events of her life - there's a lot of "if only I had known then" which, believe you me, gets annoying. What this means, though, is that there's no room for character development to change perspective. The perspective of the narrator is that of adult Phedre and is cast as knowledgeable, omniscient as a result of hindsight. I mention this because, were this not the case, some of Carey's choices could be explained by Phedre's lack of knowledge or self-reflection in earlier stages of her life - but that's not an option.
Maybe it's an asexual thing, to be hyper-tuned to situations of dubious consent and grooming? I definitely seem to be in the minority both here and with regards to Deathless; I can only guess that, because compulsory sexuality is so inherently threatening to me, it stands out more than it does for allo people? The Night Court runs on child grooming. They raise kids from infancy in a situation where sex work is normalized, start teaching them about it sometimes as young as six, and initiate them at 13. (not that they weren't sexual objects before then - a 10 year-old boy is once told that "They'll be marking their calendars until you come of age".) Now, here's the thing: I don't believe there's anything wrong with choosing sex work freely. However, the Night Court and its influence are coercive - we see this in Alcuin, who nearly gets himself killed trying to make his marque and get out of his contract, and earlier in a comment a Valerian House adept makes regarding the use of flechettes as a sex toy: "He gave an involuntary tremor beside me and his voice changed. 'I hate them.'" Both of these characters have clearly been put into sexual situations in which they weren't comfortable, and continued to participate as 'Servants of Naamah' nonetheless. That's coercion, not consent. And then there's Phedre, who gets pleasure in pain, and so whose contracts always include a safeword. Which she then never uses, even when a client burns her skin with a poker. The thing about this is - yes, technically speaking, it's possible for someone to have a safeword and never encounter a situation that crosses their boundaries. But that doesn't work here. This whole situation is constructed; Carey chose to give Phedre a safeword but never to show her using it. This means we never see her exercising control over her assignations, nor do we get a demonstration that the nobles of Terre d'Ange would actually respect her choice to end a scene/encounter. The safeword, unused , has no power. Finally: the handling of rape in this book. As I said, I anticipated it and rightly so, but what I didn't anticipate was Carey's choice to draw a division between kinds of rape. Minor spoilers: Terrible things happen and Phedre gets drugged by the series antagonist and sent to be a slave to the not!Germans over the border. Before she's sent away, though, the antagonist rapes her. Well. I say 'rape', because she was drugged and bound and never asked for consent, and because the sex was literally used as a coercive attempt to get information from her. What Phedre - and thereby Carey - says is this:
What she did to me that last night... she would have ended it, if I'd given the signale. I do believe that. It was my choice to withhold it.
So, when someone feels they can't safeword out of a situation because of other pressures, that somehow becomes consensual? Since when is rape defined more by whether the attacker will stop if the victim gives them what they want, rather than by the fact that they started against someone's will in the first place? This is made worse by the way that Phedre's hindsight is used to emphasize it: "It was my choice". 'Choice' it might nominally be, but consent can't be freely given when the choice is weighted with the lives of people you love and the stability of an entire kingdom. 'Submit to assault or betray your friends and family' isn't a balanced decision at all.
The entire setting is built on the idea of "Love as thou wilt" being the guiding precept of the land, and while I sort of see where Carey was going with that idea, it just wasn't carefully considered enough. (For a smaller example, as other reviewers have pointed out, 'whore' is still an insult in this culture even though one of their minor deities was literally a prostitute by trade.) If compulsory sexuality is a problem in the real world, it's even more so here, where everyone is expected to be just merrily fucking their way along. (Well - at least, the people we see most of are. Which are the nobles and wealthy merchants. Does 'love as thou wilt' extend to the peasantry? Does Carey care? We may never know.)
Right. So. Consent: F-. Abject failure.
On to the thing that persuaded me to read this book: the promise of court intrigue!
I finally put my finger on why this book's 'intrigue' didn't work for me, and it's this: there's only ever one thing in play. Everyone wants the throne. Right. I get it. But because the major players all have one sole interest, they rarely interact in complicated ways - they're all just rivals for a single thing. Nobody is, say, out to get a better trade agreement with so-and-so, but will trade a favor for a favor even though they don't care about the rest. The 'machinations' at work here are ehh... I'd say maybe four steps at most? This is partly because none of them are playing within the system (if there is a system - we got very little info on the actual political structure of TdA) and they're all just gathering up armies to smash it from outside, but it just had no spark. The intrigue was, well, unintriguing. There's little more to say about it because it was just so damn shallow and dull.
I'm still a bit iffy on giving this book two stars, but for the moment that rating stands. The reason for the second: the last quarter or so was pretty much straight up epic fantasy fare (clashing armies, desperate alliances) and that, despite everything else, was pretty enjoyable. Not that there weren't issues involved in those parts - see 'Phedre has hardly any close relationships that don't involve sleeping together' and 'sex is the solution to every problem' - but the pace picked up. So, extra star for that.
Oh god, and before I end this review: the writing and the constant insistence that Terre d'Ange is the greatest thing that's ever existed, and all D'Angelines are supernaturally beautiful and no one else will ever be as pretty as them and blah blah fucking blah. Ugh. Infuriating. By the end of the book I about wanted TdA to get razed to the ground by invaders - though I suppose then all the characters would just wax poetic about its lost beauty. You can't win against this arrogance.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>
I usually don't like to review books until I finish them, but I don't think my complaints with this book are ones that will be rectified in the rest of the tome. -Very few authors do political intrigue well. Carey is not one of them, since I have no idea what's going on half the time. -Part of the reason for this is that characters are poorly introduced, often with little context to remember them by or in groups of several people such that you have no idea which characters to remember and which ones won't be reoccuring. Just difficult to keep track of who's who, in general. I don't think the use of primarily French names helps. -If an author is going to set their plot in an alternate universe Europe, I've never understood the point of thinly veiling the countries with other names. I think the reader will understand that the book France or book Italy is not the same as real France or real Italy; no need to rename them. -Foreshadowing. Oh my goodness, the awful, awful foreshadowing with a 2x4. It is usually done somewhat like this: Phedre: "I had no idea that this event would later become important!" I like foreshadowing better when the audience doesn't know that the event will later become important, though they may suspect. This style of foreshadowing is both lazy and irritating, and has none of the sublety that makes for good foreshadowing. -The purple prose. I don't know how I forgot about this but one of the other reviews just reminded me. I hate overly flowery language, would rather authors just say things simply, and especially hate it when the author is trying too hard or thinks it makes him/her look smart. I kind of felt that was the case here.
The sexuality didn't bother me; I was aware of it coming in and expected it; it's neither a turn on or turn off for me, and I don't mind plenty of trash in my novels. I just prefer interesting trash.
Noticed this has been shelved several times as 'Romance' and even as 'erotica', but I think its important to note that there is a difference between books which are actually Romance, but contain fantasy elements; and books which are Fantasy but contain some romance. I'd say this book definately falls into the latter category. Certainly some parts are somewhat graphic on the bdsm parts, but thats where it's important for plot and character, a lot of 'encounters' were suprisingly of the tasteful fade-to-black sort.
Phedre is a girl, born and raised among courtesans. Unfortunately Phedre is considered flawed, a single red mote in one eye spoils her appearance, and leaves her unwanted. This is until Anafiel Delaunay sees her and recognises the mote for what it is - Kushiel's dart - a rare mark bestowed by one of their patron angels, both a blessing and a curse. Delaunay takes Phedre into his household, and gives her an education beyond that of any other courtesan. At first it's confusing to Phedre, who doesn't understand what need she'd have of languages and history etc, but Delaunay insist she also learn the more useful skills of observation and deduction.. skills more appropriate for a spy than a courtesan. Delaunay can do his best to keep Phedre safe, but ultimately they must use all resources as the political plots go ever deeper.. murder, treason, war..
The story takes a fair while to get truly started; the novel follows Phedre's story from birth and through her childhood. But despite the long set up, it was never boring, in fact, it's a good method for world building. As Phedre speaks about the various night courts, and learns the myths and histories of her home country, we learn too, and the world has quite a fascinating background.
The Author has chosen to base her mythology on jewish and christian beliefs, the brief story is that at the crucifiction of J-sus, His blood mixed with the magdalenes tears, and out of the earth sprang Elua, who was a sort of mortal deity. He had a minor disagreement with the jewish/christian G-d and departed amicably taking several angels with him. They then founded a civilisation in a place called Terre D'Ange (geographically it seems to be france!). From a christian point of view, I actually found it an interestinc concept, to see a fantasy mythology based on something which I consider to be fact.. this made me think more seriously about all the times I've read fantasy stories based on norse or greek mythology! I have no criticism of the way it was done, there seems no disrespect in it from the author's point of view, and it makes for a new and innovative fantasy setting.
One of the most unusual things about the setting is the fact that their culture respects and revere prostitutes, in fact to be a courtesan is this society is an act of devotion to one of their patron angels. Theres also a high amount of acceptance for gay relationships, and their one tenet of faith is the phrase 'love as thou wilt'.
Overall I thought the book was absolutely brilliant, it's been a long time since I came across a fantasy series to rival my all time favourites but I could happily shelve this alongside my beloved George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan and Elizabeth Haydon. The background was epic, the description was inspiring, and the characterisation was practically flawless. Just the right amount of sympathy for the heros/heroines and just the right amount of love and hate for the 'villains'. I really hope the rest of the series live up to the same standard!
I'd probably recommend it for anyone who like most kinds of fantasy, although.. it's hard to compare to other types of fantasy, but I'd say out of my own limited experience it's closer to Elizabeth Haydon than anything else.
I wish I'd known what Kushiel's dart truly was about before reading it, it's not my type of book at all. I'm settling now at 3 stars but there's a high chance I'll lower my rating to 2.
This isn't a proper review as much as some things I would've liked to know before reading Kushiel's Dart.
The protagonist is basically a very expensive prostitute. She feels pleasure with pain, hence she's very interesting to those nobles who like BDSM. We have explicit scenes of them hurting her, in creative ways. That wasn't what I expected at all, my fault for liking to know as little as possible about a book before reading it.
The politics part of this book was great, honestly. It is a shame -to me at least- that the book included such things. It didn't help that their portrayal of Christians was very obvious, Carey not even bothering other than translating Jesus son of Joseph to another language (which happens to be mine). I try to keep an open mind regarding these things and while the Yeshuite weren't badly portrayed, their history was. Okay so this is -1, the other -1 is for the BDSM things (honestly when I knew sex is involved naive me thought romance too but there’s not much of it), which I could've forgiven if they weren't so intertwined in the plot or at the very least so often/detailed (being well, the main point). So it's 3 stars for now.
I was honestly considering dropping it at 30% (since this book is 1000 pages, 330 pages isn't very little). I'm glad I continued because after that we had less sex and more action, and I understood why many like this book. I refuse to believe, however, that a man will take an extremely important decision and change his mind just because of her "doubting" his courage and then sleeping with him. Another thing I hated was her unreasonable fascination with Melisande. I did not like the woman from the start and if she's completely human, her "perfectness" is too much. These two things annoyed me enough to possibly change my rating to 2 stars. The french words while they started out nice enough, became ridiculous at some point (mostly names).
Anyway, if you do not mind these things, the story and the world-building are very well written and executed. I will not be reading the sequel because I can't stand the thought of what she'll be doing which if you liked this book, you probably won't mind it.
Tight, intricate plotting, side characters with a mythological flavor (I swear The Master of the Straights came right out of The Odyssey), And Phedre- the heroine of the story.
Never would I have guessed I would like a character with masochistic tendencies who sleeps with "whoever she wilt". But I did.
I also liked the way the author weaves politics, war, betrayal, treachery and love into this story, and rather adeptly in my opinion.
Such intricate plotting can often get tangled and leave open ends that frustrate a reader, but by the end of Kushiel's Dart, one feels satisfied that loose ends are tied up (At least most loose ends. Others are left wide open purposefully- for the next novel.)
Carey also meshes different genres well, though for romance reading purists this story probably won't receive high marks. Oh there is sex- and plenty of it, but hardly graphic and THANK GOD for that! ( I don't think I couldn've handled reading full on anguisette loving.)
I think what I like best about the book is the world Carey created.
The world-building! I'm in awe. The time and effort she must have put in can only be a labor of love- which I'm sure it was for her.
She put everything into it. Land, Language, History, Religion, and Culture. Yes it mirrors the time before the dark ages, but it has a an alternate take on that time that is fun to dive into.
In the end, I liked Carey's world and I look forward to visiting it again- but I may give it some time. It's just that type of read.
Kushiel’s Dart is an epic book, which I enjoyed. In fact, I long to read another book of this epic scale. The world Jacqueline Carey presents is rich and beautiful, with its own mythology and its own customs. Little details like the exotic wines, elaborate tattoos, and breathtaking fabrics, make my mind swim with ideas. Truly the book is a feast for the imagination.
I was intrigued with all the characters too. Everyone, Delaunay, Alcunun, Hyacinthe, Joscelin and of course, Phedre herself, all seem to have a mythology about them; a sort of larger than life persona, which reminds me a bit of Homer’s Odyssey. I enjoyed the intricate political plot too. There is a part in this book where the story completely changes direction and just takes off never slowing down. I was truly shocked by what happened.
I’m definitely giving Kushiel’s Dart five stars, because I enjoyed it immensely. But I do tend to nitpick what I love, so I want to point out some things I wasn’t too crazy about. One is… I think the book is a little bit too long. Carey sometimes describes unimportant things in exhaustive detail, and while I love her world building, her book would still have been lush and rich even if it was trimmed a little bit. I found myself anxious for the story to wrap up, and there is so much text before certain characters meet up again. It frustrated me.
I found the elitism about the D’Angelines a little off putting, but this could just be my own bias. Any society that is supposed to be superior and more beautiful than any other just annoys me.
Being a huge erotica fan, I would have liked to have had more detailed love scenes, maybe divulging a little bit more into the dominance and submission of Phedre’s craft. But I’m a big BDSM fan, so I’m sure the average reader won’t miss this. LOL
Other than that though, I think this book is excellent, and I cannot recommend this book enough. Jacqueline Carely made me want to read more fantasy novels.
Thankfully, I did expect the BDSM and the sex, but I did not expect how amazing the world building would turn out to be.
Kushiel's Dart is less a fantasy and more an alternative history of Europe. The main protagonist, Phèdre, was born with a crimson ring around the iris of one of her eyes: Kushiel's Dart. Kushiel's followers endure and inflict pain, mingling it with pleasure.
This book has a vast cast to the point where I was hugging the Dramatis Personae with tears in my eyes.
While I enjoyed reading about Phèdre, Joscelin and Hyacinthe, I above all, loved Melisande. I know that most hate her, and I probably should hate her as well, but damn if she isn't one compelling character. I've known women like her, and they always have my attention. It's not good, but they do, and I guess that says a lot about me.
Yes, this book has romance, but there's so much more. I've hardly ever seen such a richly detailed world. The plot offers everything: a game of thrones and kings, adventure, intrigue, love, war, betrayal, sex, friendship.
The book's huge, and halfway through it could have ended, and essentially you get a second book attached to the first one, and I just loved everything about it. Carey's prose is immensely readable and enjoyable. In places perhaps a bit purple, but overall beautiful.
Kushiel's Dart is told in first person from the point of view of Phèdre and her narration is funny and intriguing. Carey develops her in a believable way and I enjoyed seeing the story unfold through her eyes. Especially because she seems to feel the same way about Melisande as I do.
I recommend this to all fantasy fans who enjoy extensive world building, huge casts and romance.
Feels like I just finished a whole series in a matter of days.
Not quite fantasy, more like alternate history or a slightly fantastical alternate timeline, but nonetheless epic in scope and depth. There's a lot of world building that can seem like tedious writing at first, but all the disordered pieces of the puzzle do come together in the end and there's a huge pay off--the battle at the end had me on the edge of my seat for days.
Star rating to be determined at a later date because I just don't know at the moment. There's a lot to unpack, still, but I'll definitely finish this series.
* * * * *
Reread (quick skim): February 2022
I am still in awe of this book and the way in which it flipped the script on what appeared at first glance to be traditional fantasy: too many characters, too much court politics, too much sitting around and talking, glacial pacing, decadent prose. Contrived, repetitive, boring.
Then the coup happened a third of the way through the book, setting many of the pieces from the long-winded set-up into place, and this book became something else entirely in a blink of an eye. I like to refer to it as the point in which the splendor of Versailles turned into Vikings (the TV show). It still amazes me that the author who wrote the first third of this book is the same author who wrote the other two thirds because each third is unique in its own way with its own scope and endgame. There's planning and intention behind each section of the book, and you see it clearly once you reach the end.
The last third is about rounding up support, breaking a siege to turn the tides, and the long march back to the seat of power. Buried within this book is a story about taking back a kingdom from usurpers and reinstalling the rightful heir(ess) to the throne. All of which sounds fairly standard for high fantasy and not usually the kind of plot that draws me in, but Jacqueline Carey has a way that makes all of it more interesting than reading about actual history, and she had me glued to this book for several hundred pages.
This may be an unusual take, but the love as thou wilt angle--weaving sex into religious practice and making it a fantastical element of this fantasy world--is probably the least titillating aspect of this book and series to me even though it's a major part of the POV character's identity. Phedre is a highly regarded courtesan, and assignations with her are much sought after. She is also the angel Kushiel's chosen one who bares his mark and thus takes pleasure from pain. The pain aspect is woven well into the main plot, and it makes for a difficult read at times. Several scenes are shown in vivid, unflinching details; not for the faint of heart, not at all titillating.
However, the way this book was presented in blurbs and how other authors and reviewers had written of the portrayal of sex and sex work, I had expected it to be a lot more controversial than it actually was. Instead, what I had found was really good world building with some solidity that made sense in the context of this fantasy world where sex is a tenant of religious practices. It may sound sketchy in theory--sex + religion???--but the execution is quite compelling, although your mileage may vary.
The thing likely to put new readers off from continuing Phedre's journey is right at the start of the book when she begins telling her story. She starts by detailing her early childhood and how she was raised in a brothel to be trained as a courtesan. The details are stark and matter of fact, all told from the POV of an adult looking back at her life, but there are times when it's hard to imagine a child at that age thinking about becoming a courtesan and striving to be the best while learning the trade. I skimmed much of this part and then skipped ahead to the court politics.
Overall, this book was a fascinating and, at times, challenging read. I don't remember the moment it got its hooks into me; I just remember reaching the end and immediately searching for the next book in the series. I'm currently rereading/skimming Phedre's books to prepare for Imriel's books. I think I'm dragging my feet because there is some subconscious concern about Imriel's story not being quite as good as Phedre's.
I don't normally do a very long or thorough review for books that are part of a trilogy: I tend to wait for the end of the trilogy. But Kushiel's Dart is an exception, mainly because there's enough action and intrigue for a whole trilogy in the first book alone. A lot of people start their reviews by saying that this book is not for everyone. Well, bah to that. No book is for everyone. Kushiel's Dart does deal with a lot of sex. Kinky sex. I thought, on the whole, that part was well done -- and a lot of Phèdre's assignations were also plot points. I think that even a person with no interest in BDSM in itself could enjoy the books, and just skim or skip the sex scenes if they're that troubling. Now, some of the torture scenes: they made me wince.
I wasn't fond of the narrative voice, at first, but once I got into it, I quite enjoyed it. The voice is quite distinctive, being decidedly not modern English, although it does remind me a little of Fitz and Nevare in Robin Hobb's work -- I think it's mostly that they and Phèdre tell their stories from the same distance.
This book is incredibly rich in terms of world building. There is so much depth to it, woven into the story. Perhaps a little more than is exactly necessary, but if you appreciate a lot of world building, it's brilliant. You probably have to lay aside any scepticism about a land where everyone is beautiful, having the blood of the son of Jesus, but if you suspend your disbelief and let the details build up, I think it's a very compelling world. The politics that drive the plot are also amazing, and this is one of few books that kept me guessing a lot. Melisande really does play a deep and subtle game.
The characters themselves, again, you have to be willing to buy into, I think. I know that some people think she's a "Mary Sue" because she's beautiful and she's special and she's marked by a god and all of it. Yes: okay. I can see that criticism. But once you're drawn into the story, once the setup is over, the characters become incredibly compelling. The complex relationships between them are very, very interesting, and I can't wait to see how things will play out. My favourite characters were Joscelin and Hyacinthe, fairly predictably. There's something I find incredibly compelling about the depth of loyalty Joscelin and Hyacinthe have for Phèdre in their different ways. Melisande is also incredibly interesting, of course.
I loved the subplot of Ysandre and Drustan, too, including the part with the Master of the Straits. Hyacinthe's subplot in that breaks my heart, and yet I love it.
Jacqueline Carey keeps a lot of threads on the loom, in this book, and I think she manages them all admirably. I'm eager to read Kushiel's Chosen -- though I might have to take a day or two to recover first!
This is a case of not necessarily miss-marketing but rather miss-perception of the book community.
When looking up "Kushiel's Dart" online, the first thing you're told is that it's erotic kink fantasy and little else. While there are some very rough sex scenes, it's definitely not the main subject of the book. It's pretty epic in scope, tells a coming of age story, with much political intrigue, adventure and military elements. It's better than many epic fantasy titles I've read in recent time and the beginning of what promises to become a new favourite series.
Yes, young Phèdre is maybe a bit too horny for my own taste but also very realistic given her circumstances - and she goes through immense growth in the second half of the book. And while I didn't love all the side characters from the get-go, many of the grew on me - Joscelin I loved through the whole book.
The world building in this book is extremely fascinating and actually quite thought-provoking (given how influential the Christian church was and is in European history and society) - making you consider the inevitable "what if?". I loved both the writing and pacing of Kushiel's Dart as it easily draws you in but is also slow enough to not overwhelm you.
I don't want you to get the wrong impression though, there are loads of sex, much of it in the veins of bdsm. If you are sensitive in that regard, be careful when picking up this book. While I was pretty OK with most of these scenes (mostly because Phèdre enjoys most of them and heals pretty quickly), the fléchette scenes were a bit much even for me.
What I want to say is that sex isn't all this book is but only one of many elements and doesn't take up too much relative space, considering that this book is over 1000 pages long.
I personally don't know why some people are fine with reading through the eyes of torturers but bdsm prostitutes are a no-go? - maybe some internal sexism? If they're as strong and enduring, intelligent and charming as Phèdre, I'll take them every day over anither male chosen one.
For me, this was a great read, both epic and intimate, complex and moving - and absolute Page-Turner. I'm eager for more.
No. Didn't really like it. Still haven't gotten halfway into it. Sadly, I also bought the next two volumes. Just too slow and convoluted and uninteresting. Maybe I'll give it another try sometime, but...
Okay... so... three years later, I gave this novel a second chance, and my opinion of it could not have changed more drastically! Whereas the book began very, very slowly and introduced so many characters that they were difficult to keep track of, after I picked it up again and kept reading, I found a story that was intriguing and fun to follow, and characters who are real and interesting and very well-formed by Jacqueline Carey. I fell in love with many of them and found myself unable to put the book down. I'm nearly finished with it now, and I can't wait to dig in to the next two volumes.
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.
4.5 stars. A little too long generally, the beginning is too dense especially with regard to the world building in the beginning. But after the beginning and aside from the length, I loved this book. It is beautifully written, the main character is inspiring, the side characters are fun to read about, the romance is very sweet, the world created is enormous and creative. I love how the author pushes beyond what is comfortable for many people in terms of relationships and sexuality. Unlike other reviews I have read, I disagree that this involves children employed in sex labor or child abuse. I understand where their perception comes from and respect it, I just disagree.
I could have done without de Sade, because no matter how hard I tried, my suspension of disbelief was not possible in regards to the main character. .
Putting this pet peeve of mine aside, I must admit that the book is otherwise amazing! I have previously read in other reviews that after a third it is unputdownable; and it was indeed. The writing was the first thing that captured my attention: if not for the exquisite and beautiful writing, I would have abandon it after the above fact. But the writing kept me going, and I finished the last half in a couple of days.
It reads more like a historical fiction or an alternate reality of our world based on mythology than a fantasy. The map below speaks for itself:
Magic is almost absent, and the few bits scattered here and there are not exactly what I would call magic. Anyway, it has no need for it; the plot, the story in its entirety, the worldbuilding are more than enough to keep you hooked, as well as the rest of the characters.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed it; almost 1000 pages but it doesn't feel like a long book at all.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>