Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kushiel's Dart

Phèdre lives in an alternate version of Europe, in which the country we know as France is called Terre d'Ange ("land of the angel"). Jacqueline Carey weaves elements of Christianity into the religion of Terre d'Ange, a place whose denizens are literally descended from angels, and where religion is part and parcel of their actions and culture.

As a child, Phèdre is left by her parents to be raised by one of the houses dedicated to Naamah (basically a sophisticated, faith-sanctioned brothel), where she is apprenticed in the ways of the Night Court. However, she has a flaw - a scarlet mote in one of her eyes - which makes her ineligible to be a full-fledged member of any of the houses. Until one day someone sees her "flaw" and understands what it truly is - she has been chosen by Kushiel, one of the deities of Terre d'Ange, and she bears his mark. And the course of Phèdre's life changes forever, as she is raised by an intelligent, powerful man with a hidden agenda, taught to be not only a courtesan with gifts unique in the world but to observe, remember, and think. Phèdre becomes a weapon in a hidden war of court politics and intrigue, and eventually finds herself in the possession of knowledge that could bring down the nation.

This paperback novel has more than 900 pages, and I've only scratched the surface of this rich, sensuous tale. The story starts out slowly, taking its sweet time to build Phèdre's intricate world, to introduce its vast cast of characters, including Phèdre's dearest friend, the irrepressible gypsy urchin Hyacinthe. In the beginning, the story may seem to meander, but the background is important, and seemingly irrelevant details told in passing resonate later on in the story. The tale is told from Phèdre's point of view, and the strength of her voice carries the narrative, relating an exciting, moving, riveting tale that gains momentum from chapter to chapter, making it a book that is dangerously difficult to put down.

Carey's writing is excellent, her dialog spot-on, her characterizations subtle, with depth and humor. And her descriptions are masterful. She creates such a vivid world that I found myself blinking dazedly at my surroundings whenever I (sadly) had to close the book, slightly surprised (and a bit disappointed) at finding myself in 21st-century Virginia. I read this book when it was first released, as well as the two sequels, and I think I enjoyed it even more this time around. There is explicit (but not gratuitous) sexuality, which may make some readers uncomfortable. I found it was deftly handled, skillfully woven into the mythology of Terre d'Ange in an unforgettable way. Phèdre is a truly lovable heroine, and I'm looking forward to rereading the next volume in this series. Fans of Anne Bishop's Black Jewels books would, I think, particularly enjoy this series.

Books in the Kushiel's Legacy series:
1. Kushiel's Dart
2. Kushiel's Chosen
3. Kushiel's Avatar
4. Kushiel's Scion
5. Kushiel's Justice
6. Kushiel's Mercy
7. Naamah's Kiss
8. Naamah's Curse

Kushiel's Dart (#1 in the Kushiel's Legacy series) by Jacqueline Carey (Tor, 2001)

Also reviewed at:
Adventures in Reading: "Kushiel's Dart far exceeded my expectations and while I feel no inclination to rush out and find a copy of the next book...I did enjoy the time spent in Terre d'Ange and will likely return for another visit to the intrigue of Phedre's world."
For Your Leisure: "It’s not a light read by any stretch, and I have to say I found it absolutely riveting."
Lusty Reader: "Basically reading Kushiel’s Dart was a mixture of hard work – getting my brain to think in terms of this world – but also so much enjoyment of the depth of characterization, thrilling action plot, and mythology in the story."

11 comments:

  1. I have added this to the wish list in my brand new reading journal

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  2. I think I'm going to love this series - I've been it compared to Black Jewels before, and it just sounds so much like my kind of fantasy. But...sigh, so many of them, and SO long. Which will be a GOOD thing once I get hooked, I know, but it's intimidating at first :P

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  3. my used book store had a copy so I picked it up this afternoon.

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  4. This is a series that I tried to get into. A friend lent me her copy of this particular book and I started it and then.. I stopped. I was bored out of my mind and I just didn't care about the characters. Also she warned me about the bondage, etc by saying "It's sort of starts off the way the Laurell K. Hamilton books end up, you might not like this". And she was right.

    I have so many things to read right now, maybe somewhere down the road in the far, far away future I might try it again, but I don't think so. I think this is one of those series I am happy to leave alone.

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  5. I'm looking for fantasy books to read for the Once Upon a Time, and this sounds amazing!

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  6. Heather - Wow, that was fast! I hope you'll enjoy it. :-)

    Nymeth - I think this book, with its lush descriptions and rich mythology, not to mention the amazing characters, will appeal to you. Yeah, it's definitely a chunkster, though. When you're in the mood for a really complex world-building extravaganza, give it a go. I'd love to hear what you think!

    Cat - I certainly can see it's not for everyone. It does start out slowly, but I really loved it all. After steering you so wrong with the Dory Basarab series, I'm certainly not going to urge you to give this another try! :p

    Jenny - I'll be excited to hear what you think of it!

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  7. I read the first three, the Phedre series and found them very hard to put down. I hadn't realised there were any more, so thanks for your list of them all here!

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  8. I just finished the most recent addition to the Naamah series, NAAMAH'S KISS. I missed Phèdre and Josceline terribly. I am so attached to them, and their world. I don't share their sensibilities, but that didn't keep me from falling thoroughly in love with the Kushiel series.

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  9. I started this book a couple years ago, really liked it, and yet never finished it! I have no idea why anymore. Probably got busy with whatever was going on at the time. Now I wish I had read it because the series was a lot smaller back then!

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  10. GeraniumCat - I found out that she'd written more when I sat next to a woman on a plane who was reading one of them! It was a nice surprise. I'm looking forward to continuing with the series after rereading the first three.

    Kailana - I hope you'll have a chance to go back and reread it and continue through to the end. I think you'll find that you're happy that there are so many of them, after all! :-)

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  11. Fuzzycricket - It is hard when series move on and give you new characters that you might like, but you miss your old favorite ones. I'm excited to continue on with the series - and I'm happy to hear you enjoyed the Naamah one all the same.

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