Saturday, May 30, 2009

REVIEW: Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Series: Kushiel Series 1st trilogy

Author's Website


Book One of the trilogy

The heroine of this novel, Phedre no Delaunay, is a courtesan and an anguissette, one who finds pleasure in pain. Adopted into Anafiel Delaunay's household, she was also trained as a spy. Treachery and treason followed her as she was sold into slavery, and she became an unlikely heroine who was instrumental in saving her country. Constantly at her side was the skilled priest-fighter, Joscelin Verreuil, whose fate was to stand at the crossroads and to choose again and again.


Jacqueline Carey's prose is lush and evocative, which makes the book a pleasure to read. Almost sensuous, the imagery quite vivid. For example, Phedre describes herself as a "night-blooming flower that wilts under the sun".

Tere d'Ange is different from our world in that its people live by the precept given by their main god Elua "Love as thou wilt". Hence, though they may marry to set up a family and a household, it is permissible for them to have lovers, i.e. virtually anyone they fancy. I have to admit that I have a hard time swallowing this at first, as I believe in loyalty in marriage.

Aside from lovers with which one can attain bodily pleasures, there are also thirteen night courts or pleasure houses, with each house catering to a different need: for example, Gentian - the courtesans there know how to divine the meaning from dreams (after they have shared your body to relax you), Valerian - to satisfy the need of masochists, Mandrake - to satisfy the need of sadists, etc. These houses serve the goddess of desire -- Naamah, who lay down with kings that Elua might have food.

Another thing about the people is that, as they are descended from angels, they are all very beautiful. Even the most ugly among them is beautiful by our standards. Oh, yes, forgive me. No one is ugly. Everyone is beautiful. When Phedre and Joscelin went to foreign lands, they are stared at precisely because of their beauty. Even when Phedre was forty (in book 3), she was still very beautiful. If I weren't sensible, I'd be eaten up with envy by the time I finish the series.

As a heroine, Phedre is incomparable. I don't know if it's because I haven't met quite a heroine like her, one who delights in her sensuality and who seeks pain as a means of pleasure. Actually, Phedre is more than that. If she didn't experience pain every now and then, she practically wilts. She couldn't take it. She needs pain. She is also unwavering in her loyalty to Anafiel, her patron with whom she was infatuated. She works for him as a spy and a courtesan, prying secrets from the lips of her clients while they lay resting in bed. Pillow talk, so to speak. But Phedre soon rises above being a mere courtesan. Cunning and patriotic, she would go to great lengths to save the country that she loves, using all her skills to achieve it.

Joscelin Verreuil is a Cassiline brother, the middle son who was sent for training as a warrior-priest. I forgot how, but he was requested by Anafiel from the Cassiline brotherhood to protect Phedre when she goes on her assignments. A Cassiline brother makes the vow of celibacy. In this instance, Jacqueline Carey is an absolute genius when she paired a courtesan with a monk. At first, Joscelin despises Phedre for what she is, especially when she slept in enemy beds. Later on, when he realizes that she does this to survive, so that they can escape to return the news of an impending invasion to Tere d'Ange, he came to respect her.

The pacing of the book is just right, with action and adventure and romance and sex neatly spaced out. Right, I can't not mention the sex, because it's part and parcel of what Tere d'Ange is. I have to say though, that none of the sex scenes is gratuitous and that they are graphic up to a certain point. Mostly, the author hints at things and leaves the rest to the readers' imaginations. I have to admit I don't much understand the BDSM part of the story, but I derive guilty pleasure from reading it.

I have to say though, that sometimes, I don't understand why Phedre did this or that. The author didn't give us a peek into Phedre's thoughts, so I'm left wondering. Or maybe I just didn't catch some of the hints she had given throughout the book. That said, I feel for Phedre and Joscelin and I kept rooting for their happy-ever-after. I was so into the book that I have to keep reminding myself this is only a story created by a woman's vivid imagination.

This book is also a huge tome at almost 1,000 pages (depends on the edition you're holding), but the action propels me onward. I keep turning the page. At one sitting, I consumed about 300 or so pages.

Book Ratings: 4.5



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