Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
“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. Phedre no 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. Phedre 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, Phedre 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 Phedre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.”
This was recommended to me by Sammy Smith; as she says, “It’s a book about sexual awakening and acceptance, love, lust and compromise, political intrigue, assassins, spies, courts and adventure. It’s just sublime. Intoxicating even. Can you tell I love it?”
I loved it too.
It’s so complex, the politics woven into the story; every detail matters, and there’s so many twists of betrayal and treachery and loyalty. Every character has their own agenda, and they change over time, moving in response to everyone else. I have no idea how she planned it out, but it’s breathtaking! And yet, despite that, the story is clear. We follow Phedre, and her decisions and choices are always understandable. We know what she knows, understand what she understands. We hate and love as she does.
The characters are brilliant; hateful, cunning, ruthless, kind, enchanting, wonderful. Melisande is fantastic; I loved Delaunay and Alcuin, and Joscelin…as Sammy said, “Everyone needs a Joscelin!”. He’s a completely adorable idiot, and I loved his character development. As with the politics, people change over the course of the story – events do change their characters and their decisions, change how people view the world and how they react to it. It’s all done so well that you follow along with it, understanding and sympathising, even with those who act badly against Phedre.
And the world…wow. Terre d’Ange is a take on Earth, with some recognisable places; France, England, the Mediterranean. But the history is rewritten, Gods walked the earth, the cities are transformed. Myth and power mix into the political reality – a god can stop you crossing the sea as easily as a courtier can poison your food. Terre d’Ange’s culture is a wonderful creation, with the Houses and nobles, each with their own desires and structures and customs. When the story broadens out to the wider world, it’s just as enchanting – every land has its own differences, some subtle, some massive. The cultures borrow from Earth ones, but not in any majorly recognisable way – there’s none of the wholsesale borrowing that marrs a lot of fantasy worlds.
Also, just to warn people; don’t read this if you can’t cope with sex. It’s never gratuitous and always winds into the story (Game of Thrones could learn a lot!) but there’s quite a lot of it. It’s really well written, though; subtle and understated, despite often having a BDSM theme. So, just sayin’.
Overall? This is an absolutely breathtaking book; the worldbuilding and culture creation is amazing, the characters are brilliant, and the story keeps tugging along; what happens next? What happens next?
This story is self-contained, but the series does continue; Kushiel’s Chosen is the next one, and it’s definitely on my TBR!
This was part of my Discoverability Challenge.