Kushiel’s Dart is the debut novel of Jacqueline Carey, and the first book of the Kushiel’s Legacy series. I just finished reading Kushiel’s Chosen, the sequel to this book, so I’m not sure how much my review will be tainted by that – I’m writing this one so that I can have some context for that review.
Phèdre has been raised in the Night Court since being sold to them as a small child. She is marked with a small red mote in her eye – an imperfection that seems to render her too imperfect to be a Servant of Naamah until the wily noble Anafiel Delauney adopts her because he has recognised her for what she is – a god-touched anguisette, destined to take true pleasure in pain. Under his tutelage, she learns the art of spying and political intrigue as well as the arts of the bedchamber, and realises too late what a deadly game she’s playing. I won’t go into much more detail for fear of spoilers, but schemes and plots abound, and Phèdre gets to see a lot of the world.
Most fantasy books are set in imaginary worlds, but Kushiel’s Dart is set in an alternative history Europe what seems to be the Renaissance era. Elua, the son of Jesus’s blood and Mary Magdalene’s tears, settled in Terre D’Ange (present-day France) with his angel Companions. This changed the course of history in Europe, and although we see some familiarity in the naming of countries, most of it is pretty unfamiliar. The world of Kushiel’s Dart is touched by gods and angels, and there is subtle magic related to their gods in every culture.
This book is not for the prudish – the country of Terre D’Ange has only one religious commandment: Love as thou wilt. All forms of loving are sacred, and the Night Court is the most honoured of all. Marriage happens, but people are expected to follow their own desires, regardless of gender, number or manner. Our protagonist Phèdre is a courtesan that specialises in receiving pain, and Carey explores every facet of this in full detail. Ordinarily, I don’t really care for sex in books, but it is so unabashed and straightforward and well-written that I actually enjoyed it.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book – the plot, the characters and the world. Every character was complex, every relationship layered, every motivation deeper than suspected. Phèdre was the tinest bit annoying towards the end, but the ending was pretty terrific, and I couldn’t wait to read Kushiel’s Chosen.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel's Legacy, #1)
Tor Books, 2001 | Buy the book