Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

(Cover picture courtesy of The Akamai Reader.)

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 a very 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 a courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundation 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.

Okay, you should not read this book or this review if you:

  • Are under 16
  • Thought Fifty Shades of Grey was too much to handle
  • Think this book is only about sex

Trust me, Fifty Shades of Grey has absolutely nothing on this.  You’ve been warned.

Yes, Kushiel’s Dart has sex in it.  A lot of sex.  Is that what it’s only about or is it even the main focus?  No.  That’s why it’s generally classified under ‘fantasy’ rather than ‘erotica’.  You can read it for the sex, but you’ll enjoy it so much more if you read it for the characters, world-building and insanely complicated politics.

Jacqueline Carey’s world-building is fantastic.  She has imagined a world in which the Roman Empire (called the Tiberian Empire now) executed a man called Yeshua ben Yosef whose blood mingled with the tears of the Magdalene and combined in the womb of Mother Earth.  Thus Elua was born and he traveled around the known world with his companions, who eventually settled down in their respective areas, which are the different provinces and regions.  The precept they passed on was, of course, ‘love as thou wilt’, which is why in most places the Servants of Naamah, the love goddess, are looked at with reverence and not disgust.

I’m vastly oversimplifying things here, but that’s the gist of the origin of Terre d’Ange and the other countries.  Kushiel’s Dart takes place in an alternate Earth where the Roman Empire still fell, but the aftermath was very, very different.  Terre D’ange, Skaldia, Alba…these countries are all so vividly described that you can picture yourself there.  They all have different traditions and cultures, which shows the true depth of Jacqueline Carey’s world-building.

Kushiel’s Dart is over 900 pages and while you may think that’s excessive, I will tell you for the most part, it was necessary.  Phèdre’s backstory was well established and when she is fully grown, we are able to understand the world she lives in and can actually follow the complicated politics of Terre d’Ange.  Trust me, I wouldn’t call them complicated if they weren’t, but they really are.  Kushiel’s Dart is a book where you need to pay attention to every detail, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time.  It’s also a book you can read over and over again and still discover something you hadn’t noticed before.

Phèdre herself is a great character.  She can be ruled by her desire for pain/pleasure, snobby about other cultures and jealous of Alcuin.  But she is very intelligent and when she experiences the cultures of the Skaldi and Albans she gives up her preconceived notions about them.  Yes, she can be jealous of Alcuin at times, but she never really shows her jealousy and feels bad about it because Alcuin is her friend.  It is Phèdre who makes the book and without a narrator as strong as her, even the best world-building wouldn’t save Kushiel’s Dart.

So if you’re looking for an intelligent, well developed world with a great narrator that just happens to have some sex in it, you’ll love Kushiel’s Dart.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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    • Carrie Slager

      Thanks! The way Jacqueline Carey did the alternative history/word thing was the best part of it. There are parts of ancient history you can recognize (the ‘Tiberian’ aka Roman Empire) and it’s sort of an alternate medieval world. That was my favourite part!

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