Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
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Cannonball Read V: Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey

By Polyphonist | Book Reviews | June 24, 2013 | Comments ()


For whatever reason, I don't generally read sci-fi or fantasy - unless there's a heavy magical slant. This is probably why I missed Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series when it first came out over ten years ago. However, yet another friend suggested I read it, and I finally decided to give it a go.

Overall, Kushiel's Dart is utterly fantastic...both because it is literally a fantasy novel where the author spins an entire world that is just enough like our Renaissance to be familar but different enough to be incredibly intriguing and progressive, but also because it is a fascinating saga of an amazing heroine. Said heroine's name is Phedre, and she narrates her own life. The book starts with her recollections of childhood until she is sold (at the age of 4 due to financial issues her parents had) into one of the Court of the Night-Blooming Flower, an elite group of courtesans divided into 13 houses based on individual skill set. Phedre is raised in one of the houses until a patron takes her on as his own pupil.

Because her left eye bears a scarlet mote, Phedre is regarded by some as a little freaky, but Anafiel Delaunay recognizes that she is a a chosen one. He sees that she is a true anguisettte - one with the rare gift to transform pain into pleasure. Delaunay takes Phedre in once she's completed her cursory training amongst the Night-Blooming Flowers. Under his care, she learns tumbling, multiple languages, politics, customs, oratory skills as Delaunay shapes her to be a spy of sorts to him.

The story moves effortlessly from Phedre's childhood to womanhood, from the tranquil home of Terre d' Ange to the bitter, war-hungry vestiges of the Skaldic territories, and then back again, culminating in a war rife with betrayal, heroism, bloodshed, and glory. One of the things I found most intriguing, though, was the novel's treatment of sexuality, sexual preference, and BDSM. For the most part, at least in Terra d' Ange, bisexuality is common and widely accepted. Especially as it pertains to adepts of the Court of the Night-Blooming Flowers, where Courtesans are free to choose male and/or female patrons on a case by case basis. Sex itself is literally paying homage to a god's sister, Naamah, who laid with strangers to keep her brother safe. And two of the houses in the court deal with the "darker arts" of sadism and masochism, but they're accepted as part of the human experience.

If you're looking for a heroine and a storyline to grab your attention, beat it, sleep with it, and in the morning, pay you towards a really awesome tattoo, this is a beautiful beginning in fulfilling that desire.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it , and find more of Polyphonist's reviews on the group blog.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate linksin this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • For some deeply personal (and looking back, frankly stupid, although what else is college for?) reasons, I picked up this book and devoured the whole thing in a day and a half, without sleeping. I enjoyed it a great deal, and very much liked the second as well. Those personal reasons, more than anything else, got in the way of my ever reading the third.

    I keep meaning to pick it up again, starting with the first, and read it all fresh. This does remind me over the very good things about the book, divorced from my stupid baggage. It might be time to pick it up again and give it a fair shot.

  • Polyphonist

    I'd definitely recommend it (obviously, judging by my favorable review) and to be honest, I think the third is the best book of them all. But that could also be because of -my- personal baggage. The third books gets much darker than the first two, but on the other hand, it delves deep into the mysteries of all different types of love. I'm hoping to get my review on that up soon.

  • Meli_V

    I read Kushiel's Dart when it was first published and love it, could not put it down. I handed it around, so I knew people I could discuss the book with. It was engaging and I developed an emotional attachment to the characters, I even shed some tears. I hated waiting for the second book and was pleased that it held up though it wasn't as good as the first. Then the third book was published and I nearly left it unfinished because it was so boring. I never bothered with the other two, but I was thinking just this past weekend of revisiting the first book.

  • MarTeaNi

    Uhg, that third book. What a slog. I went all the way through it and was thoroughly unsatisfied with pretty much all of it. Never have I been so disappointed in a book, given how much I enjoyed the first two.

  • Polyphonist

    Interesting. I really liked the first, wasn't as impressed with the second, and adored the third. Granted it did take a bit for me to get into it, but once I did and the story got going, it became my favorite of the three. However, I took a cursory look at the next cycle (Imriel's story) and I'm just not all that interested in it right now.

  • MarTeaNi

    I ended up loving the first two in this series but found the final book incredibly disappointing. It was mostly dull and seemed to have a weird need to keep "topping" itself for how much pain can the heroine handle, in a really gruesome and frankly unrealistic way. Many times did I exclaim, "OH COME ON!"

    I tried reading the follow up books in this world but found them a slog, with the main character pretty unlikable. It read more like fanfiction of the first set of books.

  • Polyphonist

    Yeah, I wasn't terribly thrilled with the look at the next cycle of books. I think Phedre is a very unique and engaging heroine and her whole anguisette background is what intrigued me in the first place. The other books beyond her direct saga have left me kind of bored so far. But who knows what the future will bring?

    As for the third book, I'm surprised. I'm hearing from a few people that the third book was their least favorite and I just don't get it. I do understand that there did seem to be a strange need to up the ante on the amount of pain the Phedre could handle, but I also think it showed various types of pain and power plays. And also what they can do to the human psyche. It was actually my favorite of the Phedre cycle, as I really liked the exploration of the many different types of love there are.

  • MarTeaNi

    The books starring Imriel are just frustrating, and they take the religion/magic aspect that was skillfully hinted at in the first three very literally. "Here are magic powers, here are demons," etc. It's less about riffing on folklore and existing beliefs and more straight up genre fiction. Which is fine if you want that, but I'm not interested, and Imriel alternately bores me, irritates me and leaves me wanting to smack him.

    Part of my problem with the third book of the first cycle was that I found the resolution with Hyacinthe didn't do much for me, and the "here Phedre, Instant Child!" made me role my eyes. It was interesting to see Phedre reflect occasionally on not having children because of her curse, this felt like too pat a way around it. It was also severely lacking in the intrigue which I loved so much in the first two. In the end, I feel like it lost all its steam and went for a direct story route. It was an ending, but I don't find anything particularly satisfying about it. I'm not sorry I read it, but it's the only book in the series I've read only once.

  • Polyphonist

    Fair enough. I was good with both the resolution to the Hyacinthe storyline and also Phedre and Joscelin becoming Imriel's guardians, but I know that every one has different tastes. I, too, missed the intrigue in the third book, but because of it being ever-present in the first two, found the lack of it on Melisande's part to actually be touching and quite powerful. But again, everyone's different. I appreciate hearing your take on it.

  • Meg

    I started this series right after I had blown through A Song of Ice and Fire and was feeling a giant cavernous fantasy void in my life and someone recommended Kushiel's Legacy to me describing it as a cross between the political machinations and courtly intrigue of ASoIaF and the kinky bi-friendly smuttiness of Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty Trilogy. I didn't think the Sleeping Beauty stuff was anything special (fandom and the internet in general have pretty much ruined me for erotica) but that still sounded like the greatest recommendation pretty much ever. Who doesn't like porn and backstabbing! But I never even finished the first book because I got so bored/annoyed with it.

    This might make me go back and try to finish it though, because I'm not really sure how much my disappointment was due to reading it directly after finishing a series I loved so much and making unfair comparisons, and the fact that I did the first one via audio book and I couldn't stand the woman reading it. Maybe I'll try actually reading it this time.

  • Polyphonist

    Oooh, I could barely get through the first book in the Sleep Beauty trilogy. In fact, I don't think I did get through the first book. That was just...terrible to me.

    I would recommend giving it another read and am curious how you would find it with distance from ASoIaF. For me, it did take a good 100 pages or so to get into, but once I did, I was gone. YMMV, of course.

  • logan

    I started it read a 100 pages or so. Thought it was boring as hell and never finished it.

  • Polyphonist

    To each his or her own. Around 100 pages was where I thought it started getting good and I got hooked. With books in the 300-ish page range, I usually give it a good 50 pages to hook me. With a book more than double that in length, I knew I had to give it at least 100 pages. But again, to each his own.

  • emmalita

    Great review. I loved Kushiel's Dart, but haven't read the rest of the series.

  • Polyphonist

    Thanks! This is one of my first book reviews in a while, so I appreciate it. The rest of the Phedre cycle (Kushiel's Chosen, Kushiel's Avatar) were quite good, I thought. My favorite, probably for some fairly personal reasons, was the last one. It dealt with many different kinds of love and I found that fascinating.

  • mcl

    Thanks again for an interesting choice - I read this and never finished the series. It reminded me of how much I enjoyed the Saga of the Skolian Empire by Catherine Asaro. She knows how to do pain and with better writing .

  • Polyphonist

    You're welcome. I definitely recommend finishing out the series if only for the third book. I'll have to check out the Saga of the Skolian Empire. I'd never heard of it. Thanks!

  • KatSings

    I've had this on my radar for awhile and haven't gotten to it yet.

  • Polyphonist

    I'd definitely recommend it. I think you'd really like Phedre and her interactions with the people in her life. It took me a little bit to get into it (around 100 pages or so) but once I did, I was hooked.

  • mkt-rex

    I forgot how much I loved this whole book series (the three with Phedre). I guess that might mean time for a summer re-read.

  • Polyphonist

    Yes, the three with Phedre are quite good, I thought. Glad to have reminded you!

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