Book Review: Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (published by Pan Macmillan)
Wow! This book puts the EPIC in epic fantasy! There’s complex political intrigue, devastating betrayal, high stakes, great escapes, dangerous sea travel, large scale battles, love, a touch of magic and plenty of sex.
It tells the story of Phedre no Delaunay, born to a runaway whore and sold to a whorehouse for a pittance because Phedre has an imperfection – a scarlet mote in her left eye. Then a wealthy noble comes to visit, recognises that the imperfection is in fact a very special mark from the God Kushiel and buys Phedre. Anafiel Delauney installs Phedre into his own household as a pupil, along with another, a boy called Alcuin.
Phedre and Alcuin are pimped out by Anafiel (but in a loving, kind way) to nobles and royalty. They are there to not only give pleasure but to learn, listen and report back as Anafiel has his fingers deep in lots of political pies. This might sound sleazy, but it’s not. One facet of the religion in the country of Terre D’Ange is entirely based on pleasure and one of the gods, Namarre, willingly slept with men to aid the highest god, Elua, on his travels. Yes, Phedre is a sex worker, but she’s also extremely intelligent, fluent in numerous languages and has been trained as a spy.
But Delauney is in too deep and a catastrophic event sees Phedre, and her austere bodyguard, Joscelin, betrayed and sold to the barbarians in the country of Skaldia as slaves. She learns of the Skaldi’s plan to invade Terre D’Ange, colluding with her own people. There follows a desperate escape, harrowing journey and royal quest across the sea to another country and back, where she loses her best friend Hyacinthe to a magical curse. After, there are battles and high-stake gambles and selfless actions.
It is told from the first-person viewpoint of Phedre, whose narrative is honest, descriptive, occasionally funny, and always intriguing. Her character, and the characters of Joscelin, Delauney, Hyacinthe, Melisandre and more are very well drawn, each with his or her own depth. Phedre is a determined, clever, brave woman who I loved spending time with.
The writing is beautiful, quite flowery, but that suits the dreamy country of Terre D’Ange which reminded me of a luxurious, opulent French court. They are a beautiful people who honour beauty and live for pleasure. There are some explicit sex scenes early on (I wished there was more tbh!) as well as some violence, but nothing too gory.
There really is a lot going on in this novel – it’s a whopping 700 pages – and at times it is a bit heavy going. I’ll admit, I forgot who some of the people were after a long absence and had to go back and remind myself. As long as you are happy to invest the time, it really is an incredible read.
My rating: 5/5
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>>My debut novel, an epic fantasy called MELOKAI, is out now! Available from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Read more about my books here.<<
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