- Title: Kushiel’s Dart
- Author: Jacqueline Carey
- Series: Kushiel: Phèdre’s Trilogy #1
- Genre: Adult Fantasy
- Category: Fantasy
- Length: 1015 pages
- Website: http://www.jacquelinecarey.com/
Summary: Phèdre’s parents gave her away to the service of Naamah when she was just a child. Along with a home full of other children, she will be taught the arts of sexual pleasure until she reaches maturity at the age of 16 yrs old. At that time, her virginity will be sold to the highest bidder and she will be an indentured sexual servant until she has earned enough money to pay off her marque and be a free woman. In the land of Terre d’Ange, this is a common practice. They live by the precept “Love as thou wilt.” It is considered a great honor to serve Naamah, and Phèdre is looking forward to her future.
Her path changes when a mysterious man named Anafiel Delaunay purchases her indenture to take her on as a student and foster child. From this point forward, she is known as Phèdre nó Delaunay. Anafiel recognizes the blood red spot in her eye as Kushiel’s Dart, a legendary physical brand that no living person has seen in their lifetimes. Kushiel is one of the original fallen angels to wander the Earth, and his mark on Phèdre indicates that her sexual appetites and talents will be extraordinarily unique. Phèdre’s greatest pleasure will be achieved with physical pain and mental torture.
Delauney’s intentions are not to use his two apprentices for something has mundane as profit. Phèdre and her foster brother Alcuin are being trained to spy on the nobility they will be servicing. Their skills in strategy, observation, and analysis are being honed to perfection. Their education and linguistics rivals that of scholars.
When the two apprentices finally begin their service, neither is quite clear about what Delauney is looking for in the information they are bringing back to him. But they do discover quickly that there are many secret meetings and alliances going on behind closed doors. It seems that the failing health of the current King is drawing the attention of those who would like to take the throne. When people begin to take sides, violence comes to their beautiful city. Delauney will take no risks with Phèdre’s safety, so he makes arrangements for a Cassiline Guard named Joscelin to be her constant companion.
When Delauney is betrayed, Phèdre and Joscelin are kidnapped and sold to a warlord from another country. Their situation is dire, but their focus is as much on the future of their beloved country as it is on their own situation. They have finally unraveled the plot against the throne, as well as the identity of the traitors. They must find a way back to Terre d’Ange to save their country from an imminent demise. This begins the journey of a lifetime.
Review: I had moments when I both loved and hated the predominant element of this story: Phèdre’s destiny to be a sadomasochistic servant of Naamah. In layman’s terms, she is a prostitute. On one hand, I thought it was really interesting and unique to feature such a person as the protagonist in a fantasy novel. This kind of originality is one of the first things that die-hard fantasy fans look for in their favorite series. Phèdre’s profession is the reason she has access to the people who create the story’s conflicts. And, because she is the only person in this service who has been marked by Kushiels’s Dart, she is revered in a way that allows her to both influence people, and be in a position to manipulate those whom she would bend to her wishes.
On the other hand, it’s risky to use this profession as the thread that ties all of the characters and plotlines together because there are so many cliches and stereotypes revolving around this role in any society. Yes, the author goes out of her way to make Phèdre something different: the passion she can only experience with pain, the vast amount of education, culture, strategy and cunning she learns from Delaunay, her acceptance among the nobility, and her unabashed love of and craving for her job. But when you are using “the world’s oldest profession” as the story’s catalyst, it is not enough to make Phèdre a unique character – her actions need to be just as unique. After all, to stand out in the land of Terre d’Ange, where prostitution is considered a sacred service, she can’t just stand out against the general public, she has to be unique compared every other prostitute as well. This is where the author made a few blunders.
Although it was predictable, I didn’t mind that Phèdre’s life was spared on occasion for the sole reason that her enemies were simply too curious to pass by an opportunity to experience her talents. She was considered a treasure of sorts, and even the most evil villains will want to acquire a few treasures. The story fell short in a few scenes where Phèdre’s behavior was vapid and unimaginative. Why give this woman the education and training of a world class espionage agent if she is going to choose to solve her problems with a roll in the sack? Sometimes it was just too easy. I was very disappointed when these scenes occurred because it was so contrary to how her character was developed. Her power didn’t come from giving her body away, it come from the lascivious anticipation and greed she elicited in people. It is human nature to want what we don’t have more than we want what we have.
Aside from these few disappointing scenes, I enjoyed the rest of the book. The supporting cast of characters was phenomenal. Delaunay had a fascinating history that probably could have been a book by itself. And from the moment that Joscelin Verreuil was introduced to the story as Phèdre’s Cassiline bodyguard and companion, I couldn’t get enough of him. He had to make some of the most difficult and life-changing choices throughout the book, and I loved that he followed his own mind and heart rather than following the rules. There were other characters who were introduced so mildly that I was caught by surprise later on when their roles became pivotal to the plot.
In spite of the fact that sexuality was such an important part of this culture, the number of graphic sexual scenes are minimal and relatively short. I would recommend this series to fans of medieval fantasy with strong female leads. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.