on 5 May 2004
A beautifully crafted piece of writing, containing some very clever ideas. The story is set in an alternate middle ages with a completely new religious mythology. Although it's tempting to gloss over the religion at first, (especially if you're a speed reader as I am)do try not to, as the religion is the basis of the story, the belief system motivating both main characters. This is a tale of treachery, love and betrayal, but most particularly love in all it's forms. There's the love for one's friends and fellow man, love for one's country, love for one's Gods (even when they drive you hard)and erotic love. There is a lovely erotic undercurrent throughout the book as our heroine comes to terms with the fact that she feels pain as pleasure and what this means for her when she is enslaved.
There's plenty of political shenanigans, spying and battles. I couldn't resist looking at the maps every now and again and trying to work out where the characters were in modern terms.
And how many of us could resist the Cassiline? What a knight in shining armour! I love the way he starts out a pompous idiot and his character develops through adversity. The Perfect Companion indeed.
Not so much magical as mystical, I highly recommend Kushiel's Dart and the following two novels in the trilogy.
on 8 June 2001
I was sent proof copies of this book for a cover quote, and feel strongly enough about it to put a review here. There is a lot of derivative, run of the mill fantasy about, but this book is fresh, complex, somewhat daring, and very well written. Perhaps not for the totally faint-hearted, as its themes are often of an adult nature, but Carey has to be applauded for this addition to the genre. It won't be given the same massive push as one of the new block-busters of fantasy, so I'm here doing my bit as a fellow author. Support new talent. Buy this book.
This is the story of Phedre No'Delauney, and starts when she is a very small child and her story as an anguisette, chosen to experience pain and pleasure as one.
This book can be quite erotic at times, but this book should not be dismissed as erotic fiction it is much more than that, an extremely well told book based in the middle ages in Europe, the use of the old country names such as Alba emphasises this.
Phedre bears the mark of Kushiel's Dart, a scarlet mote in her eye. The main part of this story revolves a\round Terre D'Ange (Land of Angels), the inhabitants of Terre D'Ange are descended from divine beings.
The story is based on politics, love & betrayal, aside from Phedre the cast of characters is impressive with extremely well-developed characters, and JC has detailed these very well within the story. The beginning of the story can get quite cumbersome and this is quite a long book but, it is well worth sticking to it after the first 150 pages or so the plot gets much more interesting. I did get the feeling that Phedre was narrating from sometime long ago in the past and seems as though she was looking back and re-living her experiences.
This is a fantastic novel, it has been criticised but, I personally feel this is a brilliant book and remains one of my all-time favourites, it is a very long book as indeed are the others in this trilogy, though this one is the longest but, it is never drawn out and is simply a stunning book to read.
on 16 February 2004
I just finished reading "Kushiel's Dart" by Jacqueline Carey and I have to recommend it.
Set in a Europe which is recognisably that of the middle ages but which is based on divergent history, religion and politics, the book mixes history and fantasy. It follows the intrigue and adventures surrounding Phedre, a girl "born" courtesan who becomes a pawn in a game of high stakes political intrigue.
Give the nature of the hero, there are quite explicit sexual encounters in the book. But they are not gratuitous or vulgar. They serve the plot. Phedre is not just a pretty face either. She could put many master spies to shame.
If I had to mention any bad things about the book, it is that the first 100 of about 1000 pages are a bit slow going. Also, you might feel you're getting confused by all the characters and places involved in the plot(s). But do not worry too much about that. By the end of the book, you will effortlessly know who is who and I believe you will have enjoyed the journey to get there.
Phedre truly is quite a memorable character. I usually enjoy books about political intrigue. So this was a great book for me.
I then discovered that 2 more books have been written about Phedre. But even though reports say that the other 2 are very good, the first book is a fully self contained story. No Otherland syndrom here. So you can read it and ejoy it thoroughly without having to worry about having to read the 2 sequels: Kushiel's Avatar and Kushiel's Chosen .
I know I'm off to order them though. :)
on 6 January 2005
After reading the summary at the back cover, I decided to buy it. From the first page I was hooked. Not a boring moment despite the political intrigues and the building up of the alternate world, Terre D'Ange (situated about France nowadays). The culture society is described well, given little by little along the way, not in a full history lesson, except for explaining the religion foundation of The Blessed Elua and His Companions. The story about who was Elua itself is a new thing for me and close related with crucifixion tale.
Against the strong religion and political background, Phaedré, a whore's unwanted get, adopted by Anafiel Delaunay and raised as the rarest scion of Kushiel, in other word, an anguisette, the right hand of the Punisher Angel and also as a spy. In the end of her lessons, she found herself in the mist of political turmoil, with the Princes of Blood trying to take the throne from a very old King and his young granddaughter by way of marriage or force.
Who was Anafiel? Why was he so interested in political game and using Phaedre and Alcuin, his other student, both as pawn and spy? Befriended from childhood by Hyacinthe, a Tsingano boy who could see the future, Phaedre tried to find out the truth which only made her rue the day she found it out.
Spiced with 'chaste' romantic relationship between Phaedre and a Cassiline brother (though I'm sure will develop in the next book), this dark romance novel is a hard-put to be put down. A sensually engrossing story.
on 11 November 2002
I was attracted to this novel by the heroine Phedre's physical marker - which I share and which sets her apart and determines the path of her life from infancy - a scarlet mote in her left eye.
The book may be daunting in size but it has an ambitious range and the author writes superbly and sensually. Here is finally a book which deals on a cerebral and physical level dealing often with the extremes of intimate relations (especially due to Phedre's unusual propensities as an anguissette derived from the spot in her eye, Kushiel's dart).
Without elaborating too much, the setting of Phedre's world appears to be a Europe after the Crucifixion which did not occur exactly as it does in the bible. Instead a new deity was born from the blood of Christ and the tears of Mary Magdalene leading to a number of other events which are detailed in the book. The upshot is that Phedre is born into a pleasure house (of which there are many) where everyone is extremely good-looking (a premise explained quite convincingly) consecrated to the worship of Naamah.
The most difficult part of the book is the political intrigues involving a cast of hundreds people which is not always easy to follow. However this aspect of the novel is balanced by the development of Phedre's character with very likeable central characters and a good pace. Buy this one and you won't be disappointed.
on 14 May 2007
Phedre no Delaunay is sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond purchased by Anafiel Delauney (aka The Whoremaster of Spies), who recognises that the spot of blood in her eye marks her as one who is pricked by Kushiel's Dart (she experiences pain and pleasure as one - a masochist). She's trained as a courtesan, but is also taught how to observe and analyse what she sees - the tools of a spy. As Phedre's homeland of Terre d'Ange is drawn ever closer to conflict through treachery and betrayal, it will be up to Phedre to use all of the talents at her disposal to save what she holds dear.
For me this book has one of the worst beginnings I have ever read. The first time I read it I think it took me over thirty starts before I managed to get past the first page. If you can bear with it this is a story that is well worth reading. I have pin-pointed the spot where I was drawn into the story - page 11 where Phedre finally stops talking about herself. And by page 343 I am totally absorbed in the cruelty and beauty of Terre d'Ange, just in time for Jacqueline Carey to rip my heart out via my throat - metaphorically speaking.
I guess my main problem with the book is that I don't particularly like Phedre as a character. She has a severe case of Buffyitis only instead of 'I'm the slayer', it's 'I'm the anguisette'. Get over yourself already!
If you haven't read the book you may want to know that most of the love scenes are of a sado-masochistic nature, so if that's not your sort of thing perhaps you should give this one a miss. Though in my opinion these scenes are beautifully written and necessary to the plot.
This book has taught me that you don't need to love the protagonist in order to fall in love with the world she inhabits and the story she tells. Jacqueline Carey's worldbuilding is immaculate. Not only does she bring the myths, culture and beauty of Terre d'Ange to life. She takes us to the wild northern lands of Skaldia with a struggle for survival, and over the sea to the barbarian land of Alba and the battle for a stolen throne. This is an epic tale.
More than anything it is the characters surrounding Phedre who fascinate me - Alcuin, Delaunay, Joscelin, Melisande and Hyacinthe - and the history of the land that she is witness to and part of. Jacqueline Carey draws us into this world and makes it real, her storytelling has a depth and lushness that pulls you in (if you can just get past those first few pages).
Also available Kushiel's Chosen (book 2) and Kushiel's Avatar (book 3)
on 15 March 2007
I have to say when i first started down the path of reading this book i found it rather hard going. The language can be rather overly elaborate. That said its still an amazing book. If taken with a pinch of salt and an open mind to the S and M you really grow to love the characters and enjoy watching them develop through the whole series. Phedre, who acts as narrator for the first three books isnt my favourite character Im afraid to say. The villain in the series is Melisande. Beautiful like all inhabitants of terre D'Ange she has a bit more of an edge to her than most. The politics that are weaved into the story can be hard to follow but in a way you dont really need to understand them, much like Phedre herself. She is immersed in a world of intrigu but at the start her vision is blinkered by her mentor for her own protection. I know this book is not for everyone but if you can adjust to the language its definately worth your time. I've re-read the series so many times and i always find little clues or bits of the story line that i never noticed so the book is always fresh to me.
At first glance Phèdre appears an unlikely heroine. Sold by her mother into the servitude of a brothel (albeit an extremely high class establishment), discovered to be an `Anguissette' (a person who finds pleasure in pain) and later adopted by Delaunay; a nobleman with a mysterious past, Phèdre may have just become an unusual plaything of those that could afford her services. But Phèdre is far more than she initially appears. Athletic yes but not trained to fight, Phèdre's highly honed skills lie in the bedroom, observing and reporting back to Delaunay the secrets spilled during her sometimes violent sexual assignments.
Phèdre reveals a deep core of steel and a quick nimble mind as she uncovers a plot to overthrow the throne. Aided by her best friend Hyacinth (aka the Prince of Travellers) and Joscelin; a warrior priest oath sworn to protect her, Phèdre begins an epic journey that can only end in triumph or the defeat of her realm.
This is a fantastic start to a series for a number of reasons. The concept of religion is highly original. In Phèdre's homeland of Terre d'Ange, the people are descendents of fallen angels. These angels plus their own roles in how they shaped the current society is very inventive. The attitude towards sex in the realm of Terre d'Ange is very open minded; after all there are 13 different houses that cater to any whim, but rather than appear tawdry, think more along the training and perfection of a geisha.
With an extremely large cast of characters from varied backgrounds, it takes a while to settle down and understand who is doing what and why, but the author provides a helpful reference guide at the start of this book. There are also a wide variety of societies introduced when Phèdre leaves Terre d'Ange, with echoes of Viking, ancient Pict, Oriental and Arabian cultures cleverly intertwined to produce something unique.
Extreme acts of bravery, treachery and stoic endurance liberally litter an action packed story that has me desperate to read further books in this series, plus some surprise that a heroine who is essentially a prostitute with masochistic tendencies could become such a likeable character.
on 6 November 2007
'Kushiel's Dart' tells the story of Phedre no Delaunay and the politics and challenges of her homeland Terre D'Ange with Jacqueline Carey describing all of Phedre's companions, upbringing and trials of the first twenty two years of her life in painstaking detail.
Jacqueline Carey describes Phedre's upbringing and emergence into the Arts of Namaar with vibrant descriptions. Although this chapter in Phedre's life takes up a vast quantity of the book, before all the intrigue and complexity of the plot become clear, this is not to say that it could be considered too descriptive or slow. It sets the scene perfectly, something with is essential for the rest of the book, understanding why Phedre chooses the paths she takes. Carey's characterisation establishes a strong foundation for future events, setting the scene perfectly.
Once the events begin to unfold, it becomes clear that this is more than just a life story, but a tale full of intrigue and adventure. But throughout Jacqueline Carey manages to make this story one of suspense without making it too complicated. I did not have to constantly retrace my steps, trying to recall what happened when. If anything I was just swept away with the beauty of the tale, enhanced dramatically by the characterisation.
On of the highlights for myself was the complexity of the relationships Phedre has, particularly with Joscelin. Nothing in her world is perfect. She isn't, Delaunay wasn't, Joscelin isn't, nor Hyacinthe, but never the less, Carey manages to capture what few Romance writers ever do, that Love is not simple, there are many variations of it and it does not always mean happy ever after.
Overall, I highly recommend this book, it takes you into a whole world which is at once familiar yet at the same time, wildly different to the Europe it is based around. Entertaining, humane and thrilling, well worth falling in love with!