_Kushiel's Dart_ is a truly striking work of fantasy - and not just for its notorious central conceit, although in many ways that alone would have been enough. Carey's heroine, Phedre no Delauney, is a courtesan whose god-touched destiny it is to derive her greatest pleasure from the sharpest pain. Her story plays out in a skewed, brilliantly-conceived version of Europe, where Germanic and Celtic peoples still organised as tribal societies border a sparkling post-Renaissance France-by-another-name. It is at the heart of the latter that Phedre lives, a star ascendant in a society where prostitution is a sacred act, and where politics always lurk beneath the surface. Entering the service of nobleman Delauney, she soon becomes entangled in conspiracies galore. The world is one of the richest and most detailed fantasy creations I've encountered in some time, beautifully-drawn with an eye for sensual detail and believeably varied mindsets. The touchstones which make it different from our own - such as the god who emerged from Christ's blood and the Magdalene's tears - are elegantly drawn out as both theme and background. The story emerges naturally from the political and social dynamics of the world, and occasionally from its more overtly fantastical elements. While the politicking is occasionally a little unsophisticated, the story is sufficiently twisty to satisfy most. Phedre herself is a stunning creation, a very human figure for all her extraordinary qualities. She makes an engaging and memorable point-of-view for the reader, and Carey makes a brave choice in presenting such a resourceful and intelligent heroine who constantly carries within her the seeds of her greatest weakness: the fact that she gets such gratification from being out of control. The powerful attraction/repulsion that Phedre feels for her nemesis is all the more compelling for this, even if the latter's character is at times sketchy. This, indeed, is the drawback of the whole novel - Phedre is *such* a striking personality that she often overshadows the people and events around her. At times, _Kushiel's Dart, reads more like a character study than a novel, for all its action and scope. Nevertheless, it is a highly-recommended debut, and I can't wait to read the next!