Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's Dart
Note: This book is for mature audiences only. The review, however, is pretty much PG rated.

Was running a little short on reading material from the public library the other night, so I decided to re-read one of my favorites.

I guess this book falls somewhere between the categories of historical fantasy and alternative history. The story takes place in the country called Terre d'Ange, where today we would find France. The place and character names are liberally laced with French sounding words. The myth behind this world is that when Christ (Yeshua) died, Mary Magdalene wept over his body, and from her tears and his blood Mother Earth bore a son, an angel called Elua. Elua wandered the world with a dozen companion angels, but spent most of their time in Terre d'Ange, where they interbred with humans and bore the races that live there in the story. The surrounding countries also have had their names changed to protect the innocent, such as Alba (England), Aragon (Spain), Caerdicci (Italy), and so forth.

One of Elua's companions was Namaah, a female angel. During their travels, she would offer her body in exchange for support of one type or another. Her self-sacrificing behavior make her a patron saint, of sorts, to the d'Angelines, as Elua's last command to them before leaving for a higher plane was "love as thou wilt." In Terre d'Ange, courtesans of both sexes are indentured to one of the thirteen houses of the Night Court, and are highly trained and valued, performing their services for patrons until they have paid back their indenture price, and after that are free to love as they will.

In this setting, which is far more richly detailed by Carey than I have been able to share with you here, our heroine is a girl named Phedre, sold by her mother to the House of Cereus at the age of four. She is raised and educated in all the courtly arts by them until she is ten, when her indenture is sold to Anafiel Delaunay. Phedre was born with a scarlet "flaw" in her eye, which the adepts of Cereus scorn her for, but Delaunay recognizes the mark for what it is, the sign of Kushiel's Dart. Kushiel is one of the angelic companions of Elua, concerned with punishment, and his mark brands Phedre as an anguissette, an extremely rare person for whom pain is transformed into sexual pleasure.

Delaunay's motives, however, are a bit more complex than simply "pimping" Phedre out to those patrons who have a taste for sexual sadism. He is somewhat of a spy master, and he trains Phedre and another indentured servant, Alcuin, in the nuances of history and politics, the art of observation and intelligence gathering, and the languages of several nearby countries. When they reach the age when they are allowed to enter the "service of Namaah," they begin to accept assignments with various patrons whom Delaunay hopes may have information regarding conspiracies against the ruling house of Terre d'Ange, to whom he is intensely loyal.

And thence begins the tale. The story of Phedre's journeys is an intense, emotional, and deeply moving one. It's got tons of intrigue, plot twists, villainy, heroism, and everything that makes a classic. Best of all, it's the first book in a trilogy, followed by Kushiel's Choice and Kushiel's Avatar.

I highly recommend this one to those who are not faint of heart.

No comments: