Friday, March 15, 2013

KUSHIEL’S DART by Jacqueline Carey - Book Review

[NOTE: This review was originally published on on December 29, 2010.]

Rating: 4.5/5 - Writing down the title so I can recommend it to everyone.

Title:  Kushiel’s Dart (book one of the Kushiel’s Legacy series)

Author:  Jacqueline Carey

Format: mass market paperback

Published: 2001

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Publisher:  Tor Fantasy

Landed in my hands: purchased myself

Summary (from the cover blurb):

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of surpassing beauty and grace.  It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good... and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye.  Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman on a very special mission... and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze.  Almost as talented a spy as she is a courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundation of her homeland.  Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further.  And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair... and beyond.  Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she hold dear.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies.  Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel’s Dart — a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.


Okay wow, that cover blurb was long.  But it had to be — this is one of those books that has so much to talk about, and bizarrely enough, I don’t think that blurb reveals anything!  And I usually preface talking about Kushiel’s Dart by saying it’s not for everyone, but if it’s for you, it’ll be on your keeper shelf.

This narrator has a remarkably poetic, formal voice that took a little getting used to, but once I’d adjusted, I found myself sucked into this story.  Phèdre is a very strong heroine, with a very distinctive voice, and the tale is told through her perspective.  I won’t be forgetting her easily (even though, at times, I really just wanted to slap some sense into her!).

I’ve spoken to other readers of this book, and it seems that the consensus is the same.  It’s difficult to discuss this story without bringing up the sexuality laced throughout it, and then suddenly the book is more about taboo than the actual narrative itself.  Yes, Phèdre’s universe is one in which sex is more openly spoken of, but that is not what Kushiel’s Dart is about!  Part of me is in utter awe that Carey went there, and so honestly and skillfully — the woman has stones! — and it is this same awe that makes me feel like a complete prude.

As a reader I have a pet peeve about sex scenes appearing in a book for the sake of there being sex scenes in said book.  Let me be clear:  Carey's use of sexuality and Phèdre's occupation are both necessary to drive the plot and develop characters.  Carey does not flamboyantly insert scenes that are unnecessary — they have purpose, and it is of that well-plotted purpose that I am in awe.  She went there.  And it makes sense.

There’s so much more to Kushiel’s Dart than its frank and poetic treatment of sexuality.  It has excellently plotted political intrigue that didn’t bore me(!), it has adventure and travel, a lovely skewed-renaissance world setting that draws very intricate cultural and religious lines from our own world, romance, humour, mythical gods, war, magic, and heroes, and... it’s the very definition of Epic Fantasy.

In actuality, this is a love story; a story about loving your family, your friends, and your homeland.  It’s about challenging yourself to do everything you can to save everything you love.  (And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I wholeheartedly fell in love with Joscelin Verreuil.  To the point where if Joscelin ever shows up at my door, I might just have to run away with the man.  No worries, folks, I’ve already warned my husband... ha!)

I blew through all six of the Kushiel’s Legacy series this summer, and they have a gravity and intensity to them that quenched my thirst for epic adventure.  I have been blessed in my reading this year, and Carey is definitely one of the reasons.

I did notice a trend, though, in that these very lengthy books (700-1000 pages) seem to have a buffer — a distinct orientation — in the beginning, a good hundred pages or so before the action truly starts.  Personally, I'm fine with that, and especially in an epic like this, set in an alternate universe, there's a certain amount of world-building legwork necessary before an author can expect their reader to follow along.  That is not to say the first hundred pages are entirely world-building:  it's lead up to the critical event that begins the action.  And everything before is just as important in order to fully understand the characters and what motivates them.  I must say that when that critical event occurred in Kushiel's Dart, I literally shouted "no!" and spent the rest of the book wishing it had somehow been a mistake.  I was hooked, and nothing was going to keep me from finding out how it ended.

I strongly urge anyone interested in this title to check out’s “Look Inside” feature and read the first six pages given.  It’ll give you an idea of Phèdre’s elaborate poetic diction, and just might suck you in.  Cheers!


  1. Do not read these books unless you want to become a Kushiel addict. LOL (I am, read 'em all more than once)

  2. Yes, just yes. To everything above.

  3. I LOVE these books. I've had to buy multiple copies over the years as I've lent them out and never gotten them back ... They are one of the few series I can reread with regularity and still find something new in them every time!

  4. I agree wholeheartedly! The Kushiel's Legacy has taken up permanent residence in my heart and is always the first thing I suggest to anyone who has the patience I hear me fangirl about it. <3

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Nightcourt85! :)

  6. Ah, did that. Have the bumper sticker... I barely remember the summer of 2010 because I was sucked into the wonder that is Terre D'Ange... (and honestly, I'll be returning again, too...). Thanks for stopping by, ModernDaylsis! :)

  7. I have done the SAME thing! I've picked up the first three as gifts to people I know NEED to read this series! Thanks for visiting, Sirenda! :)

  8. Thanks, Catherine! And thanks for visiting! :)

  9. Thanks, QueenMiSeRy! And thanks for stopping by! :)

  10. Jacqueline Carey is one of my all time favorite authors and Kushiel's Dart is on my top 10 list of favorite books. I have literally worn out copies rereading this book. I love the use of religious sex/sexuality - which puts in mind of Gilgamesh. Sacred love priestesses is not a new concept, but this is the book that introduced me to the idea and did so quite well.

  11. Do you realize that Jacqueline herself has read this review?? She shared it on her facebook page! Fabulous write-up--I couldn't agree more with you. I, too, have trouble trying to convince others to read this book without stumbling over the sexuality. You're right, though! They REALLY are essential to the tale and cannot be glossed over. I'm sure George R.R. Martin would even agree ;)

  12. Hi, Aminarra! Haha--yes, I realize she's read it--she retweeted me on Twitter, and I had the chance to thank her for the love. But thank you for kindly letting a girl know in case she'd missed it! Much appreciated! ;)

  13. Hi, Nrlymrtl! I agree--there's a lot of literary merit to digest here, and I think it has the ability to introduce an audience to themes they may not have encountered before. Thanks for stopping by! :)

  14. I loved the first series. The second series, not so much. In general, I do not like First Person narratives, but Phedre was so overwhelmingly amazing as a character that I was able to overcome, and heck, not even NOTICE that distaste. There are some similarities on plotting and tone with Daenerys arc in A Game of Thrones, but Phedre is so much more interesting as a character than Daenerys, and far less helpless.

    I loved the alternate history aspect. A Fantasy France setting is pretty awesome, and the divergent point device was fascinating for someone with a religious history background like myself.

  15. Hey Anthony! Agreed on your assessment for the first to second trilogies set in Phedre's world... Phedre's original books, great. Imriel's trilogy is good, but not *as* good. And I've read two of the three for the last trilogy (Moirin, set a 100+ years after Phedre's lifetime) and it's decent. Great if you're starving for more from that world, but nothing compared to the original trilogy. :)