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30 March 2008 @ 08:54 am
Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey, 2002  
Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey, 2002

From Google Books:
The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassing 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. Phedre no 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 with very a 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. Phedre 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 courtesan, Phedre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations 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 Phedre will get but one chance to save all that she holds 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.

My review:
I've grown out of fantasy books in general--I can't stand the whiny, Mary-Sue heroines and the plots and dragons all patterned off a misguided worship of Tolkien. Kushiel's Dart isn't that kind of fantasy book. This is one of my all-time favorite books, it swept me up and carried me off, spinning my mind with inspiration. There are no dragons, no elves, and no magic--although the barrier between gods and men is nearly transparent. Carey has created a complete alternate society, where beauty is paramount, sexuality is fluid, and god's greatest commandment is to "Love as Thou Wilt." Our main character is an extremely high-class prostitute, who proceeds to save her country--repeatedly--mostly through sheer stubbornness. The plots are vast, across continents, and if they ever make big-budget movies out of these, I don't know how they'll do it without a trilogy for each book--Carey could easily compete with Tolkien in terms of epic plots through wild and wonderful places.

It's no great commentary on the human condition, but in terms of plot and character, it's in the top rank of fantasy books, and it's one of the very few books I've ever seen that presents a completely bisexual society that is also completely believable. (It's like some sort of mad mix of the golden ages of France and Greece, but where women actually get equal rights. I'm reincarnating in Terre d'Ange when I die.) If you want a fun read with epic plot and great characters, you really can't do better than Kushiel's Dart.

(And if you like it, it's part of a trilogy, followed by Kushiel's Chosen and Kushiel's Avatar, and then there's a whole new trilogy for Phedre's adopted son, Imriel.)
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