I’ve hesitated to review these books here because they aren’t romances. However, since they really are among my favorite books ever, I think that’s probably a good enough reason to bend my policy a little.
You won’t find these books in the romance section; they are firmly entrenched in the fantasy genre. The description that best fits them is probably “alternate history,” as the geography and linguistics are readily recognizable as Renaissance Europe, with forays into the MidEast, Russia, Scandinavia, and northern Africa.
Terre d’Ange, where our main characters hail from, is a loosely re-defined Paris and France. The society revolves around a really unique religion that is founded upon the tenet “Love as thou wilt.” No kind of sincere, consensual love is taboo; instead it is not only accepted but revered and honored. Such a basis has the potential for turning into little more than freaky porn, but anyone expecting that will be disappointed. There are some explicit scenes, but they are fairly few and far between. Often they happen for the purpose of furthering the plot more so than developing romantic relationships.
While the characterizations and relationships are rooted in the religious/sexuality layer of the universe, the intricate plotting is all about politics. Of course, much of the politics is driven by the complex web of family loyalties and vendettas, and the strangely compelling connections resulting from the “free love” way of life.
The series overall consists of two trilogies. The first follows Phèdre, an extraordinary woman who bears the mark of Kushiel, the angel known as “The Punisher of God” and patron saint of--not to put too fine a point on it--sado-masochism. Recognized at an early age by a rather mysterious figure, Phèdre is adopted and raised in sort of a spymaster’s apprenticeship, or in Carey’s vernacular, “trained in the arts of covertcy.” (Which is not a word, outside the Kushielverse. I looked it up. But it should be.) These skills, along with her birthright as sort of a sublime masochist, puts Phèdre at the center of several epic adventures that involve the fate of nations, warfare, sorcery, and a dash of divine mystery.
The second trilogy is headed by Imriel, Phèdre’s foster son, and continues the theme of epic adventure into the next generation. The adventures are different and the characters are different, but if you like the first trilogy, you would probably like the second also. I found the second trilogy slightly less compelling, as is the way of things with second trilogies, but still deeply absorbing.
Part of the allure of Carey’s books is in the language. Lyrical, lush, rhythmic, nearly poetic. It reminds me a little of Anne Rice at her very best, only better. I absolutely love it and find the writing and the world of Terre d’Ange completely immersive.
I think what I like best about these books is the way the world-building and the characters interlock seamlessly to drive the plot. I believe they are character-driven books, which I love, but the construction of the world shapes the characters which in turn drive the plot, which hinges upon the structure of the world. I can’t think of another book or series that weave these three aspects together so skillfully.
A word of warning – there are a few scenes that are not for the faint of heart. If the notion of putting sex on a level with worship makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the series for you. If you cannot imagine a world where true love includes non-monogamous… let’s call them “events,” you may be put off. And if you can’t imagine an erotic encounter including pain, give it a pass. Incidently, if you like the first book with only some reservations around this point, I would recommend that you skip the third one. It’s quite disturbing, IMO.
As for me though, I love everything about them. I think they’re not for everyone, which is why I’m finding myself spending more space than usual on caveats and qualifications. But I love ‘em.
Did I mention that I love them? I do. I really, really do.
- Kushiel’s Dart
- Kushiel’s Chosen
- Kushiel’s Avatar
- Kushiel’s Scion
- Kushiel’s Justice
- Kushiel’s Mercy
Upcoming: a third trilogy set in the same universe but several generations in the future. We get to see some of the long-term fallout of things that happened in Scion and Justice.
NOW, FOR THE REALLY GOOD PART: ALPHA HEROES' FIRST GIVEAWAY
Due to a certain lack of planning and or organization on my part, I ended up with TWO beautiful hardback copies of Kushiel’s Mercy. Due to the same weaknesses, plus a dash of laziness, I never got around to returning the extra one. So, one lucky reader is going to get their very own copy. Warning to you series OCD types: it’s the LAST of the six books. Mwuahahahahaha.
Because it’s hardback and a thick book, I’m going to limit the giveaway to the US. Leave a comment on THIS POST and next Wednesday, as a Book Blogger Awareness Week highlight, I will announce the [randomly chosen] winner. Thanks for playing!