Kushiel's Dart

Review: Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

I read this book some time back, before I started reviewing books as I read them, but it didn't seem right to review the sequel before reviewing the first book.

Besides, this is the best book that I've read this year.

I must admit a weakness for books told in the first person if the narrative voice is well-realized, consistent, and richly individualistic. All of this is definitely true of Phèdre, who is one of the most compelling characters that I've ever met in a book. Her story of her life draws the reader into both a rich and detailed world of intrigue and a rich and detailed swirl of complex emotions, and is simply one of the most beautifully told stories I've encountered.

The world of Kushiel's Dart is one of those remarkable fantasy worlds, too rare by far, that features almost no outright magic and certainly nothing as pedestrian as wizards with spells, but nonetheless is full of deep background tapestry of mythology and a rich sense of otherness that shades everything that happens. The gods are not only real, but impressive, mysterious, and original, woven into a background that mixes, combines, and reinterprets pieces of Christian and Jewish mythology into something truly fascinating. There is ability and power in the world, but subtly woven into complex characters in a way that supplements rather than supplants their inherent humanity. In short, it's sense of wonder and spiritual depth done very, very well.

Equally impressive is the frank and open treatment of sexuality, deeply woven into both the world and Phèdre's life. She is a courtesan in a world in which that profession is honorable and valued and a masochist through the touch of a god, both are integral to her character and are developed slowly and fully throughout the book, and neither are ever played for cheap titillation. In fact, nothing in this book is cheap; the feeling of rightness and depth to the world supports suspension of disbelief better than all but a few novels. The handling of the standard trappings of BDSM is nothing short of brilliant, imbuing them with a sense of ritual, formality, and context that's as different as night from day from the normal fictional treatment.

I'm raving, I know. I truly loved this book. The comparison that comes to mind is to Guy Gavriel Kay, which from me is a very high compliment. I think this book is the equal of all but Kay's best, comparing favorably to Tigana or A Song for Arbonne and falling short of The Sarantine Mosiac by only a hand's breadth. I cared deeply about the characters in this book in the same way that I do Kay's, and the last half of the book was impossible to put down.

A slightly slow start and a very few weak stretches are the only thing holding this book back from a perfect rating. It may take you a while to get used to the language and style, but this book is very much worth it. Highly, highly recommended.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Posted: 2003-10-25 00:34 — Why no comments?

I've also heard my friend rave about this book. However, I won't start reading it until the summer. What kind of genre would you rate this book? Is it a cross of genres? Is it a feminist novel? Are there any untraditional relationships or love scenes?

Posted by Leila at 2005-03-07 15:03

It is definitely epic fantasy, nothing cross-genre about it. It is not something I would call a feminist novel, although I think it has an interesting approach to sexuality. A feminist reading is going to have difficulty with some reinforced stereotypes, though, and Carey doesn't go very far afield when it comes to traditional gender roles.

It definitely has non-traditional relationships and love scenes. There is a significant BDSM component to both the plot and the characterization.

Posted by eagle at 2005-03-07 15:24

i have just finished the thrid installment of the trillogy. i found these novels outstanding. the way Carey took ral world history/mythlogy and mixed it with the fantasy in this novel almost leads you to belive that there is this otherworld out there that only Carey has seen. She has made me want to be a psrt of this world with her story telling, no wait in telling this story she has made me become a part of it.

Posted by vanessa at 2005-05-25 23:34

This is one of the most eloquent and inspiring novels I have ever read. I'm just sorry there aren't more.

Posted by Vincente at 2005-08-08 00:01

I borrowed this book from my teacher, and because she recommened to me, I figured it would be an interesting read. Once I finished it [ last night ], I was so in thralled in the story telling. The details are very well woven together, making it believe. Also, there was a sense that you could feel Phedre's pain. How she lost and how she gained. This tale is simply wondrous, and recommend it to everyone.

Posted by aymie at 2006-06-29 08:39

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