Kushiel's Scion

by Jacqueline Carey

Cover image

Series: Kushiel's Legacy #4
Publisher: Warner
Copyright: June 2006
ISBN: 0-446-50002-X
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 753

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the beginning of a new trilogy in Carey's Kushiel universe, and to some degree you could start here. However, I think Kushiel's Scion draws most of its power from what happened before, and although fragments of the earlier stories are referenced (skillfully) in the background to give you the minimum of necessary details, I recommend reading the first trilogy first. Start with Kushiel's Dart.

I've been waiting for this book for years. The first Kushiel series was some of the best epic fantasy I've ever read: personal, intimate, and engrossing in a way that's quite different than most epic fantasy I've read. Phèdre's story is thoroughly over, but I still wanted to read more about her and see more of her world. Wisely, Carey is not returning to quite the same set of characters; instead, she's telling the story of the next generation. This is only partly effective. It does allow for a de-escalation of power and a new start on a series, which was much-needed, but it has some drawbacks.

One of those drawbacks is that Imriel just isn't as compelling as Phèdre. His narrative voice is neither as strong nor as distinctive, and while Carey still does an excellent job crawling deep inside a character's head with first-person narration, Imriel doesn't have as compelling of a perspective. Phèdre's mix of determination, courage, love of luxury, sexuality, and subversive use of power would be impossible to duplicate, and Imriel, as her adopted son, does suffer in comparison. Carey is wise enough to make this part of the plot, letting the feelings of the reader out in the story and making Imriel deal with them, and that helps Imriel grow his own voice. That voice, though, is that of a struggling adolescent who tends to go into loops on particular worries, lending a certain angsty and repetitive feeling to the narration and never reaching the heights of Phèdre's dramatic courage.

That said, as much as I often don't like reading about adolescents, Imriel's conflicts are well-founded, difficult, and interesting to read about. He bears the brunt of his Kusheline inheritance, which in Carey's world involves a degree of natural dominance and even sadism, and yet he detests his notoriously dominant mother and is the adopted son of the realm's most famous submissive masochist. He feels strongly protective towards Phèdre, in ways that he has a hard time coming to terms with, and after the nightmare he went through in Kushiel's Avatar, he doesn't want to face his own sexuality. It's a nice bit of psychology, and from an angle of manipulation of power that I don't see much in novels. If you liked the emotional depth of Phèdre's struggles to come to terms with her sexuality, I think you'll like this look at the opposite side, even though Imriel in this book doesn't get very far down his road.

Imriel's emotional development is much of this book, and indeed the plot structure is more built around Imriel's struggles to come to terms with his life, his past, and his legacy than vice versa. There is more, though, mostly political intrigue in Tiberium, the university city to which Imriel goes about halfway through the book to try to get some space and learn who he is. He discovers some glimmerings of the intrigues that his mother was, and is, involved in, gets drawn into some dangerous deceptions, and then ends up in a battle for a Caerdiccian city that felt oddly bolted on to the side of the story. The battle is dramatic enough, and after getting over the random encounter feeling I enjoyed the drama. It does give Imriel a chance to get closer to his friends and do some growing up. Still, both the random city fight and the Unseen Guild skullduggery that Imriel gets involved in didn't fall as naturally out of the story as I might have liked.

Dramatic elements aside, this book is Imriel's coming of age story, told against the backdrop of an exploration of the characters and intrigues of the D'Angeline court, a portrait of the cities of Caerdicca Unitas, and a study of Imriel's friends (from both those countries as well as Skaldia and Alba). The repeated saving of the world from the first series is past; this is a smaller story, using rather than changing the backdrop and focusing only on the characters. And, for all that the prose can fall into repetitive patterns and tics (the repetition of names intended to evoke memories is overused to the point of being notable) and doesn't have the same vibrancy of the first trilogy, Carey has lost none of her skill for slowly revealing a character and making the reader care deeply about what happens to them. The opening of the book is a long, slow build, but the climax had me on the edge of my seat and kept me up reading.

This isn't the book the original trilogy was, but I think any lover of the earlier books will want to read it nonetheless. By the end, I think Carey has a firmer grasp on Imriel's voice and Imriel has a firmer sense of self, which both bode well for later books in this series. And as much as starting from another corner of the world and completely different characters may have given the story more freshness and less baggage, I was delighted to see Phèdre and Joscelin again, even from another's perspective. I fell in love with Carey's world and that attraction hasn't faded; it's wonderful to return to old friends, familiar thoroughly worked-out mythology, and half-remembered places.

Followed by Kushiel's Justice.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-07-10

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21