Kushiel's Justice

by Jacqueline Carey

Cover image

Series: Kushiel's Legacy #5
Publisher: Warner
Copyright: June 2007
ISBN: 0-446-50003-8
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 703

Buy at Powell's Books

This is the second book of the Imriel trilogy, and the fifth book in the Kushiel universe. It starts a new chapter of Imriel's life, but it builds heavily on both Kushiel's Scion and the first trilogy and I recommend reading this one in order.

Be very careful about spoilers for this book. Carey had to convince her publisher to remove a major spoiler from the book jacket, and that same spoiler shows up in a lot of on-line reviews, including publisher and major magazine reviews. If you don't want to be badly spoiled for events in the middle of the book, avoid reading on-line descriptions or the dust jacket before reading. (And for the same reasons, and to not spoil earlier books in the series, this review will only discuss the plot in very general ways.)

Imriel is again the first-person narrator, but he develops a less self-absorbed, less angstful, and more mature voice. The events of Kushiel's Scion have been good for him, helping him develop as his own person and get some of his rebellion and discomfort with his family out of his system. And here, with a story set largely in Terra d'Ange and Alba, Carey returns to more familiar territory. I liked Kushiel's Scion, but it had a different focus and less of the mythological magic of the first trilogy. That returns in force.

The best part of this book is again Carey's deep characterization, which shines all the more in a story about love and conflicts of the heart. Kushiel's Justice is aimed at the center of Terra d'Ange's philosophy. "Love as thou wilt" is not easy, or simple, against the teeth of politics. It's also not static; one love doesn't preclude another, even one of a very different sort. And it can have serious implications in a world with a medieval concept of lineage and royal heirs. Carey excels at this: building a mythology, philosophy, and religion, mingling it with typical fantasy politics, and then diving into the hard problems and implications of the intersection with a depth and honesty that I've not seen in any other series.

Christianity claims that God is love. Carey's Terra d'Ange is a fascinating examination of what it might imply if that were true, not just in the limited and concept of fatherly love that Christianity admits but every form of love. Imriel is the uneasy recipient of the burden of several types of love: amorous, secret, tender, respectful, loyal, protective, and honorable. Love of place, love of family, and love of his religion and gods. He has to reconcile them all, while at the same time striving to do right by Alba and its different traditions. He does it with some angst and frustration, but with a minimum of whining and enough emotional maturity that plots that normally have me cringing at the stupidity of the characters actually worked.

Perhaps best of all, Carey refrains from using the standard complication of all romance plots. Never in this book do the characters who supposedly trust each other keep secrets and create complications by refusing to talk. I kept seeing that coming and dreading it, and then Imriel would act like an intelligent adult, be honest, and talk to people. He shows the simple caring and respect to everyone he loves of telling them the truth. It was such a relief! It's so rare to see a plot surrounding romantic entanglements and bits of multiple love triangles where I can respect all the characters and not want to strangle any of them for acting like idiots. It requires a real plot and strong-enough problems that the writer doesn't have to create artificial tension and trouble, and Carey pulls it off with aplomb. It also shows that Carey is letting Imriel grow and finding new sources of conflict. The Imriel of Kushiel's Justice doesn't make the same mistakes as the Imriel of Kushiel's Scion, starts recognizing his flaws like an adult, and even accepts teasing over them while he's working on changing them. This is a much-appreciated cut above the normal path of characterization by unchanging flaw.

For that, among many other reasons, I came away enthralled by the characters. I think the Kushiel series as a whole is the most enjoyable character-driven epic fantasy that I've ever read, and Kushiel's Justice returns to the level of quality of the first trilogy. It is built on happy endings and characters rising to adversity, but Carey mixes this with enough honest self-doubt and ties it into the religious and metaphysical nature of her world so well that I can't even fault it for being unrealistically noble. The nobility fits naturally into Carey's world where Blessed Elua truly is the God of Love and the gods and Companions are a constant numinous presence.

Imriel still isn't Phèdre. No one could be. He's more brooding and difficult, more aware. He works harder at being Imriel than Phèdre works at being Phèdre. Once again, my favorite scenes are those where we see Phèdre through other eyes and see her work her magic on characters the way she worked her magic on the reader in the first trilogy. But here, finally, Imriel develops his own mature voice and won me over. It helps that the characters are as aware of Phèdre's magic as the reader is, and Imriel has to struggle with living in her shadow (more productively than he did in Kushiel's Scion). Carey takes some of the challenges of building on the first trilogy, finds a way of weaving them into the story, and has the characters live through them and try to solve them, which is one of my favorite authorial techniques.

There are still a few things leaving this book short of perfection: Carey is excessively fond of some faux-medieval speech patterns ("mayhap" and "betimes" are particularly overused), there is again a travelling section of the book that can be a bit slow, and those who are allergic to drama over realism will find places to complain. But I think it's safe to say that Carey has managed the rough transition to a different voice than and Imriel's series is now showing promise of living up to its predecessor. I'm greatly looking forward to the next book.

Followed by Kushiel's Mercy.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-07-22

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