Kushiel's Mercy

by Jacqueline Carey

Cover image

Series: Kushiel's Legacy #6
Publisher: Grand Central
Copyright: June 2008
ISBN: 0-446-50004-6
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 653

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This is the third and final book in the Imriel trilogy and the sixth book set in the universe of Terre d'Ange, and more so than any of its predecessors, it's hopeless to read this book without the rest of the trilogy. Kushiel's Mercy builds directly on the story of Kushiel's Justice, and to go into the story with only brief recaps would rob it of any emotional weight.

For the same reason, it's essentially impossible to discuss the plot in any detail without spoiling major revelations in Kushiel's Justice (ones that the publisher seems anxious to spoil anyway, but that isn't an excuse for me to do so). Avoid reading cover flaps or any preview descriptions for this book before reading Kushiel's Justice.

I was hoping for a lot from this book. Carey had found Imriel's narrative voice in Kushiel's Justice and ended the story on a wonderful climax of characterization. Given the strength of the ending to Phèdre's trilogy, I was hoping for a grand climax. And there is something of one, including the much-awaited re-entrance of Melisande, a dramatic bit of magic, and some wonderfully suspenseful bits of court intrigue and war. But I think Carey is at her strongest when she centers the book around characterization, particularly the difficult and glorious interactions between her characters and the deep mythology of her world, and there isn't as much of that here. Instead, this is a very plot-driven book: a lot happens, making full use of the emotions, connections, and abilities that the characters have built up over the course of the series, but without much growth and change. The love that wins out is a love that's already been well-established at the beginning of the book and is tested but unchanged over the course of it.

This is a bit of a nit-pick, I grant, and mainly I'm complaining that this is a good book but not a great one. There are moments that I loved: returning to Melisande was difficult to pull off, but I thought Carey handled it well without having her overshadow Imriel's story. (Although I'm not sure I would have minded some overshadowing; more on that in a moment.) The story is very well-paced throughout, to the point that I read the final 300 pages in a single sitting. The center of the book in particular had me on the edge of my seat and featured a wonderful interplay of character and deception. Carey sets herself up to have to write multiple characters in one simultaneously and pulls it off about as well as I could have hoped.

I just wanted more. Kushiel's Mercy focuses on politics and traditional fantasy territory of spells, war, siege, rebellion, and court politics, and while Carey is quite competent at this, being George R.R. Martin is not her strength. The best parts are where she keeps love and the unique nature of the spirituality of Terre d'Ange at the fore and provides her characters with decidedly unconventional solutions to conventional fantasy challenges. That happens, but it's rarer than in Kushiel's Justice.

However, that complaint aside, Carey has an excellent grasp of romance, particularly improbable romance that makes little sense on the surface and so much sense underneath. She writes love that mingles unusual desires and experimentation with substantial open communication (it's so nice to see characters in a romance who really communicate!) and does it very well. That part of the build-up of the rest of the series does pay off wonderfully, and I like getting to see a pair of characters work through perils and problems together and find their balance with each other in the process. Carey also does a good job wrapping up the trilogy, updating us on where the characters stand and providing closure.

Looking back on the Imriel trilogy, it's good epic fantasy, well-worth reading. However, it's not Phèdre, which is where the overshadowing mentioned above comes in. The characters of the first trilogy still feel somewhat larger, stronger, and more alive to me, and when they show up in Imriel's story, part of me wants them to take over the show. Ysandre's daughters are both exceptions (and I was disappointed to not see more of Alais here), but Imriel himself is still a bit pedestrian. It's an impossible task to ask for a second Phèdre, particularly given how strong of a connection I felt with her, but it does mean that the second trilogy suffers (partly unfairly) in the comparison.

Which leads me to my final gripe: Phèdre's appearance in Kushiel's Mercy is simply weak. Some of this is for plot reasons, but even with those reasons, Phèdre simply doesn't act like Phèdre. She has no edge, coming off partly as a non-entity and partly as an archetype of a concerned mother, which was sharply disappointing. I wish she had been off doing something else entirely rather than being in the story shown in that light. It bothered me a lot, and in the middle of the climax of the story no less, where I didn't want the distraction.

But, those complaints nonwithstanding, this is a good book and a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. It completes the story of Kushiel's Justice, kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, and continues to show more of one of my favorite worlds in epic fantasy. If you've read the rest of the trilogy, you will certainly want to read the conclusion.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2008-06-30

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