Kushiel's Avatar

by Jacqueline Carey

Cover image

Series: Kushiel's Legacy #3
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: April 2003
Printing: March 2004
ISBN: 0-765-34753-9
Format: Mass market
Pages: 750

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This is the conclusion to the Kushiel's Legacy trilogy, and definitely should not be read before reading the first two books.

A rambling letter from a close, dear friend who lives far away, whom I have not seen in many years but who's thoughts and opinions I value highly and whose life I am endlessly fascinated with... this is the way this book feels to me. It is intimate, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and very personal, touching an even deeper sense of inner significance than even the first two books of this series. Rare is the third book of a trilogy that truly lives up to the first two, but I think this one surpasses them.

The plot returns to the major loose end left over from Kushiel's Dart, as Phèdre goes on quest to find the religious secrets that will help her first friend. In the process, however, she is sidetracked into a quest at the behest of an old enemy, leading into one of the darkest and then one of the most triumphant sections of the whole trilogy. The conclusion is a beautiful exploration of religion, spirituality, strength, and yielding, carrying a bittersweet sadness because it is the ending of a truly exceptional series.

Kushiel's Avatar takes place ten years after Kushiel's Chosen, which underlies how beautifully Carey navigates hazards that have caused many other writers endless difficulties. It truly feels like it has been ten years. The characters have aged. The first person narrative voice (the best first person perspective that I believe I have ever read) has deepened in tone, become more introspective, more thoughtful, older, and wiser. You can feel the changes in the story.

This is just one of the many ways in which Carey makes this world feel real. Yes, on one level, it's a sort of save-the-world epic fantasy, but it feels nothing like the stereotype of the genre. Personal struggle lies at the center of most drama rather than pitched battles. The world is viewed through the lens of complex, dynamic, and deeply individual characters, making every event a personal experience. And never in this story (or either of the previous books of the trilogy) did I lose any of my suspension of disbelief. The characters are never stupid out of character, they are never strangely ignorant of plot twists, great effort takes a very human toll in the aftermath, and they bend and even break at times under the forces of the world rather than acting like heroic ideals. These people feel real.

The treatment of religion here is worth special comment. I've not infrequently found religions in fantasy to be interesting, in a distant sort of way, showing how others may take a different perspective on the question of spirituality. I've very occasionally found some insight into real religions in novels that borrow standard religious beliefs and weave them into the plot. But never have I read a book with such a beautiful mixture of pieces of real religions and religions native to the fantasy world that not only shows many different perspectives on what spirituality means but also provided me opportunity to think about what I believe, that really made me ponder the underlying basis of my beliefs.

Christianity is here, but not. Judaism is here, but not. And there are other religions that are nothing like any religion that I've heard of. They are all woven together into a system of interlocking beliefs that feels real, believable, and profound in their own ways. It is truly an impressive achievement.

The plot is also excellent, with several twists in the middle of the book that left me forgetting everything else to keep reading. The previous two books suffered from slow places, but this book did not, at least to the same degree. There are some sections of travel that are description-heavy, but those slow spaces provide a rest point after desperate action and deep emotion and felt more like an opportunity to catch one's breath than a true slow spot that the reader was anxious to get past.

This is a truly satisfying conclusion to the series, and again manages to take things in a different direction, having a different feel than the previous two books in subtle ways just as the second book at a subtly different feel than the first. I loved everything about it, and give it my highest possible recommendation.

Followed by Kushiel's Scion, although this is the conclusion of the story arc and that book begins a new one with different characters.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-03-25

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