Hmmm, I think I mentioned briefly a few weeks ago about the problems I had with this book. Anyway with the imminent release of Kushiel's Scion in paperback I decided it was time to revisit the first trilogy.
At over 900 pages a concise summary of the plot is probably beyond me, :), but I'll give it a go - with a lot of help from the blurb on the back cover.
Phedre no Delaunay is sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond purchased by Anafiel Delauney (aka The Whoremaster of Spies), who recognises that the spot of blood in her eye marks her as one who is pricked by Kushiel's Dart (she experiences pain and pleasure as one - a masochist). She's trained as a courtesan, but is also taught how to observe and analyse what she sees - the tools of a spy. As Phedre's homeland of Terre d'Ange is drawn ever closer to conflict through treachery and betrayal, it will be up to Phedre to use all of the talents at her disposal to save what she holds dear.
I've said it before but I'll repeat it. This book has one of the worst beginnings I have ever read. The first time I read it (when it was the Kelley Armstrong book of the month), I think it took me over thirty starts before I managed to get past the first page - it's completely yawn-inducing. This time I was ready for it and still struggled through those first few pages. I have pin-pointed the spot where I was drawn into the story - page 11 where Phedre finally stops talking about herself. And by page 343 I am totally absorbed in the cruelty and beauty of Terre d'Ange, just in time for Jacqueline Carey to rip my heart out via my throat - metaphorically speaking.
I guess my main problem with the book is that I don't particularly like Phedre as a character. She has a severe case of Buffyitis only instead of 'I'm the slayer', it's 'I'm the anguisette'. Get over yourself already!
If you haven't read the book you may want to know that most of the love scenes are of a sado-masochistic nature, so if that's not your sort of thing perhaps you should give this one a miss. Though in my opinion these scenes are beautifully written. This brings me to another point that popped into my head whilst reading. Although Phedre is trained as a courtesan there is no mention of sexually transmitted diseases. Maybe this is because there are no such things in Terre d'Ange. There is also no mention of pregnancy prevention either, which I think would have been a concern at the pseudo-medieval time that the story appears to be set.
This book has taught me that it isn't necessary to love the protagonist in order to fall in love with the world she inhabits and the story she tells. Jacqueline Carey's worldbuilding is immaculate. Not only does she bring the myths, culture and beauty of Terre d'Ange to life. She takes us to the wild northern lands of Skaldia with a struggle for survival, and over the sea to the barbarian land of Alba and the battle for a stolen throne. This is an epic tale.
But more than anything it is the characters surrounding Phedre that fascinate me - Alcuin, Delaunay, Joscelin, Melisande and Hyacinthe. And the history of the land that she is witness to and part of. Jacqueline Carey draws us into this world and makes it real, her storytelling has a depth and lushness that pulls you in. The next two books in the trilogy (Kushiel's Chosen and Kushiel's Avatar) are also available. And I hope to review them in the future. :)