This is a new segment (but really, it’s still just me reviewing a book) where I review books that were published long enough ago that I consider them a throwback. Today’s book was first published in 2001, so I’d say that reasonably constitutes a throwback, wouldn’t you?
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
My Edition: Paperback – 901 pages – 2020 – Tor – ISBN: 9781250759511
Thank you to Tor for sending me this book for free in exchange for my honest, review.
From the back of the book: A young woman with a unique gift – pricked by Kushiel’s Dar, she is bound to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, she is able to observe, remember, and analyze her clients and learn their darkest secrets through her scarlet wave of passion. One of those secrets reveals a plot that threatens the very foundation of Terre d’Ange. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And will take her to the edge of despair…and beyond.
I decided to use the book blurb rather than write my own because if I try to describe this book it’d be like, “Ok, so, this is like alternate history where all of Europe is very sexy and there’s like 13 different houses dedicated to the arts of sex, because one of AlternateJesus’s son’s followers had to like, have sex to help save the group. So sex is pretty important and sex work is totally normal and respected. And like, this girl, she’s like the ultimate sub, so she’s doing all sorts of intrigue stuff while having sex with powerful/influential people, because there’s a big game being played here by those in power. And, so, there’s a lot of history and world-building and political intrigue. Oh, and a decent amount of BDSM. And I guess there’s magic too?!”
The short version is, if you think you’ll enjoy sexy alternate historical fantasy, then I think you should check this out.
Mass market reprints of the trilogy were reissued this year and I was happy when Tor offered to send me Kushiel’s Dart because I’ve seen the series in the stores many times, but really never stopped to check it out. I’m not sure why. I guess, maybe the last time I noticed it I was a bit younger and maybe not interested in the sexy covers. But you can count me in now!
Phèdre is certainly an interesting character. I can’t recall having read a sex-heavy fantasy before and I know I’ve never read one where the main character is basically born to be the ultimate submissive. Carey did a great job of expressing Phèdre’s feelings during her encounters; the passion, the pain, the shame, the pleasure she takes in all of it – certainly a unique viewpoint to me! While I enjoyed Phèdre, I think Jocelin might actually be my favorite character. He’s basically a celibate warrior monk turned bodyguard and, boy, talk about character growth!
There is a dreaded cast of characters list in the beginning that’s about 4 pages long. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a bit intimated by them (if they’re included, I would prefer them in the back so as not to scare me before I start reading), but I decided I just wouldn’t reference it. At first, I was a little confused when it comes to the royal family connections, but I do tend to have a pretty good capacity for remembering characters (I’ll give some credit to starting Gurm’s Song of Ice and Fire series when I was like 15.) Once I was immersed in the world, the characters were familiar enough and I only referenced the cast pages a couple times.
If you like historical fantasy, political/court intrigue, sexy times, a hint of magic, and a female lead, then I definitely recommend this book. I will need to read the rest of the trilogy!
Edit: After some discussions on Instagram, I realized I forgot to comment on the amount of BDSM/sexiness in this book. For me, it wasn’t overwhelming and I wouldn’t class the book as erotica. There are definitely some explicitly sexual and BDSM scenes, but not every sex scene goes into great detail and these scenes are by no means the majority of the book. They’re a part of who Phèdre is and what she does, but the real story is about the battle for power in Terre d’Ange. It’s an AltHistory fantasy with some added spiciness. If you don’t mind some sex in your fantasy, don’t let this aspect scare you away from reading the book!