Kushiel's Dart (2001). The ninth and most recent volume, Naamah's Blessing came out in June. It's been six years since I last read Kushiel's Chosen and back then, I wasn't nearly as impressed with it as I have been with the first novel. Kushiel's Chosen relies even more on intrigue and does not rely on an outside threat. My taste ran more towards epic fantasy at that moment, and I guess you could say Kushiel's Dart is decidedly more epic than its sequel. I appreciated the book a bit more the second time around, although I still think the first novel is the stronger of the two.
Phèdre has been well rewarded for her role in turning the Skaldic invasion of Terre D'Ange. She has been made Comtesse de Montrève and owns a modest and quiet county estate some days from the capital. She spends her days researching the myths surrounding the Master of the Straits and the lost book of Raziel, trying to find a way to free her childhood friend Hyacinthe. Her old enemy Melisande Shahrizai sends here a sangoire cloak, a shade or red, typically reserved for an Anguisette. From that moment on, Phèdre knows that their game is not over. Much to the dislike of her lover Joscelin, she returns to the capital to take the service of Naamah again and try to figure out where Melisande is hiding. The trail, it appears, leads to La Serenissima.
As I mentioned earlies, Kushiel's Chosen depends a lot on court intrigue. The unsolved mystery of Melisande's escape, make a lot of people suspicious. She must have had outside help and whoever helped is likely influential. Phèdre gathers clues the way Delauny taught her to, which leads to a number of inventive erotic scenes early on in the novel. Although the dark eroticism of the series no doubt attract some readers, I think this first section of the novel is rather slow. It takes Phèdre forever to begin to see the shape of the conspiracy and it is not until the half way point of the novel that Melisande's gambit becomes clear to her. The observant reader might figure it out a bit sooner but probably not by a lot.
The second half of the novel is quite a contrast to all the manoeuvring and scheming in the first part. Once Melisande's plans become clear to Phèdre, things move a lot faster. This section of the novel involves lots of travelling, learning a new language (the eight or ninth I believe, if only it were that easy), lot of live threatening situations and of course a final confrontation with the villain. I consider myself a fairly patient reader but by the time I reached the halfway point of the novel I thought Carey needed to get on with it. In terms of pacing this novel is one of the poorer ones in the series.
In terms of world building Carey does a lot better. La Serenissima, her version of Venice, is particularly well realized. Carey pays a lot of attention to the republican politics of the city state, which I rather enjoyed. We also visit Illyria, which in our world would probably be Dalmatia, a region heavily influenced by Venice in the renaissance period. Finally Phèdre pays Kriti (Crete) a visit. That place had a bit of a Minoan atmosphere about it, although other parts were more clearly classical Greek. It made me wonder if the Thera eruption happened in Carey's time line.
Another thread woven into the story is the troubled relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin, once her bodyguard, now, having broken all but one of his vows, he is her lover. Understandably he is not amused when she decides to pick up her old trade, even if it is in the interest of the nation of Terre D'Ange. It is one of the overarching story lines in these novels that I liked least, mostly because I think Joscelin is acting like a complete idiot. Not that Phèdre doesn't do her bit to make things impossible but I have serious trouble understanding Joscelin's responses and motivations. I guess it is to an extend the reflection of the problematic position of the (celibate) Cassiline Brotherhood in a society that has 'love as thou wilt' as the highest commandment but the tug of war between Joscelin's perception of honour and duty, which are clearly still Cassiline, and his feelings for Phèdre don't make all that much sense after the point he has decided to break his vows. Remorse I could understand, but there seems to be very little of that.
All in all, I didn't think Kushiel's Chosen was a great book and certainly not as good as Kushiel's Dart. That being said, I liked it a bit better than the first time I read it. The intricate plotting early on in the novel may test the reader's patience a bit, but I have to admit, there is a very rewarding climax to this novel. One that is certainly worth showing a bit of patience with the book. It is also quite clear that Kushiel's Chosen is the middle book in the trilogy. Carey ties up all the plot lines relating to the immediate threat to the realm but also clearly indicated the direction the next book will take Kushiel isn't done with Phèdre yet.
Title: Kushiel's Chosen
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Format: Mass Market Paperback
First published: 2002