Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kushiel's Avatar - Jacqueline Carey

I reread the first two parts of this trilogy in 2011 so I thought it was past time to wrap it up. Kushiel's Avatar is the third novel featuring the darkly sensual heroine Phèdre and a reimagined renaissances Europe infused with mythological and religious figures and practices from many cultures. It is an irresistible mix and one that definitely launched Carey's career as a fantasy novelist. The first time through, I felt the second and third volumes didn't quite live up to the standard set in Kushiel's Dart. This reread hasn't changed that but I must admit I do appreciate these novels a bit more the second time through. Just a bit mind you, I still think this book has more than a few problems.

Ten years of rest Phèdre is promised after her adventures in Kushiel's Chosen, most of which she dedicates to studying the mystery of the Master of the Straits and the angel Rahab that is keeping her friend Hyacinthe captured. She learns a lot in those ten years but the key to solving the mystery eludes her. Then, a message from Melisande, traitor to the realm and convicted to death in absentia, arrives at Phèdre's estate. Melisande's son, whom she has kept hidden for a decade, has disappeared and since she can't leave the temple in which she has sought refuge, she is asking for Phèdre's help. In return, she will provide information that may lead Phèdre to the name of God, the one missing piece of the puzzle that would give her a chance to free Hyacinth.

Structurally, this book must have been a challenge for Carey. Phèdre is sent on two quests simultaneously basically. One to find Imriel, Melisande's missing son who would go on to star in his own trilogy, and the other to free Hyacinth. Since they force Phèdre to travel to very different parts of the world, they frequently conflict and she spends a great deal of time agonizing over which one to give priority. In the end, she is more or less forced to go after Imriel first. On one level, that was a logical choice but I thought the climax of that particular quest was a lot more powerful than the attempt to free Hyacinth. Some readers might be a lot more invested in Hyacinth's story line, he's been with us from the very start after all, but for me it felt the last couple of hundred pages where just tying up loose ends. It makes for a very long epilogue.

The search for Imriel takes Phèdre to the Middle East and the Caucasus. Interesting enough for a series so full of religious symbols and stories, Islam has not made an appearance in Carey's world. The middle east is dominated by a reflection of the Persian Empire (Khebbel-im-Akkad) and Egypt, where the Ptolimaic dynasty is still ruling. There is an Arab/desert culture (The Umaiyyat) mentioned but that is one of the places Carey doesn't visit in the novel. It would have been interesting to see what Carey would have made of an Islamic culture.

I am not entirely sure what Carey's historical inspiration for the culture in the Caucasus she describes in this novel is, but the area Phèdre visits would be in Georgia today (although for some reason I associate the Land of Fire with Azerbaijan.) In the novel it is referred to as Drujan. It is without a doubt one of the darkest parts of the story, dealing with insanity, crubelty and abuse on a level we haven't seen in the books before. Phèdre's sexual preferences are not everybody's cup of tea. In previous books I have been able to see the appeal of what she is doing, even if I feel Terre D'Ange's attitudes towards sex are a bit romanticized. In this book Carey looses me. What Phèdre is willing to endure voluntarily, or because her gods ask it of her, it defies comprehension really. What I did think was very convincing was the way all that fear and the pent up aggression is finally released. If you like tragic endings this would have made a very good one. I would have been happy if this book had been split.

But Carey didn't do that, she pushes on. Phèdre continues on her way to find the name of God and in this story line we dive deeply into Habiru (Jewish) mythology. People more familiar with the subject will probably see more of Carey's inspirations but the Tribe of Dan definitely shows up in the Torah. Phèdre needs to travel deep into the interior of Africa to find what she is looking for. It is a terribly long journey and as some points it feels a bit rushed. The author also takes a lot of time dealing with the fall out of events in Drujan, which only reinforced my impression that this section of the novel is mostly tying up loose plot lines. Vast stretches of Africa get a cursory glance at most, and with so many places being visited, the cultures Phèdre encounters along the way do not receive as much attention as some of the cultures described earlier in the trilogy.

I guess I still feel Carey was trying to wrap up things a little too neatly, resulting in a book that delivers the real climax of the story too early and drags in later parts, despite rushing though some of the world building later on in the novel. Of the three books with Phèdre as the main character this one is definitely the darkest. Readers who have enjoyed the previous two books will most likely not be bothered by this but Carey pushes it further in Kushiel's Avatar than earlier in the trilogy. Overall I felt it was a mildly disappointing ending of the series. Kushiel's Avatar is a decent read but cannot compete with Kushiel's Dart which is an exceptionally good one. Phèdre will return as a secondary character but Carey is done with her part of the story and that was probably a wise decision. She has taken Phèdre as far as the character could go really. And perhaps the entire series as well.

Book Details
Title: Kushiel's Avatar
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Publisher: Tor
Pages: 750
Year: 2004
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0-765-34753-9
First published: 2003i>

No comments:

Post a Comment