by Jacqueline Carey
Written by the hugely talented Carey, Kushiel’s Dart is an ambitious and sensual epic fantasy that marks the beginning of an entire trilogy of trilogies.
The fact that all of these novels are quite long can make the decision to embark on this journey a little bit daunting. Once the tale begins, however, the prose and characters are so alluring that you’re quickly drawn in to the rich setting and the author’s pace of storytelling.
The protagonist of this first trilogy is Phèdre, a young girl marked by Kushiel’s Dart, which reveals itself as a small red fleck in her eye. The consequence of this is that Phèdre takes pleasure in being the subject of pain—a dangerous trait that is soon put to political use by those around her.
In order to weave this particular blend of eroticism into the story, Carey has put tremendous effort and care into crafting a world that reveres and celebrates sexuality of all kinds. Terre d’Ange, the so-called Land of Angels, is the country in which the main story occurs. Here, love and sex are deeply bound to religion, and courtesans are trained from an early age to master the art of providing pleasure. It’s a holy calling that these courtesans pursue while attempting to earn their full marque: a tattoo that runs from the back of their neck to their tailbone.
Taken in by Anafiel Delaunay, who becomes both a father figure and a mentor to Phèdre, she soon becomes embroiled in the dangerous—and often violent—world of politics. Realizing the value of Phèdre’s masochistic sexuality, not to mention her high level of intelligence and charisma, Delaunay trains and utilizes her as a spy to gather information from the bedrooms of important political figures. As both characters learn, however, there are great dangers that come with this, and high prices that need to be paid—often in blood.
This is merely the prelude to what the story becomes: an epic journey of love, loss, sacrifice, betrayal, and loyalty. The political maneuvering around Phèdre remains a constant threat to her and the people she loves, and it’s all so intricately plotted and beautifully written that every encounter that she has, whether it’s with a friend or an enemy, leaves a lasting impression.
Given the nature of Phèdre’s work as a courtesan, and her infamous marking by Kushiel’s Dart, pleasure and pain both remain an important part of the novel’s eroticism. Various forms of BDSM are featured, and little is ever shied away from in the telling. Yet the sex scenes are typically written with a sort of calm objectivity, so that nothing ever feels indulgent. Consent is also clearly defined, and Phèdre’s feelings about her sexual experiences are clear to the reader—even if they aren’t always as clear to Phèdre herself.
In a Nutshell
Kushiel’s Dart is a beautifully written and intricately plotted tale, with overlapping layers of court intrigue and grand-scale adventure, all underpinned by a young woman’s sexuality, agency, and eroticism.
If you’re in the mood to invest in an epic erotic fantasy, the Kushiel books are well worth your attention, and Kushiel’s Dart is the perfect place to start. As Phèdre herself so aptly says: “Such was my introduction to politics.”
Our Score: 8.5/10
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Length: 912 pages
Series: Kushiel’s Legacy
Genre: Epic Fantasy / Erotica
Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Buy it: Amazon
Kushiel’s Dart won the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 2002 and also won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best Fantasy.
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