7 Rated Books Book Reviews The Dare

The Dare: Kushiel’s Dart

Title: Kushiel’s Dart

Author: Jacqueline Carey

Review number: 27

Genre: Fantasy

Stand alone/series: first in a series of books – so far there are six.

Summary: Amazon.UK says A massive fantasy tale about the violent death of an old age and the birth of a new one. Here is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Born with a scarlet mote in her left eye, Phedre no Delaunay is sold into indentured servitude as a child. When her bond is purchased by an enigmatic nobleman, she is trained in history, theology, politics, foreign languages, and the arts of pleasure. Above all, she learns the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Exquisite courtesan, yet talented spy, she may seem an unlikely heroine…but when Phedre stumbles upon a plot threatening her homeland, Terre d’Ange, she has no choice but to act. Betrayed into captivity in the barbarous northland of Skaldia, and accompanied only by disdainful young warrior-priest, Phedre makes a harrowing escape and an even more harrowing journey, to return to her people and deliver them a warning of the impending invasion. And that proves only the first step in a quest that will take her to the edge of despair and beyond.

Why did I read the book: Thea dared me!


I was dared by Thea to read this and have to say that if it wasn’t for it I would never have picked it up. The book tells the tale of Phedre no Delaunay, as narrated by herself as her memoirs. The plot is extremely complex so I will cheat a bit and use Thea’s own words to summarize: Phedre no Delaunay is a child born beautiful as any D’Angelline…but for a single scarlet mote in her eye. Because of this small flaw, Phedre is denied a position as an adept in the Court of Night Blooming Flowers (the collective houses of honored courtesans), but can make her marque (paying her debt) through other work. Sold by her mother to one of the houses of the Night Court, Phedre is discovered for what she really is–the mote in her eye is not a flaw, but a mark of those god touched by Kushiel. She is an anguisette–one who can take pleasure from pain–and the only one to be born in generations. Phedre’s marque (think of it as her indenture contract) is bought by the wise and kind Anafiel no Delaunay, who trains her in the arts of espionage and secrets.

And so we follow her accounts of her life from learning her place in the world, to accepting it and becoming a master courtesan and master spy working for Delaunay who has a foot in the political intrigues of the Court of Terre D’ange – he uses Phedre by organizing her assignations with political figures – the logic behind it being, everyone talks in bed and everyone talks important things to an anguisette. And so they learn of a plot so hideous that will change their lives forever.

The book is 700 pages long, so the story has as many twists as necessary to keep one turning the pages and a lot happens to Phedre’s. Enough to call her life, epic.

I must say that the first few chapters were extremely difficult for me to read, not only because of all the historical, religious and political details of the world building which were quite hard to keep up with, but mostly because the first 300 pages or so hold the bulk of Phedre’s sexual encounters with her patrons and let me tell you, they are not for the faint hearted. Some of them are truly gruesome and I was highly disturbed and on the verge of quitting the book altogether.

The fact that for Pehdre, extreme pain brings extreme pleasure was quite heavy – some of the descriptions of the tools used to draw blood and pain left me awestruck. The only two things that kept me going were Thea’s reassurances that things would change and the narrative style of Jacqueline Carey that kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next, against even my better judgment. Because she managed to convince me somehow that under the motto of Great Elua, (the main God of Terre D’ange) Love as thou art wilt, love and sex can come in any form and the characters believed in this truth very deeply. And for Phedre, being a courtesan and anguisette was a religious calling to which she submits by choice: “What yields is not always weak” . It may sound as though the book is sex-heavy: it isn’t.

Fortunately, after 300 pages, the story shifts from Terre D’ange to the outside world and the politics take a center stage along with the fight for her survival. And this is where I became highly engrossed not because of Phedre or because of the intrigue. But because one of the secondary characters, Joscelin, comes to the center stage. At this point I was hooked: following my own tradition, I fell in love with the hero.

Joscelin was a priest-warrior, a young man who makes a vow to serve and protect Phedre – as a member of the Casseline Order, he is a master of arms who pledged himself as the Perfect Companion. And so he is – where Phedre goes he goes along, protecting her and collecting her pieces more times than I can count and eventually, loving her.

I said to Thea, had the book been in third person or had we been privy to Joscelin’s thoughts, it may have made things easier for me and maybe I would have liked the book even more. But alas, the point is moot, Ifs don’t exist in literature and that was not the story the author wanted to tell. So, this was to me, a very uncomfortable read as I could never predict Phedre’s actions and feelings – even though most of her actions were fueled by her true love for her land and for the gods. One of the things that are more outstanding is her love-hate relationship with the arch-villainess of the book. Even though she was supposed to hate and fear her above all things, she still felt attracted to her in many ways. It took me three weeks to get through it, and I am usually a fast reader.

I finished it one week ago, and still some things linger, so I guess it is not all bad. You may have noticed that my thoughts on the book are all over the place because so are my feelings about it. I felt equally attracted and repulsed by many things. I do miss reading about Joscelin but that is not enough to make a book, not even for me. Ultimately, as a debut novel, this is an incredible piece of well written literature which was unfortunately, just not my cup of tea.

Notable quotes/parts: The last 200 pages go into a crescendo as they prepare for the final battle against the invaders to Terre D’ange. I just LOVE the part where Phedre goes to pass a message to the Queen and is taken prisoner and tortured and Joscelin manages to get to her in the 11th hour. Le sigh.

Additional Thoughts: There are two more books that tell the tale of Phedre and Joscelin. I would like to read more, but I am not sure I could cope.

Verdict: I am truly torn about this one. Some things I LOVED, some things I HATED. As I said above, it is not a book for the faint-hearted. If you like your books to be light and with a clear happy ending, definitely stay away.

Rating: 7, because it is well written and the world that the author created was believable and complex. No more than 7 because my level of enjoyment varied from chapter to chapter.

Reading Next: I don’t know. I need something lighter and with a clear happy ending right now. So, probably a Loretta Chase. Or Demon Moon. Maybe both.

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  • Zeek
    March 21, 2008 at 5:23 am

    I’m finally reading the second in this series. I felt much the same as you did after the first- though I couldn’t help but be in awe of her political weaving and world building- and how she kept it all seamless.

    So far I’m liking the second much more- just because all that foundational stuff necessary for making a world work was done in KD.

  • Li
    March 21, 2008 at 6:32 am

    I *love* this series. I think she’s created a rich and completely believable world, and her writing style is so lyrical. But I completely get where you’re coming from – she definitely explores the darker sides of human motivations and desires.

    The second Kushiel trilogy, also set in the same universe, but with a different protagonist (not wanting to give away too much 🙂 ) is not as dark as the first, IMO.

  • Thea
    March 21, 2008 at 7:49 am

    Ana, again thank you for reading this one! The Kushiel’s Legacy series is one of my all time faves (top 3 definitely). Jacqueline Carey is such a gifted writer, and this series is Epic with a capital E. Like Zeek and li, I totally understand where you are coming from though, and that it wasn’t your particular cup of tea. Books 2 and 3 especially get a lot heavier and darker, so approach with caution!

    I also agree that the second trilogy is a bit lighter than this first one, but still wonderful.

  • Jill D.
    July 7, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Hey, I didn’t know you did a review for this book or I would have linked it to mine. I will correct that oversite. I kind of felt the way you did about the book. Being the hard core romance reader that I am, I wanted to see more of a relationship between Phedre and Jocelyn.

    I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue with the series but since Zeek mentions that she is enjoying the second book better I will probably pick it up. Of course I will have to find a huge chunck of time to devote to it 🙂

    I also loved the scene when Phedre makes it to the wall and is captured. Oh boy, did I worry how she was going to get out of that mess. Jocelyn to the rescue!!

  • Jojo
    June 30, 2011 at 12:03 am

    I fell in love with the series after finding this recommendation on your site. I agree, the sexual encounters in the book were quite…difficult and shocking for me to read, but the plot line and the twists and everthing was just so amazing. The second and third books are even better! I think the third one is my favorite. It does deal with dark material as well, but I felt like the gruesome scenes were a bit less frequent and less graphic than in the first book, and the ending was just so well rounded and wonderful and admitedly touching. I would recommend for you to try finishing the series if you can! it’s really really well woven.

  • Maxxe
    May 1, 2015 at 7:15 am

    It took me a while to get through the first book, and the second and third of the first trilogy took more time than that— and I’m a pretty fast reader!
    I think it’s part of the genius of the series, though. There are some very heavy topics and plot lines, and they stick in your head perhaps longer than you want them to. But there are also some absolutely gorgeous, simple illustrations of what love is, and why that matters, even in a world where there is quite a lot of darkness. It’s a statement about the imperfections of life.

    My best friend, whom I convinced to read this a few years ago, likes to say that this series is like GoT if it had been written by a woman. Not sure if I agree, but I’m putting it out there anyway…

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