Thursday, December 17, 2015

Review: Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
Published: Tor, 2002
Series: Book 2 of Kushiel’s Legacy
Awards Nominated: Locus Fantasy Award

This is the second book in a series, so beware of spoilers for book 1, Kushiel's Dart, in the description and review below.

The Book:

“After the events of Kushiel’s Dart, Phèdre and Joscelin were finally able to relax together in the peaceful, countryside estate that was left to her by her adopted guardian, Anafiel Delaunay.  Phèdre, now in her twenties, initially enjoys her new lifestyle, but soon begins to feel restless.  The catalyst for change comes in the return of her sangoire cloak. It could only have been sent by the beautiful and cruel Melisande Shahrizai, and Phèdre immediately recognizes it as an invitation to re-enter the dangerous game of politics.

Melisande has already been declared a traitor to Terre d’Ange, but being in hiding does not seem to have stopped her from scheming.  Phèdre feels connected to her through bonds of both love and hate, and she feels that she may be the only one who can unravel the truth before it is too late. With a new noble title, the trust of her monarch, and a soaring reputation as a Servant of Naamah, Phèdre enters the game now with much more power and knowledge than she held years before.  She is determined to follow her path to the end, regardless of the cost to herself and to her relationship with the man she loves most, Joscelin.” ~Allie

I’m running behind on reviews again, but will hopefully be able to catch up during the winter break!  I read Kushiel’s Chosen as a part of a read-along, and you can see the spoiler-filled discussions in the following posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.  I am continuing to love this series, and wonder why I never picked it up before.  I would recommend anyone who is interested in the series to begin with Kushiel’s Dart.

My Thoughts:

Kushiel’s Chosen continues on from the events in Kushiel’s Dart, following Phèdre into a new phase of her life.  Phèdre is now in her twenties, and while she is still a political schemer and a masochistic courtesan, she is now also a Comtesse in a relationship with her ex-Cassiline bodyguard, Joscelin.  I commented in my last review that I would be interested to see how she matured as she moved into adulthood, and this continuation of the series has not disappointed in that regard.  She still has her trademarks of vanity and ethnocentrism, though the latter is progressively weakened as she continues to experience other lands and cultures.  While she does still use her sexuality, beauty and reputation to her advantage, I appreciated that she is beginning to rely more often on her mind. In fighting against Melisande, she will have to do so, since the woman is a master manipulator with a seemingly unbreakable hold on Phèdre’s heart.  I never completely bought the draw Melisande had for Phèdre, but for the most part I just chalked it up as a result of their mutual connections to Kushiel.   

In any case, the plan to find and to foil Melisande leads Phèdre through a number of new lands.  The most notable is the nation of La Serenissima (a.k.a. the Serene Republic of Venice), in which we are introduced to a new set of political movers and shakers in a society with different traditions and social mores than Phèdre’s home.  Beyond Serenissima, she ends up passing through a number of other Mediterranean nations, each with their own distinct ways of life. The Yeshuites, who are a cultural group that seems to be roughly based on Messianic Judaism, play a larger role in the novel as well.  I enjoyed matching up the fantasy lands with their real-life counterparts, and trying to find what myths and aspects of the culture might have inspired different aspects of the fictional versions. Amidst this travel and widening horizons, there is an intense epic fantasy story, involving politics, betrayals and other unexpected plot twists, pirates, and mystical experiences in several cultural traditions.

I felt there was a bit less sexual content in this third of the trilogy, but the romantic relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin plays a larger role.  I am not usually much of a romance fan, but I think they must be my favorite epic fantasy couple.  When they are on the same page, they complement each other so well, and their bond is based on years of shared trauma and shared happiness.  However, in this book, they hit some roadblocks in their relationship.  I liked that the problems that came between them rose naturally out of their incompatibilities, rather than from any external force.  In fact, most of their problems involved their differing desires, attitudes about sex, and expectations of a romantic relationship.  
If their relationship is going to survive, they both need to learn how to compromise.  When the novel drew to a close, I was already eager to see what would happen next for Phèdre and Joscelin.

My Rating: 4 / 5

Kushiel’s Chosen is an excellent continuation of the story of Phèdre’s life, which started with Carey’s debut Kushiel’s Dart. The characters are growing and maturing, and their adventures lead them to new lands and new cultures.  I still am not sure I understand Phèdre’s obsession with Melisande, but I have to admit that she is an entertaining, intelligent and ruthless villain.  The main plot is again an exciting tale of political manipulation, travel, and overcoming hardships, but I felt Phèdre and Joscelin’s romance also played a larger role.  I really enjoy their relationship, and how their problems arise naturally from their mismatched expectations and desires.  I’ve already read Kushiel’s Avatar at this point (what can I say, I’m running late on reviews), and I’m looking forward to reading the next trilogy!

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