Sunday, May 8, 2016

Review: Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Scion by Jacqueline Carey
Published: Tor, 2006
Series: Book 4 of Kushiel’s Legacy

The Book:

“Imriel de la Courcel's birth parents are history's most reviled traitors, but his adoptive parents, the Comtesse Phedre and the warrior-priest Joscelin, are Terre d'Ange's greatest champions. Stolen, tortured and enslaved as a young boy, Imriel is now a Prince of the Blood; third in line for the throne in a land that revels in art, beauty and desire. It is a court steeped in deeply laid conspiracies...and there are many who would see the young prince dead.

Some despise him out of hatred for his mother, Melisande, who nearly destroyed the entire realm in her quest for power. Others because they fear he has inherited his mother's irresistible allure...and her dangerous gifts. As he comes of age, plagued by unwanted desires, Imriel shares their fears. When a simple act of friendship traps Imriel in a besieged city where a dead man leads an army, the Prince must face his greatest test: to find his true self.”

This is the fourth book in the Kushiel’s Legacy series, and I took part in a community read-along, for which you can see the spoiler-filled discussions here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8.  Next week, I’m hoping to put up a review of Genevieve Valentine’s Persona and my thoughts on season one of the science fiction television show, “Colony”.

My Thoughts:

This novel marks the beginning of the second phase of the Kushiel’s Legacy series. The first three novels followed the journeys of the legendary anguissette and courtesan, Phedre, while this second trilogy follows her foster-son Imriel.  I thought Phedre was an amazing narrator, unlike any epic fantasy heroine I’d read before, so I was a little worried about whether Imriel would be able to live up to such high expectations.  In fact, Imriel has similar worries regarding comparisons to his parents--he wants to be a good enough person to erase the stain of his birth parents’ treachery, as well as heroic enough to emerge from his foster-parents’ shadow.  He consistently underestimates his own worth, but his striving to become a better person makes him an endearing narrator.  I think the first novel of the new trilogy does a good job of establishing his character and his voice.  At the same time, I liked that Phedre and Joscelin, as well as many other familiar characters, were still occasionally present in the story.  I think the comfort of having familiar characters around made it easier to get to know the cast of the next generation.  

Along with it’s new narrator, Kushiel’s Scion quickly makes it clear that this trilogy is going to be a different kind of journey than the trilogy that came before. Phedre’s story was an epic fantasy adventure with a romance that grew slowly, through shared experiences and hardships.  Imriel’s story, on the other hand, seems to have more of a personal, introspective bent.  I would say that it is more of a coming-of-age story combined with romance, albeit in an epic fantasy setting.  The story features topics that are still familiar in the modern age, as Imriel grows up, goes to college, makes friends and enemies, engages in ill-advised love affairs, and struggles to come to term with his past trauma, heritage, and familial obligations.  In short, Imriel is a young man learning how to define himself, and it is primarily this process that drives the plot.

During his process of self-discovery, Imriel encounters some external conflict as well, through political turmoil in Tiberium (a.k.a. fantasy Rome) and an unexpected siege.  However, Imriel always seems largely incidental to these situations.  For comparison, Phedre’s adventures generally carried deep personal stakes for her, as well as for her homeland.  In Kushiel’s Scion, none of the conflict has much of anything at all to do with Imriel or Terre d’Ange. There is the risk that events could cost him his life, but it is only because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.  At one point, a specific plot twist is even needed to prevent Imriel from simply walking away from a dangerous situation that does not directly involve him.  Despite this, the stories of Tiberium and the siege are still entertaining in their own right, and they do influence Imriel’s maturation. Further, it was fun to see yet another new land and experience a new richly-imagined culture, just as I have come to expect from each book in the series. Overall, I’m still enjoying the continuing story of Terre d’Ange and Kushiel’s followers.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Kushiel’s Scion marks a departure from the previous trilogy, both in a change of narrator as well as a change in focus.  The new narrator is the troubled young man, Imriel, who Phedre and Joscelin rescued from slavery.  Having endured horrific events as a child, and growing up in the shadow of traitorous biological parents and heroic foster-parents, Imriel struggles to define himself and to become a good person.  Rather than the focus on grand betrayals and adventure of the previous trilogy, Imriel’s story is more of a personal tale of coming-of-age and self-discovery.  While he did encounter some larger conflicts along the way, these generally left me with the feeling that he was a side character in someone else’s story. Regardless, this was an entertaining introduction of the narrator for the next trilogy in the Kushiel’s Legacy series, and I am looking forward to seeing where his life will lead him.  

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