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KUSHIEL’S AVATAR by Jacqueline Carey

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. It’s inhabited by the race that rose from the seed of angels, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman who recognized that she was pricked by Kushiel’s dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Phèdre’s path has been strange and dangerous. She has lain with princes and pirate kings, battled a wicked temptress, and saved two nations. Through it all, the devoted swordsman Joscelin has been at her side, following the central precept of the angel Cassiel: Protect and serve. 

But Phèdre’s plans will put his pledge to the test, for she has never forgotten her childhood friend Hyacinthe. She has spent ten long years searching for the key to free him from his eternal indenture to the Master of Straights, a bargain with the gods to save Phèdre and a nation. The search will take Phèdre and Joscelin across the world and down a fabled river to a forgotten land … and to a power so intense and mysterious, none dare speak its name.


Title : Kushiel’s Avatar
Author : Jacqueline Carey
Series : Phèdre’s Trilogy (book three)
Format : physical
Page Count : 750
Genre : fantasy romance
Publisher : Tor Fantasy
Release Date : March 14 2004

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I’m going to complain a bit about repetition in this series, and most of it seemed to be in this final book (which I guess makes sense as it’s the culmination of this particular series), but here’s my own bit of repeat-y nonsense : the plot for this one came back to me as I read it. Maybe it’s like songs on the radio. You might not hear it for a decade, or think of it in that span of time, but with the sound of the melody, the lyrics are unearthed from within your brain and you can sing along. I guess it’s like that. I’ll stop assuming I have no recollection of things going forward. Here’s hoping Imriel’s Trilogy is likewise buried in my brain somewhere, too. But if not? Hey, bonus, I get to experience it a-new.

Overall, though, this was maybe not the best series to binge. Carey does a good job of weaving in past events, dynamics, and more, multiple times within her books, likely because the page count is so massive that it’s understandable you would forget things along the way. But if you’re reading these ceaselessly, one after the other, by the third one? You’re a bit tired. Not helped by the fact that even if the locales differ, it is a bit samesies in the sense that Phèdre risks all, endures all, poor Joscelin is along for the ride (because vows), they usually have a falling out (some worse, or more dramatic, than others), but eventually all is well. Queen gets mad, Queen forgives, here is your HEA. In that sense, this was the least interesting of the three because there was no real tension, we knew how things would play out almost exactly, which explains why I put this down the most of all three of them, but. But I still picked it back up.

I’ll admit I did skim some of the more story-based mythology as Phèdre traveled from one place to the next seeking knowledge, the Name of God, to rescue her childhood friend. It was a change of pace from the darkness and violence that we had endured prior but equally it did make for an odd balance of a story. But I think that is kind of represented by the whole series. Sex, and violence, and pain, yes, but also religion, and mythology, and learning, and knowledge. It’s a complex and layered universe Carey’s created and you can’t say she didn’t put in the work, and the endless research, in and around the more angsty romantic titilating bits. But even those have purpose. Even in the violence there’s reason and understanding and it’s.. well, it’s a lot.

I will definitely be pushing on with the various series but I am not sad to be taking a break, mayhap even for the rest of the year (little that remains of it). This isn’t a series, or a universe, I could really recommend but it does compel in some ways. It is interesting. And yes, layered, in every way. I don’t want to doubt my younger self but I wonder how much of this I really understand back in the day. But whatever it was, it left an impression because here I am all these years later rereading them. And I’m not mad about it.

This also completes the final series on my Five Series to Finish in 2022 list. Phew. This one was a close call.

KUSHIEL’S CHOSEN by Jacqueline Carey

Mighty Kushiel, of rod and weal
Late of the brazen portals
With blood-tipp’d dart a wound unhealed
Pricks the eyen of chosen mortals

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. The inhabiting race rose from the seed of angels and men, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman, the first to recognize that she is one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. He trained Phèdre in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber—and, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze.

When she stumbled upon a plot that threatened the very foundations of her homeland, she gave up almost everything she held dear to save it. She survived, and lived to have others tell her story, and if they embellished the tale with fabric of mythical splendor, they weren’t far off the mark.

The hands of the gods weigh heavily upon Phèdre’s brow, and they are not finished with her. While the young queen who sits upon the throne is well loved by the people, there are those who believe another should wear the crown… and those who escaped the wrath of the mighty are not yet done with their schemes for power and revenge.


Title : Kushiel’s Chosen
Author : Jacqueline Carey
Series : Phèdre’s Trilogy (book two)
Format : physical
Page Count : 678
Genre : fantasy romance
Publisher : Tor Fantasy
Release Date : April 6, 2002

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

As I said in my review for my reread of book one, I couldn’t actually think of where the story went next. I thought everything I had remembered was contained to book one. But, like has happened before, once I was in this instalment.. it did start to come back. Not all, but some. Having said that, I imagine that’ll be my experience for book three, too, because from here.. I don’t know what comes next. Maybe I’ll remember that one, maybe I won’t. It’s just funny to experience the “nothing nothing noth– oh, wait, here we go” switch.

Now, the question for book one was whether the enjoyment was nostalgia or not and actually in hindsight I don’t think it was the latter. I do think that’s a strong book, with adventure times and romance and intrigue, and this one has much of that as well but somehow didn’t quite land the same way. At least not until closer to the end where things were juicier and the confrontations that had been building for hundreds of pages finally happened.

Part of this feeling could also be attributed to the fact that our lovebirds are at odds and then separated for the majority of this. While I thought their wee confessions in book one kind of out of sync with events, this time? This time their reunion, their feels, everything was perfect. Which I guess means it was worth them going through all those horrid motions up until that point.

And speaking of motions.. the whole Melisande/Phèdre thing perplexes my adult brain. Like, I get it but I don’t get it. And I have to think that ends in book three, though at this time I cannot remember, but like talk about a toxic dynamic and I want to be free of it. But as much as it makes me want to pull a Phèdre and smash my head against the wall, I do have to admire the powerplays and countermoves between these two women. I know this book isn’t that old but it is ancient as far as modern publishing is concerned and I do love that Carey made this main conflict between two women and gave it so many complex layers.

Actually, much of what Carey did, starting with book one, seem to differ much from a lot of fantasy that was written at the time. And even, sadly, up until recently. I couldn’t have predicted how this series would hold up but, again, despite some of the content (which you’ll either run with or run away from), it doesn’t seem to stumble over a lot of the pitfalls of the time. Or, again, it’s nostalgia leaving me blind to them (I will do some review reading once I’m done the third book). This isn’t really a series I would push on anyone but hey, if it sounds like you’re thing and you have time for an epic (or three..), why not try it out.

KUSHIEL’S DART by Jacqueline Carey

When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity on me.

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good…and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission…and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair…and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel’s Dart – a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new. 


Title : Kushiel’s Dart
Author : Jacqueline Carey
Series : Phèdre’s Trilogy (book one)
Format : physical
Page Count : 901
Genre : fantasy romance
Publisher : Tor Fantasy
Release Date : June 23, 2001

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 4 star review

Like with so many of my rereads, where my intention is to go back so I can complete a series, I’ve come to realize that most of what I remember, and think happens over the course of more than one book (usually the first two), in fact all happens in the first book. I’m certain I read all three of this first saga in the Kushiel Universe, and GR even tells I read on (though more and more I doubt that), but considering all that I did remember has already come to pass, well. We know memory is a funny thing; and mine is particularly chockfull of holes.

But anyway. Did I enjoy this because of the nostalgia or did I enjoy it because it’s just good? Who can even say! I’ll admit the whole way the story was told, with Phèdre clearly retelling events, with little sneaky references to things to come or things unknown at the time, can be done well and make things exciting and compelling. And it’s not that this one wasn’t but.. I don’t know. I can’t say those little references added to the telling, or even encouraged me to push on to the next chapter, and the next. I just enjoyed the intrigue, the suspense, the politics, all of it, enough to find it hard to put down — this only took me two nights to read and at over nine hundred pages that says a lot. Even for a speedy reader like myself.

I will say that if you expect a straight forward romance with a side of fantasy, or fantasy with a side of romance, this isn’t it. There is a lot of sex, though very few scenes actually have any kind of graphic content — and more often than not things are implied instead of spelled out — but due to who Phèdre is, a courtesan with a connection to a specific god/religious patron who deals in pain with pleasure in equal measure, well.. that’s not for everyone. Additionally, she gets herself into less than ideal circumstances (on multiple occasions) and is forced to into various situations; sometimes against her will, sometimes fully consenting but just.. intense, and because of both I can see why some readers did a hard nope.

The people of this world are all loosely based on familiar cultures and places (you might spy French, Romani, Vikings, Irish, and more) and there’s a religious/mythology element at play, too, and while most lean into pretty typical stereotypes, it does allow you to ease into things with some semblance of, well, ease. But despite those stereotypes, we spend enough time with each group (lots of travel, some of it quest-y) that Carey actually offers layers to the individuals we spend time with; making everyone, even those on the side of the “villains”, more than just their intended archetype.

Overall, this feels a little like a folklore-y and parred down Game of Thrones sans dragons. Having said that, I get the criticisms about this book (this series) and think it’ll definitely be one that works for you or doesn’t. For once, shockingly, I could turn my brain off to some of the bits that might have otherwise bothered me and just enjoy the ride. Let’s hope that continues!