Jacqueline Carey – Kushiel’s Avatar
Length: 750 pages
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Started: 29 September 2012
Finished: 07 October 2012
“Love as thou wilt” does
not specify that love will
make things easier.
Summary: Terre D’Ange has had ten years of peace since Phèdre nó Delaunay helped defeat the plots of Melisande and secure Ysandre de la Courcel on the throne for good. In that time Phèdre and her consort Joscelin have prospered, troubled only by two failures. First, Melisande’s son Imriel is third in line for the D’Angeline throne, and thus poised to be at the center of plots against Ysandre and her daughters, but Phèdre has been unable to find him. Secondly, not a day goes by that her childhood friend Hyacinthe is not on Phèdre’s mind, but she has been unable to find the one word that will free him from his terrible burden as the Master of the Straits – a burden that he accepted on her behalf. But now the ten years of peace have come to an end, with a terrible dream and a message from Melisande. For Imriel is missing, kidnapped from the temple at which he’d been secreted away, and although Melisande should be Phèdre’s enemy, she agrees to look for the missing boy… a quest which will take her farther from her beloved homeland than she’s ever been before, and which may ultimately hold the key to Hyacinthe’s fate.
Review: It’s really difficult to do justice to these books in a single review, because they are so big, so complex, and so, so good. I don’t know exactly how to start, other than just dissolving into a mess of fangirly “eeee! so good!” gushing all over the page, but: Eeee! So good!
I suppose I’ll start with the things that are wonderful about the series as a whole. Carey’s writing is amazing, lush and beautiful and descriptive and full of wonderfully well-turned phrases. Phèdre’s voice is a little bit archaic-sounding in places, but it’s never difficult to read, and it adds to the characterization. (That characterization is, of course, also wonderful, which I’ll get into below.) I also really like Carey’s world that she’s built – or more to the point, the way that she’s tweaked our world so that she can add in religions and fantasy elements (although really, not that many) and play with the history a bit, but left it similar enough to our world that it feels rich and familiar. This book, as it ventures further afield, was less familiar to me than the previous two, although I loved the sections in Menehkhet (Egypt) and I’m now curious to go in search of some history and legend, just to see how much of Carey’s story is based on reality, and how much is invention.
Carey also does a good job of keeping her story moving. This book feels somewhat episodic, which I think is unavoidable with a book of this size, but she handles her transitions smoothly. But really, the main reason that I love these books is not the writing or the worldbuilding or the action or the sexytimes (of which this book actually had comparably few); it’s that they’re incredibly absorbing, and I think a large part of that is down to the characters. Phèdre is a great narrator, strong and smart and not only self-confident but also aware of her foibles and limitations. This book is substantially darker than previous books, especially throughout its middle section, and it was the first time when Phèdre being who she is made me (and, I think, her) truly uncomfortable, but the characterization rings true throughout. Joscelin is… Joscelin. (Read: Amazing. And a lot more present in this book than in the previous, even when he wasn’t physically on-screen.) But what really stood out for me in this book was how quickly, and how absolutely completely I fell in love with Imriel. Carey writes him exquisitely well, with the perfect blend of hurt and anger and hesitant trust and old-for-his-age savvy and general ten-year-old-boy-ishness. I don’t know that I’ve encountered another character with such power to simultaneously make my heart break, and melt, on his behalf. If I’m being perfectly honest, I got teary-eyed more than once throughout this book.
So. That was gushy and rambly and I have now used up all of the superlatives in the English language, but it basically boils down to: Love, love, love. So good. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Kushiel’s Avatar does not at all stand alone. The trilogy as a whole, though, is highly, highly recommended for fans of epic, complex, mature, and beautiful fantasy novels.
First Line: It ended with a dream.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 85: “It was a vast field, green turf churned to muddy collops by a thousand booted feet, with the grunting of men at strife and the clash of armor against armor and sword on shield resounding in the sunlit air.” – a small piece of anything, but particularly food.
- p. 593: “He was half-clad like the rest of them before the night was over, stripped to his breeches and spatchcocked in color, with his face and arms tanned by the sun – although he’d peeled like a snake while he healed, his sunburn had faded – and his torso milk-white.” – like a dressed and split chicken for roasting or broiling on a spit.
- p. 652: “A smart carriage drawn by a pair of matched bays passed; I knew the arms emblazoned on the door, the silver harrow of the Marquis d’Arguil.” – a farm implement consisting of a heavy frame with sharp teeth or upright disks, used to break up and even off plowed ground.
- p. 748: “_________ poured a propitiatory drop before drinking…” – designed or intended to propitiate; conciliatory; expiatory; offered in atonement.
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