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Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
Review by Karl WrightThis book, the second in the three-part series, is just as amazing as the first. It is set in an alternate Europe, where the tears of Mary Magdalene and the blood of Jesus produced Elua, the angelic founder of Terre d'Ange (translation: Land of Angels). His sole commandment: "Love as thou wilt."
Elua's Companions exemplify the highest and deepest traits of what it is to be human: Cruelty and pain (Kushiel), desire and sexuality (Namaah), protection and servitude (Cassiel), and others. The mortal men and woman of Terre d'Ange are descended from these angels, and bear these traits as their holy inheritance, and their religion.
In Jaqueline Carey's alternate reality, Rome was called Tiberius, Britain was called Alba, and all the rest of Europe is vaguely familiar but also rather alien. The first book in the series, Kushiel's Dart, established this alternate reality in a breathtakingly eloquent way that married intrigue, religion, sensuality, and sex in an amazingly told story of an anguisette (named Phedre) who is trained as both a courtesan and a spy. (In case you are curious, Phedre serves not one but TWO of the gods of Terre d'Ange: Namaah and Kushiel.)
Everything that happens in Kushiel's Chosen (and indeed in its predecessor) can be viewed as resulting from the interplay between the religious forces that have Phedre in their grasp. The second book, in fact, builds on the divine and unique nature of Phedre and indeed extends her character to be yet more holy (with new gods weaved into the mix - namely the Sea Goddess - called Asherat), through a very personal trial on the island of Kriti (Crete). Despite all the political intrigue, the plotting for the throne of Terre d'Ange by Phedre's arch-nemesis and lover (to whom she is helplessly drawn) Melisande, this story is inescapably about Phedre, and who she is, the gods she serves, and the people she loves. That is what makes this series so great.
These books have been considered controversial in part because Phedre, being both a servant of Naamah and Kushiel (having been marked with Kushiel's Dart, a mote in her left eye), experiences pain as sexual pleasure. This may be disturbing to some - and may make this book difficult for younger readers to appreciate or understand. I assure readers, however, that this does not in any way lessen Phedre's intensely beautiful humanity. Indeed, I am in awe of Phedre's capacity for love.
All this is not to say that the plot is lacking. In fact, the intricacies and surprises of the narrative are so well thought out that everything flows effortlessly from start to finish, with the exception of the well-planned surprises. It was possible, in this book, for a reader to guess what might be coming - unlike in Kushiel's Dart, where most of the surprises were truly unexpected - but that did not diminish the book in any way for me. Carey's prose and emotional intelligence ring through every sentence.
I highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down.
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