For whatever reason, I don’t generally read sci-fi or fantasy – unless there’s a heavy magical slant. This is probably why I missed Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series when it first came out over ten years ago. However, yet another friend suggested I read it and I finally decided to give it a go.
Overall, this book is utterly fantastic…both because it is literally a fantasy novel where the author spins an entire world that is just enough like our Renaissance to be familar but different enough to be incredibly intriguing and progressive, but also because it is a fascinating saga of an amazing heroine. Said heroine’s name is Phèdre, and she narrates her own life. The book starts with her recollections of childhood until she is sold (at the age of 4 due to financial issues her parents had) into one of the Court of the Night-Blooming Flower, an elite group of courtesans divided into 13 houses based on individual skill set. Phèdre is raised in one of the houses until a patron takes her on as his own pupil.
Because her left eye bears a scarlet mote, Phèdre is regarded by some as a little freaky, but Anafiel Delaunay recognizes that she is a chosen one. He sees that she is a true anguisettte – one with the rare gift to transform pain into pleasure. Delaunay takes Phèdre in once she’s completed her cursory training amongst the Night-Blooming Flowers. Under his care, she learns tumbling, multiple languages, politics, customs, oratory skills as Delaunay shapes her to be a spy of sorts to him.
The story moves effortlessly from Phèdre’s childhood to womanhood, from the tranquil home of Terre d’ Ange to the bitter, war-hungry vestiges of the Skaldic territories, and then back again, culminating in a war rife with betrayal, heroism, bloodshed, and glory. One of the things I found most intriguing, though, was the novel’s treatment of sexuality, sexual preference, and BDSM. For the most part, at least in Terra d’ Ange, bisexuality is common and widely accepted. Especially as it pertains to adepts of the Court of the Night-Blooming Flowers, where Courtesans are free to choose male and/or female patrons on a case by case basis. Sex itself is literally paying homage to a god’s sister, Naamah, who laid with strangers to keep her brother safe. And two of the houses in the court deal with the “darker arts” of sadism and masochism, but they’re accepted as part of the human experience.
If you’re looking for a heroine and a storyline to grab your attention, beat it, sleep with it, and in the morning, pay you towards a really awesome tattoo, this is a beautiful beginning in fulfilling that desire. The review for book two will be coming soon.