Labeling this book as fantasy doesn’t feel quite right. The setting is an alternative Europe, with a different take on Christianity. In this setting Jesus, erm, I mean Yeshua, had a child born by Magdalene from his blood, Elua. Said Elua was rejected by God, and travelled all over the world with his companions to find a home. They eventually ended up in France. Or Terre D’Ange as it’s called in Kushiel’s Dart.
The main protagonist of Kushiel’s Dart is Phedre, a girl sold off to one of the Thirteen Houses as a child. The Thirteen Houses are basically sophisticated whorehouses where courtesans ply their trade. Phedre cannot officially join the house as she has a red speck in her eye, apparently marked by the devil. But she gets bought by a nobleman who calls the red mote Kushiel’s Dart, which marks her as ‘anguissette’, a woman who enjoys pain. Delaunay, the nobleman, trains Phedre to be a courtesan spy, and in the course of the book, Phedre travels across Europe in service for her country, to stop the invasion of her homeland, etc.
Yeah, kinda hard to explain this book. It’s beautifully written, no doubt, and I love the setting. Just like in The Lies of Locke Lamora, the heart of the story are politics and intrigues, backstabbing and surprising turns. It’s a huge book, and there’s a lot of stuff going on. I can’t wait to read the next book in the trilogy. But…
It would have been five stars if it wasn’t for the stupid BDSM angle of the book. The setting is fantastic, and it makes perfect sense that courtesans and whores make fantastic spies. I can even follow the ridiculous notion to make her an ambassador. But why the whole anguissette angle? Even without the vivid descriptions of her loving the paddle, the knives and the whips, it would have been a great story. It added absolutely nothing for me. Nothing whatsoever. Leaving that out wouldn’t have changed the book at all. So, dunno. Or maybe I am just a sissy who likes vanilla sex.
Bonus points for the gay stuff. Phedre sleeps with any gender, and there’s a gay love story at the heart of it all. Also, Melisande made a fascinating villain.