I suppose everything has to start somewhere, so why not start with one of my favorite books of all time?
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, published by Tor Fantasy and available in all modern formats (including audio book…and oh boy, that’s steamy).
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Kushiel’s Dart is a novel I discovered completely by chance but I’ve read it so many times by now that I nearly know it by heart. Our main character, Phèdre, is considered spoiled goods by a society that values perfection and beauty above all. They are a people descended from the angels that left God to follow Elua, a man borne from the blood of Christ. As a young girl, Phèdre is sold into indentured servitude in the Court of Night Blooming Flowers and trained in the necessary elements of grace and wisdom. Unfortunately, a small defect in her eye, a scarlet mote, is enough to leave her future completely uncertain.
A chance encounter with a straight pin, however, convinces the Dowayne to take a second look at the strange girl, and eventually she finds a home with the house Delaunay. It is Anafiel who buys her marque and gives her worth, recognizing her as the chosen of Kushiel, the punisher of God. He gives her training in the courtesan arts of Namaah and in the skills of intrigue, training that helps her survive when her entire world turns upside down.
Kushiel’s Dart is full of some of the most interesting characters I’ve encountered in novels. Phèdre is an anguisette, cursed to forever feel pain and pleasure as the same (hence the adults only rating!) and to begin with she is driven both by the divine blood in her body and her undying gratitude to Anafiel for rescuing her from obscurity. Her primary companion as she plies her trade is a chaste priest of the Cassiline brotherhood, her best friend is a Tsingani prince with a gift for seeing the future, and her enemies are too numerous to count.
This book is definitely just for adults, though. While pain during sex has become a little more mainstream in literature since the explosion of 50 Shades of Gray, this book goes further than many people have ever considered. More to the point, this isn’t the sort of erotic novel where you can just skip over the racy bits. Phèdre’s experiences as Kushiel’s chosen are not just relevant but sometimes crucial to the plot of the novel. So, be prepared for some scenes that will titillate as well as unsettle.
There is so much more that I could mention about this book, but I don’t want to share too much. I’ll leave with this final note: the plot just doesn’t quit. I’ve read it about 15 times so far and I’m always surprised to find the end of the story isn’t the end at all. Carey does a wonderful job of carrying you through a plot so intense it could make an amazing novel in its own right, and then she keeps going, constantly stretching the boundaries of what Phèdre can manage. I highly recommend this book.
So, who should read it?
Anyone who has a love for intense and epic plots, steamy sex, major political intrigue, charming and terrifying characters, and so much more.
It is a book that has a little bit of something for everyone, provided you can handle the darker parts.
Who shouldn’t read it?
Anyone against a retelling of Christian history.
One of the main characteristics of this book is a faith system based on an alternate version of Christian beliefs. In this case, a child is born from the blood of Christ and he wanders the land with his band of fallen angels, each representing different characteristics of humanity (Cassiel who is faithful and chaste, Namaah who sells her body for their safety, and many others). In the end, they settle in Terre d’Ange and mix with the mortals, giving all the residents of modern Terre d’Ange the rightful claim of divine blood. I’ve had a number of people sour on this book for just that reason.
Also, anyone who is against graphic and unsettling violence.
One of the most important scenes in this book is gruesome enough that I tend to skip over it now that I know what happens. It’s definitely not for those with a weak stomach.
And with that…I say, read the book!
P.S. If you have any lingering doubt in your mind, note that this review took me days because I looked up the spelling of a name and ended up reading half of it again.