Kushiel's Dart is epic storytelling. Review by Violet Kane

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Jacqueline Carey introduces readers to an intricate and novel fantasy setting in grand style. At times, too grand.

Carey's Kushiel could be placed in the sub-genre dubbed "religious fantasy." I prefer to call stories like this one "cultural fantasy" because its speculative elements come not in magic or elves, but in the construction of a speculative culture. In Kushiel Carey creates a world where Classical and Renaissance sensibilities mix, where orders of courtesans and warriors exist instead of monastic orders, where beauty is holy and where political treachery runs rampant. The book follows heroine Phedre. She has been deemed imperfect for holy service as a courtesan because of a red mote in her eye, until a learned man, Anafiel Delauney, recognizes it as the mark of Kushiel. This rarity reveals Phedre's destiny as an anguisette, one who delights most perfectly in masochistic sexuality. Anafiel purchases Phedre's service and has her trained both in the arts of pleasure and in the arts of politics. When Phedre catches wind of an insidious plot to undermind the leadership of her beloved kingdom Terre D'Ange, she must use her political savvy and her skills as a courtesan to expose the plot and preserve her kingdom.

My primary complaint about Kushiel's Dart is that it is simply too large in scale. The characters are excellently drawn, and Carey's writing sparkles when it works at the level of character interaction and emotion. When she explores the motivations and desires of her characters, presents them with problematic dilemmas and decisions, Carey is at her best. But when the tides of the story sweep the characters across the continent to Skaldia (a viking-inspired culture) and Eire (Ireland), the reader is distracted from the core character conflicts. Meeting scads of characters from multiple cultures does no service for the main characters in this book. After Carey's establishment of the exquisitely detailed society of Terre D'Ange, I would have rather stayed there for the course of a first book to watch Phedre navigate political intrigues within her beloved home. Travels to the far reaches of this fictional Europe would have been better suited, in my opinion, to second and third books in this series. This book feels more like a trilogy between two covers.

Despite my criticism of the massive scope of Kushiel's Dart, I would still recommend it to any fantasy reader. The setting is at once classic and splendidily unique. The characters are well drawn and it is worth wading through the epic scenarios to reach their shining stories.

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Violet "Violanthe" Kane is the Webmaster and Founder of ARWZ.com. She is an editor of ARWZ Literary Zine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Medieval studies.