I finally finished Kushiel’s Chosen, the second installment of Jacqueline Carey’s series of novels about an alternative look at medieval Europe. I started reading in late September and was finally able to get through its nearly 700 pages. I would’ve been able to have finished this book sooner if there weren’t some problems I had with it, but I’ll get to that later.
For those who do not know, about 10 years ago, Jacqueline Carey released Kushiel’s Dart, which is about a courtesan named Phedrè nó Delaunay who lives in Terre d’Ange, which is actually France if you look at the map the book has at the beginning. Phedrè is an anguisette, someone who experiences pain for pleasure. She has a red mark in her left eye, which indicates Kushiel – a sort of deity in Terre d’Ange – has chosen her to be his instrument.
Anyway, Phedrè has been trained to be a courtesan by her foster father, Anafiel Delaunay. Because Terre d’Ange is a place where anything goes when it comes to love and sex, it is no big deal that she becomes a courtesan and goes around to aristocrats to be their play thing – in the BDSM sense. Kushiel’s Dart has a lot of BDSM scenes, featuring both men and women, but the follow-up doesn’t have as much.
But Phedrè is not only a courtesan – she is a trained spy. She soon uncovers a plot to overthrow the Queen by one of her patrons, the seductive Melisande Shahrizai, whom Phedrè has a love/hate relationship with. But before she could do anything to stop the plot, she is sold into slavery to the tribes of Skaldia – alias Germany – with her bodyguard, Joscelin, who eventually becomes her true love. Thus begins the journey into a totally different Europe with some supernatural moments, swashbuckling fights, the ups and downs of love, and plenty of political intrigue.
I read Kushiel’s Dart in 2008, and I took my sweet time getting around to its sequel. I enjoy Dart mainly because of the political intrigue and the many different cultures depicted in this world. The sex scenes were OK, but then again BDSM just isn’t my taste – especially since the BDSM here is hardcore. Phedrè gets hung upside down while chained up, cut up by use of a flechette – you know, all the good stuff. Basically, if Phedrè was simply handcuffed and/or spanked, that would’ve been tame compared by what she goes through.
I finally bought Kushiel’s Chosen during Borders’ liquidation sales in 2011, but got around to reading it in late September. Like it’s predecessor, this book was slow to start. It takes about 300 pages before the storyline actually gets anywhere. I was OK with that because there is a lot to digest. This is not a simple story. I like to say Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books are Game of Thrones meets 50 Shades of Grey (minus the poorly written fan fiction). Heads up: the term “game of thrones” is actually mentioned twice in Chosen! Ha!
By the time Phedrè, Joscelin and her three chevaliers head to La Serenissima – alias Venice – I was starting to get really annoyed. Not with the storyline, not with the writing which is unique, but with Phedrè herself. Maybe I didn’t notice it so much in the first book, but here she has very little likable traits. Altogether, I found Phedrè to be haughty, overconfident in her spying abilities, rude, and selfish. Whenever she came across as remorseful, I didn’t buy it too much. I think this was because she was also flat. I just didn’t feel her remorse or whatever humility she claimed she had. Flat is really the word that comes to mind when I think about Phedrè in this book.
Also flat are a lot of the other characters. Joscelin is just there for most of the book. The three chevaliers don’t seem to have distinct personalities and I couldn’t tell them apart. I would say the pirate Kazan Atrabiades was the most likable because he had a distinct personality, indicated by the way he spoke, which didn’t bother me so much. The villainess Melisande Shahrizai is someone to love to hate, but I also have to give her credit for being so cunning, sneaky and a literal slithering snake. She’s so good at playing the game of thrones (literally!), I found myself thinking, “well played, Melisande. Well played” toward the end. Not that I really wanted to think that, but I had to.
But Phedrè was a disappointment. Because of her, I seriously thought about putting down this book for good, hence why I took so long to finish Kushiel’s Chosen. But because I really wanted to find out where was Melisande, I carried on.
Eventually it was worth it. The story picked up, more cultures were explored and the big battle was exciting. The ending obviously leaves room for the third book, Kushiel’s Avatar, which I also have on my bookshelf. I will get to that later this year.
Overall, I did enjoy this book but the main character was unlikable. From what I heard, author Jacqueline Carey wasn’t given enough time to perfect this follow-up to her praised Kushiel’s Dart, so that might explain the flaws in this book. I hope she was given more time for the third one, or has found a way to work out Phedrè’s poor traits to make an interesting story.
So, I give this book 3/5. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible – it was simply good.
Learn more about Jacqueline Carey at her website.