While I was reading “On Writing” by Stephen King, I was also reading the final book of Jacqueline Carey’s trilogy about Phèdre nó Delaunay, the famed courtesan of Terre d’Ange, an alternative look at the history of France and the rest of the world. You may remember that I didn’t particularly enjoy the second book in this trilogy, but I just had to find out what happened to certain characters in the third book, “Kushiel’s Avatar”.
Like its predecessors, “Avatar” is long, and slow moving in some parts. There’s a lot going on, a lot of history, and a lot of traveling. There’s a lot of characters, but only some are hard to remember. It’s a wild journey here, that includes some moments that are tender, fascinating or intense. Even more so, there are moments that are difficult to read because of the brutal abuse done to Phèdre and other characters. Remember, Phèdre has been chosen by the angel-diety, Kushiel, to experience pain and pleasure as one. And she has a mission to fulfill as the deities of Terre d’Ange guide her to stop an evil presence, so her tendency to experience pain and pleasure come in handy – for better or for worse. For this reader, it was for worse.
At the same time, Phèdre is on her own quest to free her childhood friend from a curse. This quest leads her to find the true name of God from a forgotten tribe and to risk her own safety by revealing that name at the appropriate time. While we never know what the true name of God is, we are hinted it through translations from various people who overheard.
The book then ends with a festival in Phèdre’s honor, who is at peace after nearly 15 years of defending her country, freeing her friend, seeing the world, and enduring pain that she sadly found pleasurable at times.
I found this book to be more entertaining than “Chosen”, mainly because Phèdre is more tolerable here. She is not the arrogant, foolish character she was in the previous book. Here, she is more humble, though probably because she endures suffering beyond many people’s comprehension. I still found her to be boring, however. I don’t know, Phèdre is just not an interesting character to me. She seems flat at times, with no real personality. I found many of the other characters, particularly Joscelin, Queen Ysandre, Hyacinthe, Kaneka, and the villianness Melisande Shahrizai, to be more fun to read about. I guess it had something to do with the narrative. Maybe Phèdre just isn’t a good narrator for her story, but she is for others.
The philosophy of this trilogy, love as thou wilt, also doesn’t seem to be fully shaped. Maybe I didn’t get it or something, but I also think because Phèdre is not an interesting character, it is hard to see what love as thou wilt means. I do like how the author, Jacqueline Carey, is trying to create a world where love is the law, and love rules. Or at least I think she is. I don’t know, I just felt confused at times.
What I did love about this book was the numerous countries explored here. Places that are obviously Egypt, Iraq, Ethiopia and the Congo, are lavishly described and one can imagine these places as being very beautiful – or in the place we know as Iraq, very ugly and horrifying. I found it interesting while reading this book that the place we call Iraq, but known as Darsanga here, has a great evil coming from it that could destroy the world, and yet in our world, ISIS is the great evil hurting the world, and its coming from Iraq. Not that I think Jacqueline Carey foresaw the future, but what irony!
Anyway, the book ends happily and peacefully. The best part of this trilogy, for me at least, were the many countries and cultures explored and reimagined. I also liked Phèdre and Joscelin’s enduring love. In the previous book, those two were strained, and Joscelin did a lot of pouting, it seemed. Here, he is more vibrant and stronger, and you could feel the love between those two from the pages. It’s real, with its ups and downs and trials.
There are more books about Terre d’Ange from Jacqueline Carey, but I am not sure if I would read them. I feel as if I’ve explored the world she created enough, and its time for me to read about other worlds. It’s been a great journey, really, even though I wished Phèdre was better guide. I still recommend this series, though I do warn the reader about its shortcomings. What I believe is as soon as a reader finds what they like about the adventures of Phèdre no Delaunay, they’ll be able to read past what they don’t like about her story. One thing for sure, they’ll be in for a wild ride!