Noticed this has been shelved several times as 'Romance' and even as 'erotica', but I think its important to note that there is a difference between books which are actually Romance, but contain fantasy elements; and books which are Fantasy but contain some romance. I'd say this book definately falls into the latter category. Certainly some parts are somewhat graphic on the bdsm parts, but thats where it's important for plot and character, a lot of 'encounters' were suprisingly of the tasteful fade-to-black sort.
Phedre is a girl, born and raised among courtesans. Unfortunately Phedre is considered flawed, a single red mote in one eye spoils her appearance, and leaves her unwanted. This is until Anafiel Delaunay sees her and recognises the mote for what it is - Kushiel's dart - a rare mark bestowed by one of their patron angels, both a blessing and a curse. Delaunay takes Phedre into his household, and gives her an education beyond that of any other courtesan. At first it's confusing to Phedre, who doesn't understand what need she'd have of languages and history etc, but Delaunay insist she also learn the more useful skills of observation and deduction.. skills more appropriate for a spy than a courtesan. Delaunay can do his best to keep Phedre safe, but ultimately they must use all resources as the political plots go ever deeper.. murder, treason, war..
The story takes a fair while to get truly started; the novel follows Phedre's story from birth and through her childhood. But despite the long set up, it was never boring, in fact, it's a good method for world building. As Phedre speaks about the various night courts, and learns the myths and histories of her home country, we learn too, and the world has quite a fascinating background.
The Author has chosen to base her mythology on jewish and christian beliefs, the brief story is that at the crucifiction of J-sus, His blood mixed with the magdalenes tears, and out of the earth sprang Elua, who was a sort of mortal deity. He had a minor disagreement with the jewish/christian G-d and departed amicably taking several angels with him. They then founded a civilisation in a place called Terre D'Ange (geographically it seems to be france!). From a christian point of view, I actually found it an interestinc concept, to see a fantasy mythology based on something which I consider to be fact.. this made me think more seriously about all the times I've read fantasy stories based on norse or greek mythology! I have no criticism of the way it was done, there seems no disrespect in it from the author's point of view, and it makes for a new and innovative fantasy setting.
One of the most unusual things about the setting is the fact that their culture respects and revere prostitutes, in fact to be a courtesan is this society is an act of devotion to one of their patron angels. Theres also a high amount of acceptance for gay relationships, and their one tenet of faith is the phrase 'love as thou wilt'.
Overall I thought the book was absolutely brilliant, it's been a long time since I came across a fantasy series to rival my all time favourites but I could happily shelve this alongside my beloved George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan and Elizabeth Haydon. The background was epic, the description was inspiring, and the characterisation was practically flawless. Just the right amount of sympathy for the heros/heroines and just the right amount of love and hate for the 'villains'. I really hope the rest of the series live up to the same standard!
I'd probably recommend it for anyone who like most kinds of fantasy, although.. it's hard to compare to other types of fantasy, but I'd say out of my own limited experience it's closer to Elizabeth Haydon than anything else.See my other reviews of Kushiel's Legacy:
| #2 Kushiel's Chosen