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Kushiel's Chosen    by Jacqueline Carey order for
Kushiel's Chosen
by Jacqueline Carey
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Phèdre nó Delaunay has come a long way from her beginnings in Kushiel's Dart, in which she was sold as a four-year-old into indentured servitude at the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers. In that first volume, she survived adventures as a courtesan and spy, slavery in Skaldia, and the wrath of the Master of the Straits, to save the realm of Terre d'Ange and win the title of Comtesse de Montrève. But her enemy, Melisande Shahrizai, escaped with help from a traitor close to the throne, and this brilliant villainess - a cross between Machiavelli and Milady de Winter - is busy weaving deadly webs to entangle Phèdre once more. The gods, very present in Carey's world, pull their own strings.

This series reminds me of two very different styles. It has similarities to both Guy Gavriel Kay's historical fantasy, in books like Lord of Emperors, and to the erotic fantasy novels of Laurell Hamilton, like Obsidian Butterfly. As in the former, there are hints of history as we know it in states like the Serenissima with its Doge, reminiscent of Venice in the prime of its trading Empire. Carey's heroine Phèdre shares with Hamilton's Anita Blake a penchant for sexual adventure, in this case 'pleasure in pain' as an anguissette in the Service of Naamah; a body that can heal itself quickly (needed in her role); and a strong desire to help others.

Like Anita, Phèdre carries on an ill-starred romance, in her case with the Cassiline Joscelin, who broke his vows of celibacy for her sake, and has a great deal of difficulty accepting her role as a courtesan. She also has loyal followers, three chevaliers who serve her, the self-named Phèdre's Boys. As this second volume begins, Melisande signals her continued threat by sending a sangoire cloak to Phèdre, who is impelled to investigate her enemy's escape from captivity and current plans. This quest takes her into intrigue and peril in Serenissima, imprisonment in a bleak island fortress of La Dolorosa, near drowning, capture by pirates, and a race to save her beloved queen from a dire plot.

This second volume in the new epic series is a daring blend of historical intrigue and erotic fantasy. For someone who plays such a submissive role, its heroine exerts a powerful influence on the events of her time. The sado-masochistic element in Phèdre's adventures will appeal to fans of Laurell Hamilton and Terry Goodkind, and, that aside, Kushiel's Chosen is great fantasy and a gripping read.

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