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Kushiel's Dart    by Jacqueline Carey order for
Kushiel's Dart
by Jacqueline Carey
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Because of a small flaw, a 'pinprick of living blood' in her left eye, Phèdre is sold as a four-year-old 'whore's unwanted get' into indentured servitude at the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers. There she is trained in the arts of a courtesan and educated in 'the rudiments of knowledge' and the teachings of Blessed Elua. In this tale, Elua is an angel born of the tears of the Magdalene and the blood of the Messiah. He and his fellow angels settled in Phèdre's land of Terre d'Ange and Elua's precept and the basis of D'Angeline beliefs is 'Love as thou wilt.'

During this time Phèdre frequently escapes Cereus House to wander in the City of Elua where she meets Hyacinthe, a self-styled prince of the Tsingani, a gypsy-like people. This Prince of Travellers is to become Phèdre's lifelong friend. When the mote in her eye is recognized as the mark of Kushiel, the young woman's bond is sold to poet / spymaster Anafiel Delaunay, who continues her education in languages, history, politics and geography, and begins an apprenticeship in other areas. He teaches her 'to look, to see, and to think' and then sends her into a society (that has similarities to the historical French court) as his spy.

Kushiel's mark in Phèdre's eye mark her as a very rare anguissette, one who takes pleasure in pain. She successfully exploits this ability - which is described in a detail that will be distasteful to some readers - to spy on Delaunay's targets. Delaunay assigns Phèdre an austere and disapproving Cassiline escort, Joscelin, for these excursions. Then treachery and betrayal send both Joscelin and Phèdre into slavery in barbarian Skaldia, and a long struggle begins to escape, and to save Terre d'Ange from invasion and its young Queen from death.

It's adventure that could have been written by Alexandre Dumas, except that this one is set in a sensual fantasy world, which is developed in depth. Phèdre is a most unusual character, altruistic and admirable in many ways, at ease amongst those from both the depths and the heights of society, but with a strange calling, and pitted against a formidably attractive villainess. Kushiel's Dart is an extraordinary debut.

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