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Kushiel's Scion    by Jacqueline Carey order for
Kushiel's Scion
by Jacqueline Carey
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This fourth in the series - following Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen, and Kushiel's Avatar - shifts attention from series heroine Phèdre nó Delaunay to continue the story of Imriel de la Courcel. Adopted by Phèdre and her 'Perfect Companion' Joscelin after they rescued him from extreme abuse as a 'barbarian's slave', Imriel has for birth mother Phèdre's nemesis, the traitress Melisande Shahrizai. He is also a Prince of the Blood of Terre d'Ange.

This episode develops both Imriel's coming of age and his coming to terms with his complex political and sexual heritage (the latter is dealt with in a more subtle fashion than in previous books). Imriel feels great love and loyalty towards both Phèdre and Joscelin for the horrific abuse they suffered at the hands of the Mahrkagir (in Kushiel's Avatar) to save him. He must deal with the sensitivity of his position as D'Angeline royalty, the plots and machinations of those who want to keep pure blood on the throne (Queen Ysandre married Drustan of Alba, so that her daughters are half-bloods), and the hostility and suspicion engendered by his birth mother's past actions. Though Melisande has sent regular letters to Imriel over the years, they remain unread, in Phèdre's possession.

Imriel's mantra is 'I will try to be good.' He treats Princess Alais as a beloved younger sister, while her elder sister, Dauphine Sidonie (the heir to the throne), is cool and suspicious, but their relationship develops through the story. Alais occasionally dreams true and foresees her cousin Imriel as 'helping a man with two faces', which later comes to pass. His lineage has given Imriel a dark gift, 'the ability to perceive the flaws and fault-lines in another's mortal soul.' He gets to know - and learns from - his Shahrizai kin, develops an enemy of Maslin (a Duke's bastard who also has a tainted heritage) by trying to do good, and makes a close friend and ally of Prince Eamonn of the Dalriada, who is 'simple, direct, and honest' but not to be underestimated.

After Imriel comes of age, he flees his desires, responsibilities, and Queen Ysandre's pressure to make a political marriage, seeking relief from the complexities of his life by joining Eamonn in Tiberium (an alternate Rome), to study under the controversial philosopher Master Piero. He befriends the aristocratic Lucius Tadius da Lucca, a fellow student who is haunted by his 'thrice-cursed great-grandfather', and enjoys a liaison with his friend's married sister. He survives (with help from a hidden protector) murder attempts and a student riot. It's only when Imri decides to return and do what his blood requires of him, that disaster strikes. A lighthearted wedding party turns into a siege after the bride is abducted. Imriel and his friends are enlisted in the defense of a city, led by a ghost with a notorious reputation.

Many plot threads hang ready to be knotted into subsequent episodes. There's Imriel's relationship to Sidonie, Eamonn's love for his Skaldian fellow student Brigitta, the machinations and goals of the vastly powerful and ruthless Unseen Guild whose existence Imriel discovered in Tiberium ... and always in the background, the deadly Melisande, whose letters her son is finally prepared to read. This is a truly remarkable series, set in a unique, masterfully developed world, and I can't wait for more of Imri's adventures in it.

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