Series: Kushiel's Legacy #1
Published: 2003 by Tor
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Over the course of the past week, I’ve read a couple different blog posts that talk about how a lot of fantasy novels feature very traditional gender roles. This novel, then, is something entirely different.
Carey’s story is a fantasy/alternate history set in the country of Terre d’Ange, which resembles medieval France. Terre d’Ange was founded by rebel angels, the highest of which issued the command to “Love as thou wilt.” This means that sex is seen as a form of religious worship.
The story revolves around Phedre, who is a masochistic whore. I mean this in the best possible sense of the term; she’s the Mata Hari type of prostitute who also happens to be a spy, and is responsible for saving the kingdom on numerous occasions. She also sleeps with most other major characters in the book. Since sex is considered to be a religious experience, prostitution isn’t frowned upon in this society, but rather considered to be a noble calling.
One of the central ideas in the book is that even though Phedre may appear to be weak, and may be very submissive, she’s also extremely intelligent and competent. She’s a very strong female heroine.
I did have a few criticisms–the mythology is thrown at you in great detail at the start of the book, and you’re expected to remember it. I didn’t mind it, but it bothered a friend who also read it. I caught a couple typos, but not enough that I couldn’t overlook them. Also, I get the impression that Carey didn’t expect the first book in her trilogy to be as successful as it was, because she didn’t clear up how Phedre could sleep with everyone without getting pregnant. But in this book, ah yes, it is fiction, and if we can believe in a nation founded by fallen angels then we can believe that a prostitute can have sex without birth control and will never get pregnant. Oh, and it’s a happy land where STDs just don’t exist.
I really enjoyed this book, as it was something entirely different than I’d ever read before. Just as a note of caution–if explicit sex scenes bother you, you might not like it. If a few whips freak you out, you also probably won’t like it. If lesbianism bothers you, you also probably won’t like it. The book isn’t about sex; it’s about political intrigue and espionage, but it does have its share of sex scenes. It wasn’t the sort of book I’d normally pick up on my own, but I was procrastinating and someone had left it on a coffee table. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for something different than anything they’ve ever read before, or who is interested in seeing the typical fantasy gender roles mixed up a bit. It makes for good pool reading.