Best SFF Novels of the Decade Readers Poll

Best SFF Novels of the Decade: An Appreciation of Kushiel’s Dart

I am honored that I was given the opportunity to “discover” this amazing book. The manuscript showed up on my doorstep just shortly before a Thanksgiving holiday many years ago. It was over a thousand pages long, and I was anxious to read just enough of it to be able to reject it without having to lug the thing home. But after reading the first page I knew I was doomed to get almost no sleep that night. By the next morning, I knew that this was a kind of book that no one had ever quite written before. And that Tor had to be its publisher.

Kushiel’s Dart is, if I had to categorize it, a historical fantasy. But it’s neither just a historical or just a fantasy; rather, it takes the conventions of both and subtly twists them until they fairly scream for mercy—while loving every minute of it. One could talk about the standard tropes that the book contains: a young woman undergoes training to be a courtesan/spy, has adventures, falls in love, and battles evil in the world. The story is set in a quasi-medieval parallel world where (it is said) angels once loved mortals and the resulting race carries the divine in their blood, where loving-as-thou-wilt is the whole of the law, where magic is currency, and political machinations are easy as breathing.

The above makes it sounds like every other standard fantasy that we come across. But the book is so much more. With this novel, Jacqueline Carey uses those tropes to really delve into what it means to be a woman; the power and nature of sex; the political overtones of all personal relationships (and vice versa). With needle-sharp prose and an sharp insight into human desire, Carey crafted a dark, erotic novel that resonates as a work of fantasy and that for some, has become a touchstone. The raw sexual energy in the book certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, but Phedre no Delaunay is a character that once you encounter you will never forget. You don’t believe me? The first time I saw someone at a convention with Phedre’s mark tattooed on their skin showed me that this was a book that had affected the lives of individuals in ways that I could only begin to imagine.

One of the most surreal and pleasurable moments in my life was late one winter night, coming home on the subway. It had been a long day at the office and I was bone-tired. I was seated alongside two well-dressed, middle-aged women of a certain dignity. I overheard one of them go on at great length about a book she was reading, a book that struck her to the core and made her think about her life as a woman and how she had the power to re-invent herself. After a few moments of this, I concluded that she must have been talking about an Oprah pick-of-the-month and tuned the conversation out. But when the two women stood up to leave, the woman who had been speaking took the book out of her bag and thrust it toward her friend and said, “You have to read this!” I looked up and saw that it was Kushiel’s Dart. The incongruity of that woman—someone I never would have imagined as the audience for this particular book—waving it around in that subway car is an image that has stayed with me. It showed me that we never know what the ultimate journey of a book will be…and that there are powerful messages in the most unlikely of places.

I have a feeling that Kushiel’s Dart is going to be one of those books that does that for a very long time.

Claire Eddy is a senior editor at Tor/Forge Books and has worked with authors across a variety of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, mysteries, and more.


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