Sat
Mar 5 2011 1:00pm

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

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline CareyI 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.

12 comments
john mullen
1. johntheirishmongol
I have to say that I really enjoyed reading all of the first 3 books in the series. It was different and compelling. I am really pretty good at the suspension of disbelief that a book like this requires. However, I do get a bit concerned about a book like this for someone younger, since this was a very much on the edges of human sexuality.
Foxessa
3. Foxessa
I have read all the novels set in the time of Terre d'Ange. There are very few series / series about which that is the case. Katharine Kerr's Deverry novels are among those rare series. Kerr's and Carey's works are so different from each others in style, setting, concern, locale, but they have in common their over-arching excellence and interest.

But it feels far more like the Renaissance to me, not a medieval era.

Love, C.
Michael Grosberg
4. Michael_GR
Kushiel's Dart is a sexy, beautifully written, engrossing novel. It is interesting to note it was published about the same time as Mary Gentle's _Ash: a Secret History_, which also revolves around a unique female character in an alternate version of medieval Europe with magic and a different kind of christianity, and is about the same length. Zeitgeist, perhaps.

I'm sad to report, though, that I recently tried to read the sequel, _Kushiel's Chosen_, and was so bored I stopped a third of the way into the book. And it's not just me: friends of mine who have read it report similar impressions.
Matthew Brown
5. morven
It's hard to keep writing in a series and keep the quality ot the same level. Not many authors manage it.

Especially not if the book was not originally meant to be a series. I don't know if this is the case here or not.
Foxessa
6. Leda Locke
I absolutely adore the Kusheline trilogies - I'm one of the people with a related tattoo (*love as thou wilt* across the top of my sacrum; my first tattoo and one of only 2), and these books have not only helped me figure out more about who I am, but also helped my husband figure out some of my peculiarities. I am endlessly grateful to Jacqueline for writing these, and reccommend them to anyone who might have something other than a completely vanilla sexuality (or those who want to learn more about those that do!).

Agreed on the era feeling more Renaissance, though. *Brilliant*.
Foxessa
7. bujfan2030
For those disappointed with the second book, I would say don't give up on the series. The third book offers up new Villains with the same inspired exploration of ideas of the first book and makes a great bridge to the second trilogy.
Foxessa
8. eeeeeelizabeth
I've adored all the Terre D'Ange books, and have probably gone through about 3 or 4 copies of Kushiel's Dart because those I lend it to rarely return it. The intense detail of this world and the intricate personal and political relationships are all written so well-- Ms. Carey's skill always astounds me. I've reread the first trilogy more times than I could say, and I'm always spellbound, just as I was the first time.
Foxessa
9. artfoodlifeblog
This is truly one of my favorite books of all time. I picked it by its cover when I was a teen and I have read the series so many times that I might need to go out and get new ones. Mine are "well loved" to the point of pages falling out.

I do have ot say that I have had mixed success getting others to read the book. If you do not have a large vocabulary and a head for politics, this book is a little hard to read...but that is their loss, not mine!
Foxessa
10. Teiki
The Kushiel books are one of my favorite series and I have re-read them several times since I started reading them when I was 16. I am now 19 and I get something very different out of them everytime I pick them up. Partly because my own basis of knowledge has expanded with two years of university and I understand the complexity of the text far better then I did when I first read them. These books are sublime in their ability to draw you in and will forever have a place in my life.
Foxessa
11. CamMoor
Amazing book and amazing series. It took me awhile to get into it. I bought Dart back in 05 I think, I was about 16. It just sat on my shelf until 2007 when I decide to give it another go. I couldn't put it down. For someone who's a bit of a romantic as well as a sci-fi geek, the series is amazing. It touches on every aspect of love and it does so very deeply. Romantic love, friendship, family, love of country, etc. And like someone pointed out, the not so vanilla crowd will love the books too. Especially how Phedre's trilogy focuses on the submission side of things and Imriel's on the dominant.
Foxessa
12. Leslii
Please don't stop at the second book! Yes the down time is really low energy, but the story is still a crucial bridge to the third. I am actually reading them all again, focusing on Phedré and Joscelin's relationship. Its a different experience every time I read them. By the end of the third book... The depths that she drags him through, its deadly beautiful.
Michelle Morrell
13. Vylotte
One thing that struck me about these books is how intricately plotted they are. You can see how much the author truly cares about the story.

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