Jacqueline Carey’s epic fantasy trilogy Kushiel’s Legacy is lush in every way, unfolding over a dreamy country populated by the descendants of angels possessed of otherworldly beauty, where all forms of love are considered sacred. Through the eyes of gods-marked courtesan-spy Phèdre nó Delaunay, readers experience every corner of the fantasy land Terre d’Ange, from the bedchambers of nobles to the sumptuous brothels of the Night Court, and the courtly intrigues taking place therein.
The best way to enjoy this story is to simply sink into it and let the narrative play out. But Kushiel’s Dart, the first volume detailing Phèdre’s coming of age, is over 900 pages. And between the intricate worldbuilding, complicated game of thrones, and blush-inducing sex scenes, there is a lot to take in. So, we’ve assembled a who’s-who and what’s-what of Terre d’Ange: how it was founded, its central tenets, and the major players on both sides of the proverbial chessboard.
Note: There was no way to include everyone, so I strove for the most high-level characters to know when beginning the book. Some characters don’t play major roles until the second half of the book, so I elected not to highlight their significance for fear of spoiling any surprises.
Terre d’Ange in a Nutshell
Basically, it’s fantasy-France filled with beautiful people who just love each other and strive to enjoy all of life’s pleasures. When they’re not fighting for the crown and fending off invasions, of course. Three important points:
“Love as Thou Wilt”
Terre d’Ange’s golden rule, its paramount commandment, handed down by the rogue angel whose travels through the mortal world led him to Terre d’Ange in the first place. Elua’s precept is simultaneously simple and super complicating: The freedom to love however one chooses doesn’t automatically mean harmony, as people’s interpretations of that love vary wildly. Furthermore—and this is important to keep in mind as the series goes on—the commandment is not just limited to love of other people…
You’ll learn more about Naamah, one of the most revered among Elua’s Companions, below. But just as Terre d’Ange is all about loving whoever you want, it’s also about expressing that love however. Terre d’Ange is about the most sex-positive society you will run into in fantasy, because one of its founding angels gives up her body as a sacred sacrifice. Those D’Angelines who carry on Naamah’s Service are similarly revered (at least, within the country’s borders), and their work is interwoven into much of the personal and political interactions in the capital, the City of Elua. In fact, there are at least thirteen different ways to enjoy Naamah’s Service.
Longest Night/Midwinter Masque
Terre d’Ange’s biggest celebration, an extravagant costume party combining New Year’s Eve and Independence Day, is the Longest Night. The City of Elua goes all out: households commission costumes to a theme, and often use their entrances to further various courtly intrigues; there’s an annual skit involving the Sun Prince restoring the Winter Queen to her youth, and being chosen for either role is a great honor; and there are no contracts given out for Naamah’s Servants, so that people can truly love as they wilt. Don’t forget to raise a glass of joie and tell someone “joy to you on the Longest Night”!
Blessed Elua and His Companions
Terre d’Ange’s religion is polytheistic worship of a band of rogue angels who walked the earth and at some point began mating with humans, leading both to the name of the country (“land of angels”) as well as its people, the D’Angelines blessed with otherworldly beauty. D’Angelines are free to worship whichever god(s) they see fit, so long as they follow those respective deities’ teachings—and above all, they must follow Elua’s precept of “love as thou wilt.”
As the Magdalene sobbed over the body of Yeshua ben Yosef, her tears mixed with his blood to create Elua. (Take that, The Da Vinci Code.) Rejected during his travels on Earth for being the illegitimate son of the One God, Elua embraced his flaw; as one character remarks in Kushiel’s Dart, “The sin of Blessed Elua was that he loved too well earthly things.” After Elua is captured in Persis, eight angels free him and then join him on his travels, becoming his Companions.
Foremost is Naamah, who laid with the King of Persis in order to buy Elua’s freedom, and later with strangers in Bhodistan in exchange for food for Elua. Her sacrifices paved the way for how D’Angelines perceive sexuality, from the average citizen to the courtesans engaging in Naamah’s Service. These Servants get marque tattoos, meant to symbolize Naamah scratching her nails down the backs of patrons. It is a sin to force anyone into Naamah’s Service. She has one mortal daughter: Mara, conceived with a human murderer, who in her suffering became the first anguisette.
Another prominent angel for this trilogy is the cruel god Kushiel. As the One God’s punisher, he would flog sinners—who would reject offers to repent out of love for Kushiel. He marks his followers with Kushiel’s Dart, the scarlet mote in the eye that Phèdre possesses.
This angel insisted on staying by Elua’s side, earning himself the name of the Perfect Companion, but also the self-flagellating guilt of having damned himself for turning his back on the One God. The Cassiline brotherhood are warrior priests who take vows of chastity and spend the Longest Night holding Elua’s all-night vigil.
The god of healers. She gifted D’Angeline women with the ability to not get pregnant unless they want to, in which case they must light a candle and say a prayer to Eisheth. Whether she grants that request is up to her.
Also known as the Good Steward and the Star of Love, Anael taught D’Angelines how to cultivate both crops and livestock.
Though derided for his pride, Azza gave Terre d’Ange the gift of navigation.
Founded Terre d’Ange’s first armies.
Taught D’Angelines written language. His mantra is one of Delaunay’s greatest lessons to Phèdre: “All knowledge is worth having.”
The Night Court
The Court of Night-Blooming Flowers earned its name both literally and figuratively: The Houses are named for flowers that flourish in the moonlight, and so do their adepts. There are thirteen different houses, each with a distinct canon through which they interpret Naamah’s reasons for sleeping with the King of Persis. Depending on what a customer wants as they climb the hill at Mont Nuit, they have a variety of choices…
An atmosphere of sensuality and pleasure permeates the House through which Phèdre’s mother Liliane made her marque. It’s no surprise that Phèdre’s father, a merchant with a purse bursting with coin, spent it at Jasmine House. But their offspring, with her ivory skin, does not fit the physical canon of this particular House and so was sent elsewhere.
Liliane de Souverain
Phèdre’s mother, a Jasmine adept who made her marque at 19. Her early independence allowed her to marry Phèdre’s father even though the Dowayne of Jasmine House did not necessarily approve of the match, but what they have in love they lack in financial independence, as they ultimately sell Phèdre into indentured servitude. After she all but disowns Phèdre in the first chapters, we never see her again.
Though Cereus’ canon is based on fragility, it’s due not to weakness but rather wisdom—the recognition of the fleeting nature of both time and beauty. Many of the House’s adepts discover their true steel beneath fickle beauty. This is where Phèdre grows up until Delaunay buys her marque.
Dowayne of Cereus House, who buys Phèdre’s bond.
A former adept of Cereus House, Cecilie is hired by Delaunay to serve as Phèdre and Alcuin’s tutor in Naamah’s arts.
Athletic, gymnastic, creative adepts singing, dancing, and performing backflips… and that’s before they start entertaining clients one-on-one.
Mandrake and Valerian Houses
These two houses have a reciprocal relationship: Mandrake is all about dominance, while Valerian values submission. Performing at Showings together, they demonstrate the pleasures of pain, always careful to use the signale, or safeword.
There are eight others, but those are the major ones in the first novel. Though readers get to experience a taste of all thirteen Houses through their costumes at the annual Midwinter Masques.
Most of the first half of Kushiel’s Dart focuses in on the home of noble and artist Anafiel Delaunay, where Phèdre develops her training as both a courtesan and a spy.
Probably the least creepy example of a grown man lifting an orphan out of a miserable situation because there’s no disturbing sexual ulterior motive. Which is not to say he doesn’t have ulterior motives, but they all involve spycraft and courtly intrigue. Disowned by his father for not producing heirs, disgraced in the kingdom after his poems accusing the queen of disposing of her romantic rival are banned and destroyed—yeah, Delaunay knows a thing or two about being shunned. As the “Whoremaster of Spies,” he trains Phèdre and Alcuin in the arts and social graces as well as sharpening their memories and encouraging them to remember every detail of a conversation. No surprise, he follows Shemhazai’s commandment of “all knowledge is worth having,” and hammers that into Phèdre. Simultaneously the best father figure she could have had, yet you totally get why she’s still half in love with him.
Phèdre nó Delaunay
Kushiel’s Dart, marked by the cruelest god by the red mote in her eye. Terre d’Ange’s first anguisette—that is, one cursed (or blessed) to find pleasure in pain—in over a hundred years. Charming and quick-witted, which comes in handy when she needs to shape her assignations to procure the information she needs, but being gods-blessed also makes her stubborn and more rash than someone else in her position might be. Open-minded in a dozen different ways, from her affinity for languages and love of travel and meeting new people to her willingness to subject to just about anything at the hands of her patrons. Often, sex is the most effective way for her to achieve her goals. The kind of woman who has inspired everything from epic poems to bawdy sailor songs composed in her honor.
A Cassiline warrior assigned as Phèdre’s bodyguard for her assignations, to make sure none of her clients tries anything too untoward.
Alcuin nó Delaunay
Delaunay’s other young charge and Phèdre’s foster-brother. Honoring a promise Rolande made during the Battle of the Three Princes, Delaunay adopted Alcuin (fathered by one of Rolande’s men) when he was six. Also raised in the arts of Naamah, Alcuin’s virgin-price is one of the highest ever recorded. Though his beauty is more “otherworldly” than Phèdre’s and he possesses a greater aptitude for languages like Skaldic and swifter thinking skills, the two are never truly in competition. Instead, they complement one another.
The Royal Family
House Courcel, the current ruling family, can trace its lineage back to Blessed Elua himself. The rest of the royal family, whose members are referred to as Princes and Princesses of the Blood, includes House Trevalion, House L’Envers, House Shahrizai, and the Stregazza family in La Serenissima.
Ganelon de la Courcel
The elderly King of Terre d’Ange, ruling until his granddaughter Ysandre can assume the throne.
Rolande de la Courcel
Ganelon’s deceased son, who died heroically in the Battle of Three Princes against Skaldia.
Rolande’s wife and Ysandre’s mother, a shrewd ruler who died under mysterious circumstances involving poison.
Ysandre de la Courcel
The Dauphine, around Phèdre’s age. A cool, quiet girl fielding potential betrothals with other countries for political alliances.
Lyonette de Trevalion
Ganelon’s sister, and mother of Baudoin. Best summed up by her nickname: the Lioness of Azzalle.
Baudoin de Trevalion
A cocky young prince who makes waves at the Midwinter Masque one year with his portrayal of the Sun Prince. Despite being a Prince of the Blood, he is not a direct heir to the throne like Ysandre, so him portraying this symbol of sovereignty is seen as a political statement. But mostly he enjoys the revelry of the Longest Night and his privilege as prince, with his sometimes partner-in-crime Melisande Shahrizai.
Peers of the Realm
The courtly intrigues in Kushiel’s Dart are fascinating, but if anything, this chessboard does sometimes feel overcrowded. To be honest, I missed some of the dimensions of Delaunay’s game on my first read, which made for some confusion at key points but also provided the perfect excuse for a second page-through. We don’t have enough space for every single noble with a vendetta (or enough ennui to join in on the game of thrones), but the key players are those who are either patrons of Phèdre or Alcuin, or tangentially related to their courtesan-spycraft.
The less said about Melisande the better, because part of the fun of the books is learning about her as Phèdre does. A stunning and cruel beauty, the dark to Phèdre’s light and sadist to her masochist, she nonetheless feels something for the young anguisette.
Ysandre’s uncle, who always seems to be up to something. No friend of Delaunay’s after the poem dishonoring his sister Isabel, Barquiel is both distrustful of potential threats to the throne and himself not very trustworthy. But he’s the rare D’Angeline to actively embrace outside cultures, having cultivated alliances in Aragonia and Khebbel-im-Akkad.
The D’Angeline lord who buys Phèdre’s virginity and utilizes her abilities as an anguisette to sate his sadistic impulses.
Baudoin’s friend, a war hero celebrated for his victories against the Skaldi.
While D’Angeline nobles make special outings out of the Night Court, much fewer of them are likely to venture to Night’s Doorstep. That’s the destination for people who lack the coin to properly experience the Night Court but still want some fun.
Phèdre’s earliest friend, half-Tsingano and half-D’Angeline, who basically runs Night’s Doorstep: everyone knows the “Prince of Travellers” in the taverns, and they will or won’t mess with noble visitors based on their relationship to Hyacinthe. He helps Phèdre try to puzzle out Delaunay’s master plan, though his mother Anasztaszia (from whom he inherited the dromonde, or second sight) warns that she won’t like the answer. Hyacinthe is the one who comes up with the other guiding tenet (aside from “love as thou wilt” and “all knowledge is worth having”) that gives Phèdre hope: “That which yields does not always break.”
Fantasy-Viking land, in short: frozen and filled with warring clans who regularly fight for dominance. Skaldia is a longtime nemesis of Terre d’Ange even before the beginning of Kushiel’s Dart.
The cunning Skaldic warlord who stands a threat of actually uniting Skaldia’s clans in order to present a single threat to Terre d’Ange. An avid appreciator of sophisticated teachings and rich things, Selig considers himself above the infighting of his fellow barbarians.
Fantasy-Scotland/England, separated from Terre d’Ange by water ruled over by the magical Master of the Straits. Inhabited by both Albans and the Dalriada (the people of Eire, a.k.a. fantasy-Ireland).
Drustan mab Necthana
Ysandre’s betrothed and Cruarch (King) of Alba. A fearsome warrior and sensitive ruler fighting to regain his throne.
Grainne mac Conor
Half of the twin Lords of the Dalriada, a more impulsive fighter than her brother.
Eamonn mac Conor
Grainne’s twin, more cautious than Grainne but no less fierce.
There are so many more—seriously, this is just scratching the surface of lovers and enemies and allies—but you’ll have to read the books to meet them!
For a limited time, get a free ebook of Kushiel’s Dart by joining the Tor.com eBook Club! Offer expires July 19th at 11:59 pm, US & Canada only.
Natalie Zutter was sad not to include some of her favorites like Nicola L’Envers y Aragon and Sidonie de la Courcel, but they will have to wait for future posts! Talk Kushiel’s Legacy with her on Twitter and Tumblr.