Thank you all for joining me in discussing the world of Phèdre and Terre D’Ange in my post yesterday on the first book in the series, Kushiel’s Dart. Part of the reason I couldn’t help but make it so long was because I felt like background on this fantastical land was too important to gloss over. So if you haven’t checked it out yet, please do before we get started today!
While I did place so much importance on the mythology and religion Ms. Carey created, the plot was equally as fascinating and important. D’Angelines have much pride in their kingdom, not only is Terre D’Ange rich in resources and trade, but also wealthy in arts, culture, sophistication, beauty (they are descendents of fallen angels) and loyalty to each other. Thus other nations have turned their eyes and greed towards gaining some of Terre D’Anges many types of wealth for themselves.
The final scenes of Kushiel’s Dart brought the ginormous cast of characters (what high fantasy doesn’t have this?) to the culmination of a epic war (again, what high fantasy doesn’t have this) with a traitor to the new, young queen apprehended. While the physical battle comes to an end, the traitor does not…thus the political intrigue continues into Kushiel’s Chosen.
And that wasn’t the only cliffhanger-the budding romance between Phèdre and her valiant Casseline defender Joscelin that seemed doomed before it even began got hints of a potential future. But how, when he has sworn a vow of chastity and protection? And when Phèdre is driven by sexual urges, is a courtesan, and consistently puts her life in danger? Obviously I had to read the next book in the series, even though my fellow romance readers warned that most conventional romance novel lovers (aka moi) wouldn’t find the romance for these two protagonists super satisfying.
If I had a hard time keeping up with all the characters, their cities and countries, and belief systems in the first book, that was NOTHING compared to Kushiel’s Chosen. The good news is I finally got ahold of the world of Terre D’Ange, I feel like I memorized the bible in Swahili, but I got in down pat. The problem is this time Phèdre’s quest to find the traitor, and who was involved in the plotting, brings her to La Serenissima (modeled after Venice as we know it) and then to multiple islands throughout the “Mediterranean” and “Greece”, each with its own distinct language and characteristics. At points I sorta of gave up trying to keep peoples’ names straight and what language they were speaking, thinking more along the lines of “he’s the one with black hair, she’s the priestess who was nice, he’s gay but hiding it…etc.”
But even when being lazy I couldn’t help but continue to admire the detail of this medieval fantasy world being interwoven with an exciting plot, in depth characterizations and growth, as well as symbolism and social commentary. Take this quote for example showing how a few lines of dialogue and a moment of introspection by Phèdre covers sooo much territory:
“It is a fair day,” I mused in [his language of] Illyrian. “Is it not, Ushak?”
“Y-yes.” He was red as a boiled lobster, and stammering with it. “Every day is f-fair, when it is graced with the sight of you!” He said all in a rush.
I halted, gazing at him. “Is that why you came, Ushak”
His throat worked convulsively. “It is…it is one reason, my lady,” he said stiffly. “I think…we do not have such things on Dobrek, such things as you…to die in your name, it w-would be an honor!”
“To live would be a better one,” I said gently. “I am D’Angeline and Naamah’s Servant, yes, but beauty is not worth dying for.”
He shook his head, blushing and swallowing fiercely. “Not that alone, my lady. You, you were kind to us, you learned our tongue, you laughed at our jests…even, even mine.” He swallowed again and added helplessly, “You were kind.”
I thought on it, searching the empty blue skies. “Is the world so cruel then, that that is all that is required to move a man to risk his life? Kindness?”
“Yes.” Trembling and gulping, Ushak stood his ground, holding manfully onto my arm. “Sometimes…yes, my lady,” he finished firmly.
Ah, Elua! I bowed my head, overwhelmed by nameless emotion. I understood Kazan, and the debt he perceived; I understood the Ban and his kin, weighing merit against risk. Even those of Kazan’s men who had been my shipmates, I understood better; we had forged a bond, we had, during that dreadful flight, and the terrors of the Temenos. But this…this came straight from the heart.
Love as thou wilt.
They are fools, who reckon Elua a soft god, fit only for the worship of starry-eyed lovers. Let the warriors clamor after gods of blood and thunder; love is hard, harder than steel and thrice as cruel. It is as inexorable as the tides, and life and death alike follow in its wake.
I continued to get goosebumps everytime I read Elua’s precept, “love as thou wilt,” such a powerful way to live your life. I also continued to have the same reoccurring issues, Phèdre so often says she feels “compelled” to keep scheming and strategizing and putting her life in danger and also “compelled” to damage any chances at a relationship with honorable Joscelin through continuing in her BDSM courtesan ways. Sometimes I just wanted to say enough already! Take care of yourself for once! It was noble of her to care for her queen and country so much, and certainly a D’Angeline trait, but too many awful things befell her, as soon as the escaped the clutches of one horrible situation, she was imprisoned in another. Maybe this was done on purpose as sort of a fate or destiny type thing, but I felt manipulated after time and time again her quest was elongated and she was put in even more peril.
And don’t even get me STARTED on Melisande. The bitch just won’t go away, argh! (And she is in the THIRD BOOK that I’m reading now too). Yesterday in the comments I thought Carolyn Crane brought up an excellent point, would I find understand Phèdre’s love/hate/sexual attraction/sadomasochistic feelings for Melisande more understandable if Melisande were a male character? I don’t know, but that certainly made me think. I’m tempted to say NO WAY I will never empathize with Melisande, she is evil through and through and there is nothing to commend her. I can see that as a literary character at the very least she is “interesting” but I’m pretty blinded by my hatred for her and like Phèdre less for her feelings towards Melisande.
In conclusion, I was much more engaged with the characters, plot and world Kushiel’s Chosen. Any grievances I have are more personal in terms of romance preferences, and difficulty accepting some of the morals and belief systems. And like I said yesterday, I’m investing in reading the next installation, a 704 page hardcover, only because I think it’s worth it. Or maybe I’m starting to be a bit masochistic too ;)