Saturday, August 16, 2014
Grown Up Fantasy - Kushiel's Legacy
So I'm making time.
There's some amazing authors out there doing some kickass stuff with the fantasy genre these days that go way beyond elves and hobbits and such. Not that there's anything wrong with hobbits, of course, but I like the stories that focus on humans. I got hooked on this type of book with Greg Keys' Kingdom of Thorn and Bone. (I'll review that bit of epicness sometimes, as well.) I enjoy those special fantasy novels that use the genre to explore the depths of humanity and the human condition in unusual ways.
The Kusiel's Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey certainly qualifies. It's the story of a young prostitute and is set in an alternate history Earth where the religion and theology of Europe and the Middle East took a radical turn. This is grown up fiction. The main character, Phedre, is basically the ultimate masochist. She is gifted by an angel (Kushiel) to experience sexual pleasure in pain.
The back story is what caught me first. I won't spoil it here, but Carey has rewritten most of the religious history of our world and woven it brilliantly into a vibrant fantasy nation. Against this fascinating backdrop, the story unfolds from the first person perspective of Phedre and the intrigues of the nation of Terre d'Angle (loosely based and located as France) and the surrounding countries and peoples. This alternate theology and history continues to develop and get deeper as Phedre and her companions travel around the world and experience the cultures that seem familiar at first but are markedly different from what we know.
The whole thing is put together brilliantly. The story could take place entirely in the main city of Elua and I would have been happy. The fantasy civilization of Terre d'Angle is fascinating enough by itself. Carey, however, takes the story and explodes it onto an international scene that is detailed and beautifully rendered. I love how many of the ancient cultures survived and how the author has developed them as they might have been.
The first book, Kushiel's Dart, goes from a interesting story about a child growing up learning the arts of pleasure and spycraft into an epic battle for the fate of an entire kingdom. The amount of backstory and research alone is worth reading, but combined with Carey's ability to put together compelling characters with intricate plots and resolve them in grand style makes the whole series worth reading.
When I first started reading it I thought for certain that I would get completely confused with all the gods and angels and factions and alternate nations and such. Much to my delight, that didn't happen at all. Carry does an elegant job of keeping everything straight so that the reader can just relax and enjoy the story.
Granted, to get maximum enjoyment from a lot of the alternate historical details in this book, you'll need a good foundation in European and Middle Eastern history. Discovering the twists and differences is part of the fun. Even without it, though, the story is compelling enough to enjoy as straight fantasy. Getting how Carey has modified things just adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the "what if?" factor presented in the series.
Again, this is grown up fantasy. The sex scenes aren't terribly explicit (maybe a little) and are far from pornographic. The acts presented, though, are considerably brutal, particularly in the third book. It's actually quite nice to see a subject like S&M have such a well done entry into the fantasy genre. No, this isn't Beauty's Release. Even if you don't swing that way, it's such an integral part of the story that it fits the world Carey has created perfectly. And everything, including the sex, fits together nicely by the end of the third book when we discover . . . Ah, but that would be telling.
If you enjoy fantasy fiction, or any type of fiction filled with epic intrigue and adventure, you can't go wrong with Kushiel's Legacy. Grab the first book (on sale as I write this) and give it a try. My fiance had to talk me into it, but I'm glad she did. Hands down, the best fantasy I've read this year.
I've linked the series in my Strange Recommends in the sidebar. Or you can order it directly from the new Strange Moves Store. Start with Book 1, Kushiel's Dart, and enjoy the fascinating, sexy, epic ride!