Disclaimer: This book contains adult content, so if you are underage this isn't for you
Mighty Kushiel, of rod and weal
Late of the brazen portals
With blood-tipp'd dart a wound unhealed
Pricks the eyen of chosen mortals
The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. The inhabiting race rose from the seed of angels and men, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.
Phèdre nó Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman, the first to recognize that she is one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. He trained Phèdre in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber--and, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze.
When she stumbled upon a plot that threatened the very foundations of her homeland, she gave up almost everything she held dear to save it. She survived, and lived to have others tell her story, and if they embellished the tale with fabric of mythical splendor, they weren't far off the mark.
The hands of the gods weigh heavily upon Phèdre's brow, and they are not finished with her. While the young queen who sits upon the throne is well loved by the people, there are those who believe another should wear the crown... and those who escaped the wrath of the mighty are not yet done with their schemes for power and revenge.
I have absolutely no idea how this book came to my possession or how I would have found it in the first place as it is absolutely not something I would have picked up otherwise. From the description I would have expected it to be more of a romance novel, but it definitely falls closer to the epic fantasy genre. And by this book, I mean its predecessor Kushiel's Dart. And you know what? I'm so, so glad that it happened! I was almost speechless with surprise at how complex Kushiel's Dart was and Kushiel's Chosen didn't disappoint, although this time I was coming with much higher expectations after reading the first book in the series.
The world building in this series is AMAZING. Between this book and its predecessor you get an idea of the lay of the land and what lands in our world they are based off of. It has an elaborate religious system for all these lands, again many of them clearly based on some of our more standard religions, but what Carey has tweaked especially with the primary religion is very, very interesting. It's weird to think of it as a religion because it's not like these people are going to church or as if they have a choice to believe or not believe for the most part, as Phédre herself is marked by the disciple Kushiel, it's clear they do exist. It doesn't get pedantic and it is vital to understanding the world our characters live in. The world building is complex and detailed, but it never gets boring. There is so much action packed in this book that it keeps the plot moving at a brisk pace.
During the book Phédre is torn because she is very much in love with Joscelin, but she is also one of the gods' chosen, and as such is often prompted by him. I was highly impressed with how delicately Carey handles the situation that leads Phédre to return to her role as an anguissete. It would be easy to make Phédre seem tawdry or Joscelin seem needy, but their pain feels very real and Phédre's decision was not made lightly, nor did her pain go away as she continued down her path. She is ashamed of her needs, and in no part heartbroken by what she feels is necessary for her queen and country, as well as what her god has chosen her for. The same goes for Joscelin, who already feels compromised by his decision to break with Cassiel's brotherhood (Cassiel is another disciple/god) for Phédre. Phédre also believes her queen to be very much in danger from Melisande, a traitor to the kingdom, and Phédre's nemesis with whom she has a very complicated relationship. Honestly that's probably my only really big complaint with the series so far - I just don't get what hold Melisande has over Phédre. Maybe it goes with the S&M thing, which I also don't get, but luckily Carey writes in a way that makes it clear that understanding of what Phédre needs in that way is something that people either do or don't get, which is why her clientele is so varied. Anyway, back to Melisande. Phédre knows she needs to spy again, and to do so she must resume relationships with clientele rather than solely with Joscelin, which of course strains their relatioship very much. Beyond this she is also researching how to free her friend from the Master of the Sea, where he sacrificed himself for her in the previous book, and now lives in total isolation until the gods release him.
She pretends to break relations with her queen and travels to a nearby country she believes is harboring Melisande. The city is clearly modeled after Venice, and it is well researched and cleverly done. She gets captured by Melisande - and although I quickly figured out where she was hiding, I think that in part has to do with some foreknowledge I had about a later book in the series, so hopefully it actually is a pretty big twist. She's captured and put in isolation in a tower, has a valiant rescue attempt that fails as she almost drowns, and is captured by pirates. More betrayal ensues, they travel to lands modeled off of Greece and Crete, there is a religious schism being headed by Joscelin, and she doesn't know if she will be able to make it back in time to save the queen from those who are plotting against her. As I said, the book is absolutely action packed, maybe even more so than the first book in the series which had its own harrowing adventures throughout it.
I thought it was a fantastic book, and I would really recommend you get into the series. I loved guessing who the traitors were and where Melisande was hiding, and the action is perfectly paced. It might feel slow here and there, but the second you think it, you understand why Carey took the time to write the other information as it is almost always vital to the plot. In particular this series has some of the best world building I've ever read. Perfectly paced and complex it avoids the trap of being overly detailed or of being sacrificed for plot and characters, as her world building is essential to understanding Phédre and her community. The book explores love, relationships between lovers, friends, and enemies, racism, religious differences, cultural differences, sexism - the list could go on. Any issue we are dealing with today can be found in this novel.
My only complaint is that I have never understood Melisande as a villain, and this novel only compounds that as I've had a bit of time between novels and never understood why Phédre was drawn to her in the first place. She and Phédre have this weird relationship I don't get, I don't understand why she's evil OR why Phédre sort of loves her? I don't really get it, but luckily it didn't detract from the story too much. This book might not be for my normal YA crowd, but I highly recommend it, so I hope you go out there and find yourself a copy!