Goodreads: Imriel de la Courcel's blood parents are history's most reviled traitors, but his adoptive parents, the Comtesse Phèdre and the warrior-priest Joscelin, are Terre d'Ange's greatest champions.
Stolen, tortured, and enslaved as a young boy, Imriel is now a Prince of the Blood, third in line for the throne in a land that revels in art, beauty, and desire. It is a court steeped in deeply laid conspiracies ... and there are many who would see the young prince dead. Some despise him out of hatred for his birth mother Melisande, who nearly destroyed the realm in her quest for power. Others because they fear he has inherited his mother's irresistible allure - and her dangerous gifts. And as he comes of age, plagued by dark yearnings, Imriel shares their fears.
At the royal court, where gossip is the chosen poison and assailants wield slander instead of swords, the young prince fights character assassins while struggling with his own innermost conflicts. But when Imriel departs to study at the famed University of Tiberium, the perils he faces turn infinitely more deadly. Searching for wisdom, he finds instead a web of manipulation, where innocent words hide sinister meanings, and your lover of last night may become your hired killer before dawn. Now a simple act of friendship will leave Imriel trapped in a besieged city where the infamous Melisande is worshiped as a goddess; where a dead man leads an army; and where the prince must face his greatest test: to find his true self.
Last year I discovered the amazingness that is the Kushiel series. This is my fourth book I've read by Jacqueline Carey and I just have the utmost respect for how well she puts together fantasy novel. The level of detail in her world building and the complexity of all her characters just never ceases to astonish me.
Upon reading this, I came to the realization that this isn't the fourth book in the Kushiel series, but that the series is comprised of two separate trilogies (sort of the way Tamora Pierce has quartets). Even though this trilogy is set only a few years after Phédre's trilogy ends, I think it is an important distinction to make, because this book definitely didn't feel like a continuation. It spent a large chunk of the book setting the ground for this trilogy which really confused me until I made the discovery about it being two different trilogies and not one long series. That being said, and perhaps this is simply because my initial reaction is hard to remove from the equation, but I didn't feel like this book was as strong as Carey's previous ones. There didn't really feel like there was a unifying story as a whole. It felt like we followed Imriel growing up, mirroring the first book of the Phédre trilogy, but it didn't feel like the story was connected or that it was growing to a certain moment. Instead it felt like a really long book of separate Imriel stories, which I guess is fine, but certainly wasn't what I expected. I have to admit some of this feeling may have come from not expecting this book to feel like a first book, if you know what I mean. I also felt like Imriel's voice was no different from Phédre's, which makes sense since it's the same author, and it's not like we were alternating narration or anything. This was a mixed bag for me, as I would have loved to see Imriel's voice as a distinct, different feeling from Imriel's...but I also love Carey's writing and reading a character with a similar voice was easy for me to love, since I loved her previous trilogy.
I know a lot of this sounds like a complaint, but honestly it's like eating a Lindt truffle if you happen to prefer Ghiradelli. In comparison to Jacqueline Carey's other books, no I didn't love this as much. But compared to other fantasy novels? I still would count this as one of the top novels. What I loved most about this book is what I have always loved about Kushiel's world - the world building. I absolutely love how much traveling they do throughout these novels so you aren't just getting the world building of one culture - at this point (and I'm counting the book after this because I can't remember which places Imriel travels in which book), but we've hit at least 10 separate cultures. That's insane right?! I know they are loosely based on medieval cultures, but honestly what fantasy novel isn't? (Don't answer that, I know there are a lot. You get my point though). But what other novel has managed to pack in that much world building without ever getting boring (in my opinion)? I will say that as much I love seeing all the other civilizations in this world, I actually would love to see some of the other night houses explored. Part of this is because I can't say my tastes run where Imriel's and Phédre's do, but part of this is I would just like to round out our knowledge. I find the most interesting aspect of the world building here is the religion and the way it is interlinked with sex. I think a religion and a culture that embraces both of these things and doesn't treat them as mutually exclusive concepts is just fascinating! And it's interesting how Carey manages to wrap all this acceptance up in a society that's based on medieval culture (in some ways). And then to see how different cultures react to this and...ahh basically I could read anything set in this world and be happy. (Actually I tried to see if there was any good fanfic that explored the other night houses, but sadly there isn't any - or at least not any I could find in my brief skim. I mean obviously Carey's writing would be preferable, but I'd just love to read anything about them. Maybe she has a blog or something. I should explore this...)
If you've read Phédre's trilogy, you know what to expect from Carey. So you should read this. Personally I liked Phédre a bit more, but I think a lot of that is just nostalgia for how it felt the first time I discovered Carey's writing. If you haven't read Phédre's trilogy, I really, really recommend it. It's not for everyone - you'd have to be comfortable reading bits that aren't afraid to get sexy and dark, but if you're looking for a really involved epic fantasy series? Check this out.