by Jacqueline Carey
once upon a time, in response to the question What Would You Like To See In Fantasy, i responded:
1. i would like to see an old woman as a protagonist.
2. or an interesting demon - but not a 'sexy' PNR demon.
3. or more epic fantasies set in steamy, wet jungles rather than european-style forests or meadowlands.
4. or a YA fantasy series in which the hero grows progressively more villainous.
5. or a hero who is also a slut (male or female)
i felt confident that Kushiel's Dart would allow me to eliminate number 4. alas, 'tis not to be. Phedre is no slut. i don't care how much Jacqueline Carey tries to convince us otherwise, the girl is no slut.
let me just start off by venting my confusion. okay, in this world, Phedre is an anguisette, which means that she gets off on (1) any sexual contact OR (2) PAIN, the kind experienced by a submissive during an s&m scenario. i put the OR in there because the novel can't seem to make up its mind which kind she is! that was really frustrating. if it was the first kind, well, bravo, i guess. i suppose that would make her a kind of natural-born slut, and that's awesome for her, no judgments whatsoever. you go, get it on, girl.
but she's not a natural-born slut - nope, not really. she doesn't get hungry at the sight of a cute lad or lassie - she just doesn't have that kind of slutty appetite. i think someone who is chemically castrated may actually have more horniness than Phedre.
so maybe it is the latter... PAIN! but then i bumped into a bit of underlying ridiculousness there that i just couldn't wrap my little mind around. the novel takes, um, great pains to note that Phedre is the first of her kind in 3 generations to have such exquisite receptiveness to PAIN. apparently other folks couldn't possibly enjoy any level of pain, not ever - not even the subs of the Harlot House dedicated to servicing sadists. really? seriously? what kind of world is this, Narnia? the Lollipop Land? Shannara? i just found that to be entirely naive, and therefore annoying. having genuine responsiveness to or enjoyment of a certain degree of pain in sex, let alone within an s&m or even rough sex scenario, is not exactly the rarest of sexual attributes. perhaps this strange lack of a not-uncommon ability, one that is actually rather widespread, is why this novel would be shelved within the Fantasy genre. what next - a fantasy world where no one's heard of doggy style?
okay, i guess i should actually review the book:
the first third of the novel is excellent! some excellent world-building, a sophisticated take on religion, and the emphasis on both politics and alternate sexualities was pleasing. the sex scenes were alternately graphic and subtle - i liked that, it lessened the monotony that comes with constant sexual description. the story was different things at different times: a coming of age tale; a novel of political maneouvering, treachery, and deceit; an elegant and erotic series of escalating sexcapades. Phedre & Delaunnay & Joscelin & Hyacinthe were all fun and enjoyable characters. overall, the country of Terre d'Ange is a fascinating place. if i were nobility, i would like to live there!
first: the novel becomes rather annoyingly repetitious when trying to convince the reader that Delaunnay is so much more than a glorified pimp and that Phedre is totally fine with whoring herself out, no prob at all... it remained somewhat unconvincing. but maybe that's just my non-fantasy world perspective speaking.
second: all doms were portrayed as at least semi-villainous, and brutal beyond the bedroom as well. OH COME ON JACQUELINE CAREY! that just isn't fair. Joscelin - a man who clearly needs to more successfully sublimate his anger - should have the wherewithal to top Phedre, and he's no bad guy. come on Jos, get with the program! you too, Jacqueline Carey.
sadly, the rest of the novel was just okay, and it paled in comparison to the originality of the first third. there was nothing new, just alternate fantasy versions of the early germanic tribes, early england, early ireland. the pages turned quickly but that feeling of reading something very different evaporated quickly. the ending... eh. i kinda got tired of everyone practically shitting themselves at the awesomeness of Phedre. and "Phedre's Boy's".... ugh, that's so corny. and the use of magic, whether it be the dromonde or the "Master of the Straits" was unconvincing, abrupt, and just rather amateurish. ah well.
overall, the writing was above average. at times flowery, but that fits the novel. and there was enough promise in that first third that i'll probably take a chance on the second book. it would pain me to not find out where Phedre's freaky future sexploits take her.