by Jacqueline Carey
2015 (originally published 2002) • 496 pages • Tor Books
Can Jacqueline Carey structure a trilogy or what?
I have a lot of opinions on how book series should be structured. I don’t think it’s beyond the pale to ask that a novel in a series be a novel unto itself—not that it needs to completely standalone, just that it needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end while setting up the board for the next installment. And yet, this seems to be a tall order, especially when it comes to speculative fiction. I have encountered plenty of trilogies whose structure seem based on The Lord of the Rings—which is a terrible idea, because The Lord of the Rings is a single novel, not a series.
But, mercifully, Carey understands this and avoids it by both structuring her books enjoyably and cramming them so full of incident that you cannot help but be satisfied by the time you’re finished. It’s astonishing to me that The Sundering is a very successful duet, despite duets being harder to pull off than trilogies, which at least can have the traditional three act structure mapped onto them. Reading a Carey novel is knowing you are in good hands.
When last we left Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève, the anguissette turned courtesan turned spy, she had successfully saved Terre d’Ange from invasion and retired to a country estate. But when she receives one last gift from Melisande, Terre d’Ange’s greatest traitor, she realizes that Melisande is still playing for the throne. Determined to get to the bottom of it, she returns to Naamah’s Service, a choice that aggravates her on-again, off-again lover and guard Joscelin Verreuil. The more she learns through her patrons, the more she becomes determined to stop Melisande. And the only way to do that, it seems, is to track her down herself. So it’s off to La Serenissima once more for the glory and freedom of Terre d’Ange.
Kushiel’s Dart is actually pretty far behind me, so I was a little concerned that I might be missing a few things without reviewing its plot beforehand. Luckily, Carey does reference the most important parts of Kushiel’s Dart when they’re relevant. And, to be honest, sometimes when they’re not. By the time Kushiel’s Chosen is chugging along under its own steam, we don’t need every single callback when what’s happening in front of our eyes has enough plot and portent to make Alexandre Dumas go cross-eyed.
I mean—there’s court intrigue, pirates, false prophecies, prison escapes, assignations, extreme religious sects, near-drownings, balls, ornery seamstresses, language acquisitions, and caves that function as one’s dark night of the soul, just to name a few things. I can’t cover it all and I shouldn’t. Part of what I loved about reading Kushiel’s Chosen is watching the plot begin to develop its own momentum, which Carey then plays with. I screamed out loud when a chapter ended, almost demurely, with a major character reveal. Reading this swiftly became a game of “well, maybe just one more chapter” which swiftly became “I will not leave this couch until I am done.” It feels like sinking into a decadent fever dream, with Phèdre as a particularly nostalgic guide.
By taking Phèdre’s journey even farther outside the borders of Terre d’Ange than the first, we get to see more of Carey’s intricate remix of European history. We hear more But with this worldliness also comes Phèdre’s attitudes towards these other cultures—a general feeling of D’Angeline superiority. True, Carey’s d’Angelines are literally semi-divine, but there’s something slightly uncomfortable about Phèdre turning down her nose, however slightly, towards other peoples for their looks (D’Angelines are supernaturally beautiful) and for their customs (especially in regards to women and sex workers, which, at least, makes a lot of sense). It’s not enough to derail the novel, but it is present in a way that I did not notice in Kushiel’s Dart. I hope Phèdre is a little more worldly on her second time around.
Ugh, there are so many things in this novel that I want to scream about that are both major spoiler territory and best enjoyed coming either out of the blue or as the payoff to a plot thread. But, dear readers, rest assured that there is plenty to scream about.
I should probably read Kushiel’s Avatar sooner rather than later, right?
I rented this book from the public library.