Abandoned by her parents on the doorstep of the Night Court—home to the courtesans of Terre D’Ange—Phèdre is groomed for a life of service to Naamah in the City of Elua. But a red spot in her left eye marks her unfit to officially serve in the Night Court, so her marque is sold to the courtier Anafiel Delaunay, who raises her up to be a spy as well as a courtesan. Delaunay is also the only one to recognize what the red mote in her eye betokens; Phèdre is marked by Blessed Elua’s companion Kushiel, and she is an anguisette, doomed to take her pleasure in pain. Without knowing the depths in which she is swimming, Phèdre stumbles upon the key to a plot that threatens the Crown, and indeed Terre D’Ange itself.
Originally published in 2001, Tor recently announced they would be reprinting Phèdre’s Trilogy this summer, starting with Kushiel’s Dart in June, and then one per month to finish out the summer. On receiving my copy, I was amused to notice for the first time that the book had been compared to George R. R. Martin, a fact which meant nothing to me when I first read it in high school, at least seven years before I picked up Game of Thrones. I wrote a full-length review of this book back in 2017, the last time I reread it, so today I thought we’d do something a little different, and hit my top ten favourite things that keep me coming back to this series again and again. Warning: here there be spoilers! For a spoiler-free introduction, see my original review.
10. Terre D’Ange – Kushiel’s Dart is a hefty 900 page epic, and Jacqueline Carey spends the better part of the first hundred and fifty pages using Phèdre’s education as an excuse for world-building. The D’Angelines are the scions of Blessed Elua, who was born of the co-mingled blood of the dying Yeshua ben Yosef and the tears of the Magdelene, and his companions, angels who turned from the service of the One God when he rejected Elua and turned him out to wander the Earth.
9. “Love as thou wilt” – The chief precept of Blessed Elua, and a governing principle for all D’Angelines is a breath of fresh air in the realm of epic fantasy, which often isn’t terribly concerned with consent. (CW: The Skaldi do not abide by this precept so the book isn’t perfect in this regard). And while it is nowhere mentioned in the first volume of the series, Carey later reveals that D’Angeline women do not conceive until they visit the temple of Eisheth and ask to do so!
8. The Night Court – Along with the precept of Blessed Elua, the other half of the sex-positive foundation of this world lies in the Service of Naamah. Of those cast down from heaven to follow Elua, Naamah served by selling her body, and so in Terre D’Ange, courtesans are something akin to priestesses, practicing a holy art that is governed by custom and contract.
7. Alcuin nó Delaunay – Phèdre’s foster-brother and fellow pupil is her companion in the service of Anafiel Delaunay, and her conspirator in trying to unravel the mysterious history of their benefactor. More politically astute than Phèdre, but less well-suited to the service of Naamah, I maintain to this day that Alcuin deserved more!
6. Rolande de la Courcel – The Dauphin of Terre D’Ange died at the Battle of the Three Princes, destabilizing the Courcel succession, so we never meet him on the page, but his love affair with Anafiel Delaunay is a driving force behind the story. Delaunay and Prince Rolande met at the University of Tiberium, and their back story is a spin-off that I’ve never stopped wanting.
5. “All knowledge is worth having” – Kushiel’s Dart is an epic fantasy centered on spies and courtesans; they deal in information, the subtle trade that underpins the royal court. Phèdre learns Caerdicci, the language of scholars, in the Night Court, and when she comes to Delaunay she is also schooled in Skaldi and Cruithne. Her facility with languages becomes as important as her courtesan’s wiles.
4. “That which yields is not always weak” – There are warriors aplenty in Kushiel’s Dart, men and women alike, but Phèdre nó Delaunay isn’t one of them. By the end of the book, Phèdre has been a spy, a courtesan, a slave, an ambassador, and a messenger, and she wins all her victories on her wits and her charms, rather than by might of arms.
3. Grainne mac Conor – Speaking of warrior women, the mightiest of them is the Lady of the Dalriada, who rules alongside her twin brother, Eamonn. As brash as her brother is cautious, Grainne takes Phèdre to her bed to make her brother jealous enough to go to war alongside the Cruithne, and then rides to battle at Troyes-le-Mont pregnant with her second child.
2. Drustan mab Necthana – There are two romances at the heart of this book, and one of them is the secret betrothal between Ysandre de la Courcel, and Drustan mab Necthana, the rightful Cruarch of Alba. The Cruithne are matrilineal, and Drustan was the heir to his uncle’s throne before it was usurped by his cousin, and he must reclaim it in order to win passage across the straights, and wed the Dauphine. Meanwhile in Terre D’Ange, Ysandre has rebuffed a succession of suitors to remain true to her promise to Drustan, even as her grandfather ages, and their grip on the crown becomes ever more perilous.
1. Joscelin Verreuil – The second sons of Siovale are sworn to the service of Cassiel, and the celibate Cassiline brothers are trained from the age of ten as elite bodyguards. We meet Joscelin when Delaunay contracts him to protect Phèdre, but the plot against them is deeper than anyone could guess. A Cassiline’s word is his bond, but Phèdre will test his vows again and again as their adventures take them across the known world. Candidly, the complex relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin is the best thing about this entire series–contracting a celibate warrior-priest to protect a courtesan goes about as well as you would expect!
If you’ve read Kushiel’s Dart, tell me about the parts you loved! I know there are at least a couple of fan favourites that I haven’t even mentioned here.