Tag: Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Dart

Cover image for Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey by Jacqueline Carey

ISBN 978-0-7653-4298-0

“Such a small thing on which to hinge a fate. Nothing more than a mote, a fleck, a mere speck of color. If it had been any other hue, perhaps it would have been a different story.”

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 is swimming, Phèdre stumbles upon the key to a plot that threatens the Crown, and indeed Terre D’Ange itself.

Jacqueline Carey has built and elaborate world and religious system in Kushiel’s Dart, one that defies quick explanation. Indeed, the first hundred or so pages of the book have very little plot, and mostly contain exposition and world-building, which may be a hard sell for some readers to get past. The tone can also be somewhat baroque, as Phèdre is formally relating her adventures sometime after the fact. Carey’s world has very clear parallels to our Europe, but the story of Elua and his companions makes for a unique culture in which to set the story. 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. Despite the information dumping to set this all up, I admire the way there is such a logical structure behind D’Angeline culture being kinkier, more sex-positive, and more accepting of open relationships than our own world—it is literally built into their religious system, and their way of life is logical extension of that. The sex scenes also tend to tie into the plot, as Phèdre seeks out information for Delaunay.

This isn’t our world, so it is difficult to label the characters in our terms, but most D’Angelines are what we might term bisexual. Once she enters the service of Naamah, Phèdre accepts assignations with both men and women, as does her foster brother Alcuin. This is not merely a matter of the Night Court and courtesans, however; Delaunay is also known to have loved both men and women, though some characters clearly have a preference one way or another. And of course, the great houses must make marriages to perpetual their lineage. Though both of Phèdre’s main romantic interests are men, she is captivated by her patron Melisande Shahrizai, a descendant of Kushiel’s house who understands and appreciates what it means to be an anguisette in a way that neither of the men do. But Melisande is also a wily and untrustworthy political player, to whom Phèdre cannot really give her heart.

Once the world is established, the narrative itself is a potent mix of sex and politics. King Ganelon de la Courcel is old, and his heir is his granddaughter Ysandre, who is as yet unmarried, though many have bid for her hand and failed. The succession was destabilized by the death of Ysandre’s father, Rolande, who was a killed in a famous battle driving back the Skaldi from the D’Angeline border. As Ganelon ails, the nobility are quietly skirmishing to upend the succession for their own gain. Anafiel Delaunay is somehow mixed up in the intrigue, and Phèdre and Alcuin spy at his bidding, but he does not reveal his full hand to them. This will lead Phèdre into adventures she never could have imagined when she pledged herself to Naamah’s service. Even as the succession is imperiled, Terre D’Ange is on the brink of war with Skaldia once more.

In many respects, this will be a series that is not for all readers. It is a romantic fantasy, but the sex scenes are explicit, and many of them are also violent; god-touched as she is, Phèdre is not so much kinky as we would recognize it as she is an utter masochist who takes pleasure in being subjected to violence that would be beyond the pale in reality. And while being a courtesan is a respected role in Terre D’Ange, this is not the case in other countries, and once Phèdre starts to travel, the situation gets a little murkier. I would recommend caution for anyone who has experienced sexual abuse or rape. But those who are up for it are in for a twisty, sex-positive political fantasy with many intricate layers.

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Dark Currents (Agent of Hel #1)

Cover image for Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey by Jacqueline Carey

ISBN 9780451464781

There’s some sort of Soothsayer’s Code that prevents soothsayers from soothsaying on a day-to-day basis, when it might, you know, avert this kind of ordinary, everyday tragedy. Something about the law of causality being broken and the order of creation overturned, resulting in a world run amok, rivers running backward, the sun rising in the west, cats and dogs getting married…

Daisy Johanssen is mostly human, but her demonic father has left her with two legacies—a tail and a temper, both of which she tries to hide. Daisy was raised by her human mother in Pemkowet, a small Michigan resort town with an eldritch underworld. The Norse goddess Hel took up residence near the town over a hundred years ago, and the supernatural community has thrived in her domain. As a part-time file clerk at the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy is also Hel’s liaison to the mortal authorities, and charged with dispensing justice to creatures human laws cannot bind. When a college student from the nearby conservative community of Appledoorn drowns in the river, there is suspicion that the case might have a supernatural twist. Teaming up with Officer Cody Fairfax, a closeted werewolf, and Daisy’s childhood crush, Daisy must solve the mystery of Tad Vanderhei’s death, even as his parents and fraternity brothers inexplicably impede the investigation at every turn.

Jacqueline Carey introduces an urban fantasy world with notable similarities to Patricia Briggs, Laurell K. Hamilton, or Charlaine Harris. However, she plays with the conventions and tropes on her own terms. Best known for the erotic fantasy series Kushiel, Dark Currents is surprisingly tame for Carey, although Daisy certainly has some interesting demonic kinks, such a crush on a lamia, which manifests only when the lamia is in her non-human form. Like most urban fantasy series, there is a romantic twist; Daisy struggles with her feelings for Cody, attracts the interest of Stefan Ludovic, the new head ghoul, and the admiration of Sinclair Palmer, a Pemkowet newcomer. Carey has the makings of an interesting cast, but unlike many other lengthy urban fantasy series, Agent of Hel is planned to be a trilogy. The first book lays a lot of groundwork for a complex world with a rich mythology, and it’s hard to imagine it being fully explored in only three books. Daisy also has a lot of personal baggage to work through, from her absent, minor demon father, to her telekinetic temper, to her need to be as good and as happy as possible in an attempt to persuade others to like her despite her demonic heritage.

Just as Daisy is pulled between her sunny human personality and her darker, demonic heritage, Dark Currents has a humourous tone hiding dark secrets. Fairies disguised as children try to kidnap human children at music festivals, or claim children who wander into their territory as prey. Plain old human husbands beat their wives and terrorize their children. And the eventual revelation of the cause of Tad Vanderhei’s death is nothing less than stomach-churning. Carey does a good job of balancing the light and dark elements of her story, as well as balancing the mystery of Tad Vanderhei’s death with the introduction of the eldritch world of Pemkowet. Although not yet quite realized, Agent of Hel has the potential to be a great urban fantasy series.

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More Urban Fantasy:

The Dirty Streets of Heaven and Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams