Book Review: Kushiel’s Avatar ☆☆☆

kaThe land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. It’s inhabited by the race that rose from the seed of angels, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman who recognized that she was pricked by Kushiel’s dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Phèdre’s path has been strange and dangerous. She has lain with princes and pirate kings, battled a wicked temptress, and saved two nations. Through it all, the devoted swordsman Joscelin has been at her side, following the central precept of the angel Cassiel: Protect and serve.

But Phèdre’s plans will put his pledge to the test, for she has never forgotten her childhood friend Hyacinthe. She has spent ten long years searching for the key to free him from his eternal indenture to the Master of Straights, a bargain with the gods to save Phèdre and a nation. The search will take Phèdre and Joscelin across the world and down a fabled river to a forgotten land. . . and to a power so intense and mysterious, none dare speak its name.  – Goodreads

 

  • Title: Kushiel’s Avatar (Phedre’s Trilogy #3)
  • Author: Jacqueline Carey
  • Genre: Fantasy, Romance

 

Thoughts:

This was a slow book. Of course each of the three books was at times, but this one was by far the slowest. A huge portion of the story is dedicated to traveling across large swaths of territory, and while it is always nice to be introduced to new places I found myself struggling to stay interested at times.

Also as the story begins to pick up, around page 300 or thereabouts, it gets incredibly dark. I realize this might be a personal tolerance thing, but I found it to be almost oppressive. To be fair it is meant to be dark, and at this point of the story Phedre is facing the greatest threat she has ever encountered. One that threatens not only Terre d’Ange, but the world. The stakes didn’t change the fact that I still didn’t enjoy this part of the book.

On the plus side we finally get around to helping Hyacinthe.   (SPOILER) Phedre frees him from his curse, but c’mon we all knew that was going to happen so is it really a spoiler?  I can tell you I was not a huge fan of  their kissing near the end. Don’t get me wrong I know their history, but that’s exactly what it is now after twelve years. I could almost even forgive Hyacinthe the kiss being as not much has really changed for him, but Phedre you should have more control than that! (SPOILER)   He’s my dude, and I’ve been waiting for this since the end of book one.

Then there’s Imriel.

(SPOILER)   Melisande holds a key piece of information needed in the quest to free Hyacinthe. To gain this information Phedre must agree to find Melisande’s lost son Imriel. I loved the relationship that develops between Imriel, Phedre and Joscelin. You see where it is going a mile away, but it doesn’t matter because you want it to go there.    (SPOILER)

In the end Kushiel’s Avatar wrapped things up nicely even if I found it to be less enjoyable than its predecessors. I am looking forward to reading the Imriel trilogy, but I think I need a break from the world for a bit before I start.

 

My Rating: ☆☆☆

 

Currently Reading:

  • Title: Borderline (The Arcadia Project #1)
  • Author: Mishell Baker
  • Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
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Book Review: Kushiel’s Chosen ☆☆☆☆

kushiels_chosenMighty Kushiel, of rod and weal
Late of the brazen portals
With blood-tipp’d dart a wound unhealed
Pricks the eyen of chosen mortals

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. The inhabiting race rose from the seed of angels and men, and they live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay was sold into indentured servitude as a child. Her bond was purchased by a nobleman, the first to recognize that she is one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. He trained Phèdre in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber—and, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze.

When she stumbled upon a plot that threatened the very foundations of her homeland, she gave up almost everything she held dear to save it. She survived, and lived to have others tell her story, and if they embellished the tale with fabric of mythical splendor, they weren’t far off the mark.

The hands of the gods weigh heavily upon Phèdre’s brow, and they are not finished with her. While the young queen who sits upon the throne is well loved by the people, there are those who believe another should wear the crown… and those who escaped the wrath of the mighty are not yet done with their schemes for power and revenge.

Goodreads

Disclaimer:

Kushiel’s Chosen is book two in a trilogy. If you haven’t read Kushiel’s Dart this will have spoilers for that book which I will not be hiding. I will however hide any spoilers for this book.

 

Overview:

Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but Chosen follows up a year after we left off with Dart. Having saved the queen and the realm Phedre, Joscelin, and her chevaliers have retired to her newly acquired estate inherited from her mentor Delaunay. By all accounts life is quiet, and she is happy, if a little bored. Until one day a package arrives that brings about her to return to Naamah’s service in search of answers. Once again the fate of the realm will rest on her shoulders.

 

Thoughts:

I easily enjoyed this book as much as the first, maybe more. Kushiel’s  Chosen builds upon that foundation built by Kushiel’s Dart taking us to places we have not seen before, and introducing us to new cultures and religions. What makes Chosen different, and arguably better, is a switch of emphasis.

In the first book the emphasis is on all the erotic, action-packed, political, and mystery elements. There are elements of love, and friendship, but these are not truly the focus. In Chosen all these elements are still there, but the focus shifts to the love story between Phedre and Joscelin.

This is a love story above all else instead of being a story which contains a love story.

In Dart our lovers forge a bond through extreme circumstances which in many ways mask their deeply embedded issues. He hates her calling, but loves her enough to accept her completely. The thing is before this can truly be put to the test they find themselves betrayed, alone and surrounded by their enemies fighting for their lives with the fate of the realm hanging in the balance. They save each other’s lives time and time again enduring much suffering in the process. And then it is over. She becomes peer of the realm, and they retire to the a quiet life of  loving bliss.

This time around when Phedre makes the choice to re-enter Naamah’s they both have nothing, but the agonizing stillness of time to test the limits of their love. Day by day, moment by moment, we see the toll this takes on them and their relationship. It is excruciatingly painful to watch. You’ll have to read the book to see how this plays out, but trust me it gets pretty brutal.

I will say that this shift of emphasis caused the book to move very slowly at first. I don’t remember it picking up until somewhere around the 300 page mark. If it had kept pace any longer I don’t think my interest would have held, but Jacqueline Carey knows exactly how much slow languish to allow before letting up.

For whatever reason I found I appreciated Jacqueline Carey’s style of writing more this time around. It was every bit as beautiful last book, but it stood out more to me for some reason. Perhaps because it was a slower book plot wise I was able savor it more?

 

Summery:

Kushiel’s Chosen was a good deal slower, but a lot more personal than Kushiel’s Dart. It was above all a love story. In that sense I enjoyed it more, but in fairness Chosen could only happen with the work laid down by Dart.

 

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

 

Looking Ahead:

There are a few things I am really looking forward to in the final book.

(Spoilers)

First, with all the mentioning of Hyacinthe our boy has to make an appearance in the finale right?! I hope so because I loved his character, and the relationship between he and Phedre.

Then there is this ten year gap Phedre was promised. A lot can happen in ten years! Will she and Jescelin get married? Do they have children? I’d love to see that even if it is at the end of the trilogy.

There was the hint of a, permitted?, love affair between Phedre and Nicola. Not going to lie I’m rooting for some steamy sex between those two. Don’t judge me.

Finally there is Melisandre. Beyond all doubt she will play a huge role in the last book, and our heroine will need to finally get ahead of her instead of always being one step behind. This time just kill the chick and be done with it. Seriously she has more lives than an immortal cat! And who has her kid? My money is on her cousin Marmion who disappeared, but we never really heard about him again. And what does that mean if he is actually working with Melisandre?!

(Spoilers)

 

Currently Reading:

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie.

ancmercy

Book Review: Paladin of Souls ☆☆☆☆

paladinofsouls1stedIf you haven’t read The Curse of Chalion this review will contain small spoilers for that book, but not for Paladin of Souls.

Before you read Paladin of Souls I highly recommend you read The Curse of Chalion. You don’t have to, but Chalion does a lot of heavy lifting for the religion, and world that the books are set in. There are also characters, and events referenced in Paladin from Chalion. You don’t have to if you’d rather not however as Paladin will cover, in less detail, what you need to know from Chalion.

Paladin of Souls begins three years after The Curse of Chalion ends, and follows a woman named Ista. Like in Cazaril in Chalion, Ista is a grown adult. At 40 years old she has been a wife, the queen, a mother, god-touched, a widow, and is now the mother of a queen. Unlike Cazaril however Ista has no idea who she truly is. She has been defined by each of these roles in turn, but never been free to discover who she is outside of these roles.

She has also spent most of her adult life under a curse, deemed mad, and so confined and cared for by loved ones. Now that this curse has been released she wants to escape the gilded cage that her life has been, and discover herself. She embarks on a quest to do just that, but quickly becomes evolved in events well beyond her control. What she finds during these events is more than she bargained for!

My first instinct is to say that Paladin is not as epic as Chalion was, but that isn’t really true, or fair. Without giving spoilers I can say that there are forces at play in Paladin which are far more dangerous to the kingdom than anything in the first book. It just doesn’t always feel that way at times because we so stay closely zoomed in on Ista herself who doesn’t actually move around much during this story. As a result it feels like there is less going on even when that isn’t the case.

Staying so tightly focused on Ista does make this feel more personal than Chalion. We get to know Ista very well. Which is pretty awesome because she is an amazing character. I just love how Bujold writes her protagonists. She gives them a depth and complexity that is hard to find. They are intelligent, self-aware, flawed, but also filled with strength. I’ll stop myself there because I could go on, and on, and on about her characters!

As mentioned earlier we see less of the world, but we do get to discover new places which weren’t in Chalion. Also, we see a lot more magic in Paladin than in Chalion. More of the gods as well. Well, maybe about the same, but there is more interaction from the gods anyway.

There are two romances going on in this book. One revolves around some minor characters which quite I enjoyed, and I thought it was done very well. I was less appreciative of the romance for Ista. Don’t get me wrong I liked the match, but it happened quite suddenly. I would have preferred it had been given more time to develop, or that it had ended so that we knew they would end up together later once they had had said time.

It was a small thing however, and I loved Paladin of Souls every bit as much as I loved The Curse of Chalion. I look forward to reading the last book in the series, The Hallowed Hunt, when I get a chance.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Book Review: Kushiel’s Dart ☆☆☆☆☆

kushieldartI’m having trouble deciding how to best begin my review of Kushiel’s Dart.. I’ll start with the world which is modeled after a mesh of medieval European cultures. Terre D’Ange is home to D’Angelines who are the descendants of fallen angels.These angels were cast down by God, and wandered the world looking for a home eventually settling in what would become Terre D’Ange. This history, and their shared angelic bloodlines form the basis of their religion which is a large part of their identity.

At the core of their religion is the phrase – love as thou wilt. One particular angel prostituted herself during the period of their wandering for the good of the angelic group. Now in this world prostitution is not just legal but a holy, sanctioned vocation.

Those who dedicate themselves to this angel form the Night Court. There are many houses which make up the Night Court each focusing on a different interpretation, or aspect of her service. That’s a crude description, but I tried to keep this as brief as possible. The world and religion of Kushiel’s Dart are both done very well. They have a depth, and complexity to which I have likely done a disservice, but hopefully I got the gist of it across.

Our heroine is Phedre, who as a young girl is sold by her parents to the Night Court who in turn later sells her to a nobleman. In his house she will learn become a courtesan spy. Things will of course go sideways for our heroine as they always do. Phedre’s story is full of political intrigue, battles, wars, love, friendship, betrayal, and sex.

The story itself is good, and there were a lot of things I enjoyed about it. There is a romance which was okay, and thankfully not overly sexual. Given her profession it would have felt less genuine to me if it had been all instant attraction, and hot sex.

I loved the relationship with her childhood friend. You get to see this friendship as it begins when they are children, and as they get older it remains true while changing with them. I actually enjoyed this more than the romance. You did a noble thing buddy, and I’m hoping this isn’t how your story ends! I definitely want to see him again as the series progresses. I’m not sure if I will though.

There is a great villainess in this story. She is easily one of my favorite villains even if she doesn’t much story time. I loved the relationship between her and our heroine. I expect they/she will get much more in the next two books. I mean how could she not!?

There are also parts of the book where the passage of time is both sudden and great. The author does a good job of showing how our character grows, and changes as a result. Or how the world itself has changed. Often an author writes 10 years later.. except nothing meaningful seems to have changed. Thankfully this wasn’t that.

Arguably most notable thing about Kushiel’s Dart is that there is a lot of sex in this story. There is no getting around that, and yes I’m including it in the things I liked best about the book. Terre D’Ange is a very hedonistic, sexual world.

In addition to being a courtesan Phedre is also an anguissette which is basically a masochist. Pain and humiliation give her great, if often involuntary, pleasure. Most of the many sex scenes will include some degree of bdsm.

That said these scenes never felt like a gimmick, or simply a prepubescent’s fantasy. They were descriptive, but not vulgar. Often they were sensual, and even arousing. Not to make this post awkward, but if these kinds of things make you uncomfortable you’ve been warned.

I don’t want to make it sound like this is an erotica, and the story is just there to frame the  sex. It isn’t. The world and religion are very complex. There is a lot of really good political intrigue going on. You have a great story with battles, nations going to war, and even some magic.

Here’s the thing though.. even with all that it was the sex that made this book great to me. Take that away, and I give this 3 stars. With the sex I give 5. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series!

There was one thing I had to flat out ignore. So she is trained as a courtesan spy. Cool. Except literally everyone knows this. Allies, friends, enemies, people who know people that have talked to other people – everyone. Somehow they still manage to let important information be discussed around her, or they simply tell her themselves. I mean, really? That’s a small thing however.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane ☆☆☆☆☆

oceanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane may be my absolute favorite Gaiman. I could probably say, and no doubt have said, that Neverwhere, and American Gods are as well, and mean(t) it for each. Likely whichever I’ve read last is my favorite, which for now is The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s only 178 pages, but that is because it is the distilled essence of amazing storytelling. I have read books with hundreds of more pages that have failed to pack half as much punch as this small novel.

It is the story of a man remembering the forgotten pieces of his childhood after returning to his hometown for a funeral. We never learn whose funeral, but it isn’t important. In fact we never learn the name of the man/boy, but that doesn’t matter either. It is a story of magic and wonder, fear, courage, and sacrifice, and of friendship and family. This story is filled with many dark moments, but you never feel a loss of hope. It is a story that is beautiful in its sadness leaving you in a state of contemplative melancholy. It has for me both times I’ve read it at least.

I don’t want to describe the plot because of spoilers, but I would love to learn more about the Hempstock ladies (and men!). Or the old country even. As I stated in my review of The Ice Dragon, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story that, to me at least, is less about the story itself, and more about how it makes me feel. I would describe it to you, but I’m not sure I fully understand it myself.

Others could do a better job of it I’m sure. Perhaps after further rereads I’ll be able to do it justice. And I will definitely be rereading this again as it is easily one of my favorite books. I appreciated it even more this reread than I did the first time.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Book Review: The Ice Dragon ☆☆☆☆

2229227This was the short story I was hoping for when I read the Game of Thrones story in the Rogues anthology edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois. That story was so entirely disappointing that I gave it only 1 star, but The Ice Dragon is its polar opposite. This met my expectations and then some.

The story reminded me of Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Well, the stories are nothing alike really, and there isn’t nearly the same depth to The Ice Dragon which is to be expected as it is far shorter. It was also intended to be a children’s book if Goodreads is to be believed, but apart from having illustrations I don’t see it. For me it was simply a fantasy short story.

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous by the way. Luis Royo did an amazing job! I loved the style, and even that they were done all in blue. It really added to the wintry, ice dragon theme. Well, the inside cover illustrations aren’t blue, but, yeah.

I digress. Back to the story itself.. I’d go into the plot, but honestly this story wasn’t so much about the plot, or a concept, or even the dragons. It was about the way it made me feel. Which is why I draw comparisons to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is a story of childhood innocence, and both had a kind of beautiful sadness about them.

In conclusion I will simply say that I greatly enjoyed this story. I will certainly be rereading it. For now I intend to go back and reread The Ocean at the End of the Lane before reading anything else.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Book Review: The Curse of Chalion ☆☆☆☆

the_curse_of_chalion_coverOkay so in SF/F booktube circles I constantly hear the name Lois McMaster Bujold. Especially in regards to her SF Vorkosigan Saga which has something like 15 books, and is still going strong. I’m not quite ready to make that leap, but I did find The Curse of Chalion and thought I’d give her a read. I’m glad I did!

Let me just say right off that this starts out slow. It really started picking up for me about the halfway point. Before that it’s all backstory, politics, and world building. Which isn’t a bad thing as these are all very well done.

By far my favorite part of this book is our hero, Cazaril. When we meet him he’s at the low point in his life. He is, as the synopsis says, broken in body and spirit. To the point where he has basically become a beggar trying to find a place at the foot of his old lord’s table. I won’t go into specifics, but he wasn’t always this way. He was once proud, and respected before a cruel fate taught him humility, caution, and fear.

What I loved most about Cazaril is that this isn’t the story of a young man’s heroic journey. He’s been there, done that, and now just wants to relax by a fire enjoying such comfort as he can find. He’s 35, not 15, or even 18. He thinks, and acts like an actual adult. He knows exactly who he is. He capitalizes on his strengths while acknowledging, and wherever possible minimizes his weaknesses. He knows the difference between being a macho warrior, and a professional soldier. It was refreshing when so much of fantasy is plagued by young, cocky heroes doing downright stupid things.

The magic of this world was almost nonexistent, and yet compelling. Magic is preformed as answered prayers from one of the five gods of the land. These miracles rarely happen, but when they do they are a double edged sword. The gods touch with a heavy hand, and use their faithful roughly.

I also enjoyed the two main female characters. They are both teenagers, but they are strong, and intelligent young women instead of being simple, shallow beauties. Thankfully they acted appropriately to their circumstance. By that I mean too often women, and men as well!, in fantasy will just suddenly pick up a sword, master it in a few weeks (or days), and rush off to defeat all their foes in martial combat. Not that there is anything wrong with that in the right story, beyond the time it takes to become proficient, but it rarely fits. Instead these women who were raised for court survived, thrived really, by using their wit to outmaneuver their political opponents with shrewd intrigue.

The villains are people. They are shaded gray instead of being completely evil. I didn’t empathize with them, but I did understand them and their motives. The book even points out how given the same circumstances our hero might have become a version of them himself.

Finally their is a romance, and it is done exceptionally well.

I can’t wait to read the next in the series which won a hugo, and nebula award. There really wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy about this book. As such I’m torn between giving this 4 or 5 stars. It didn’t blow my mind like The Fifth Season, but slowly built up to one of the more enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time. My initial instinct was 4 so I’m going to stick to that, but I reserve the right to change my mind later.

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆