REVIEW: Kushiel's Mercy by Jacqueline Carey
Dear Ms. Carey,
I loved the original Kushiel trilogy. I found the heroine PhÃ¨dre nÃ³ Delaunay, her story as a premier courtesan and the only anguisette in generations, and the Terre D’Ange setting fascinating and compelling. All those things were enough to keep me reading the second trilogy about her adopted son, Imriel, despite the fact I never found him quite as interesting.
Imriel de la Courcel nÃ³ MontrÃ¨ve has spent his entire life burdened by the past. He’s the son of the traitorous, Melisande Shahrizai, whose manipulative plots sent Terre D’Ange into a war that nearly destroyed it. As a child, he was sold into slavery to a man who elevated perversion and abuse to an artform. And finally, he was saved from that bondage and raised to adulthood by PhÃ¨dre and her consort, Joscelin, who are considered heroes of the realm. In short, he has a lot of baggage and his narrative makes sure you know this again and again.
That’s more than enough issues for him to work through but in the previous two books of the trilogy, Kushiel’s Scion and Kushiel’s Justice, Imriel found himself with another burden — one that was as delightful as it was troublesome. He fell in love with Sidonie, his cousin and heir to the throne of Terre D’Ange. If there was anyone he shouldn’t have fallen in love with, it was her. Given his mother’s actions, very few people would see his affections as genuine and anything other than a power play for the crown.
In Terre D’Ange, there is one sacred precept and one alone: Love as thou wilt. But Imriel and Sidonie both violated it, choosing instead duty over love. When that choice brought nothing but disaster, Imriel and Sidonie then embarked on the difficult journey to follow their hearts. Not only do they have to contend with those who haven’t forgotten Melisande’s deeds, they have to face the wrath of Sidonie’s mother, Queen Ysandre, who hands down a decree. She will not acknowledge the relationship between Imriel and Sidonie and if Sidonie marries Imriel, then she will be disinherited. But if Imriel can track down his missing mother and bring her back to Terre D’Ange to be executed, then he can marry Sidonie. Tough love coming from a woman who married someone the realm found inappropriate, if you ask me, but as Imriel’s story shows time and time again, the past has a way of affecting the present.
Imriel reluctantly accepts Ysandre’s task but the quest to find his mother is interrupted when the foreign country of Carthage makes friendly overtures towards Terre D’Ange. But everything is not as it seems and Carthage’s actions soon send the world into chaos as they cause Terre D’Ange to become divided against itself. And through a rare sign of affection from his wayward mother, Imriel is the only person able to fix it.
As I mentioned earlier, I just don’t find Imriel as compelling a narrator as PhÃ¨dre. He’s more likeable and grounded, which makes him a less polarizing character. At the same time, I think that results in an inability to induce the same love or hate in readers that PhÃ¨dre’s character did. To be honest, I find Imriel’s long bouts of brooding trying and often want to say to him, "Cheer up, emo kid." And that sentiment characterizes my feelings towards the first 200 pages of the book. They were tedious and dull. Not enough to make me stop reading — the books have earned my trust enough that they get more leeway in this regard — but enough to make me wish something interesting would happen. After all, no reader wants an overall good trilogy to end on a bad note.
Thankfully, when Carthage makes its power play, the story’s scope changes in a spectacular fashion. After that point, I all but sped through the book. Without revealing too many details to those who have yet to read the novel, I thought the method used to disguise Imriel from Carthage’s head magic user was very clever and allowed readers to see the romance between Imriel and Sidonie from an outsider’s point of view while also letting readers watch them fall in love all over again. For the first time, I felt like we’d revisited the intense drama and peril that characterized PhÃ¨dre’s trilogy. I just wish it didn’t take quite so long to get there — both in the book itself and the entire Imriel trilogy.
One of the things I loved about the original trilogy was the fact that the final book, Kushiel’s Avatar, reflected many things that had occurred in the previous two. So I am very pleased to find that same reflection here. Not only did Kushiel’s Mercy mirror events from the previous two Imriel books but it touched upon PhÃ¨dre’s trilogy as well. Imriel and Sidonie’s quest to find the word to free a demon reflects PhÃ¨dre and Joscelin’s quest to learn the One-God’s name to seal an angel. Ysandre sought to free the capital city of Elua from an external siege; Imriel and Sidonie from an internal one. Ysandre’s marriage to Drustan united two countries, and Imriel’s love for Sidonie bridges past and present and allows old wounds to heal.
Despite my initial misgivings, Kushiel’s Mercy lived up to the promise of its predecessors and provided a fitting ending to a great series. While cynics might find the romance a little too sentimental for their tastes, the relationship between Imriel and Sidonie shows that love knows no bounds, distance, or boundaries, and that it can conquer any obstacle. Certainly not the worst message to impart, and most definitely an uplifting one. B