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REVIEW: Kushiel's Mercy by Jacqueline Carey

Dear Ms. Carey,

book review I loved the original Kushiel trilogy. I found the heroine Phèdre nó 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 nó Montrève 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 Phèdre 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 Phèdre. 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 Phèdre’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 Phèdre’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 Phèdre’s trilogy as well. Imriel and Sidonie’s quest to find the word to free a demon reflects Phèdre 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

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in hard cover rom Amazon or Powells or ebook format (Mobipocket and MSLit).

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

10 Comments

  1. rebyj
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 16:18:13

    I’m a big fan of the Kushiel series.
    I found this book very satisfying and a wonderful read.
    None of the books have had the beautiful lyrical prose that the first book Kushiel’s Dart had. It was spectacularly written. The others are great reads however don’t get me wrong! I just found the first so beautifully written that I’d catch myself reading it aloud.

    Kushiel’s Mercy didn’t disappoint.(how to word this without spoiler?) The only issue I had with it was Phadre and Josseline are still such heroes in my mind that I expected more of them during Imriel’s conflict.

    I’d love love LOVE to read more stories set in this world. Anais story could seriously rock.

    Great review, a B grade is reasonable however for fanatics like me, it was A+ all the way!

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  2. Jia
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 16:45:59

    It was very good. It’s just that the first 200 pages were a slog for me and took me days to read, which is not my normal reading speed. So that’s the main reason for the grade. Ignoring the beginning, the rest of the book is probably a B+/A- for me.

    I'd love love LOVE to read more stories set in this world.

    I believe Carey is working on another novel in the same setting but several generations in the future and on Alba. My guess is that it’s probably related to the loose ends involving Alais and magic at the end of Mercy. Or rather, her descendants.

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  3. (Jān)
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 16:47:26

    ““Cheer up, emo kid.””

    *snort* That deserves a t-shirt.

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  4. Marianne McA
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 16:50:00

    I haven’t read the others. Can you read this book by itself?

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  5. Jia
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 16:57:19

    Jan: I’m sure there already is one.

    Marianne McA; I think it’s best if you read the others, or at least the ones in Imriel’s trilogy (Scion, Justice & Mercy), but Carey does a pretty good job of making her stories standalone. They’re not 100% standalone, but I don’t think you’d be lost if you read it by itself.

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  6. Cathy
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 08:31:00

    Great review, Jia. I’ve been a fan of the Kushiel series for years, and found this to be a very satisfying conclusion. My one complaint is that the HEA was a little too happy. It’s like the sugary epilogue at the end of a romance novel where everyone is pregnant and buying a new house or something. As silly as it sounds, I think I would’ve like it better if someone had died. :)

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  7. Leah
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 12:16:21

    Great review, Jia! I felt the same way about a lot of the issues you mentioned. But I actually *didn’t* like the reflection at the end of the series as a whole. It felt a little self-indulgent to me. No matter, Carey has completely hooked me, and I’m still eager to keep reading more from this world.

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  8. Jia
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 12:35:52

    But I actually *didn't* like the reflection at the end of the series as a whole. It felt a little self-indulgent to me.

    While I did like the reflection, I felt like it wasn’t handled as gracefully here as it was at the end of Kushiel’s Avatar. Reflection works better for me when it’s more subtle and left to the reader to figure out. Here, I felt like Carey was outright stating what the reflection(s) were and I do agree that can come off as self-indulgent. Of course, I might have written that off as another quirk of Imriel’s voice that fails to work for me.

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  9. Marianne McA
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 17:41:12

    Thanks, Jia.

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  10. Dawnell
    Jun 13, 2008 @ 15:32:25

    Of all the fictional characters I have read about in my 25 years of reading fiction, Ph̬dre is my second favorite, ever. Her stories are all just about PERFECT. I loved loved loved ALL three of them. So, I immediately bought the first Imriel book Рand it was okay. The second one was a bit better, but I think it is the male point of view that skewed the book for me. In my humble (but naughty) opinion, Ph̬dre and her sexual predilections were what really made her stories stand out. She was totally confident and accepting of herself that I just loved it all!

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