Nov 3 2008
We are starting a new series called “If You Like” which will be hosted by various readers, authors and bloggers of Dear Author. The purpose of the post and the comments is to explore what we like about a particular iconic author and what other authors have books like the iconic author. Val Kovalin who writes about fantasy fiction at ValKovalin.com and m/m fiction at Obsidian Bookshelf is hosting this If You Like entry on Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series. Val Kavolin did a great piece on Julia Spencer Fleming, a favorite of author of mine.
If you like Jacqueline Carey -
Jacqueline Carey writes the Kushiel’s Legacy epic fantasy series (six books: Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, Kushiel’s Avatar , Kushiel’s Justice , Kushiel’s Scion , Kushiel’s Mercy), which may appeal to fans of historical romance and fantasy romance. To see why, please read on and rest assured that I don’t include any plot-spoilers.
Setting (era): Medieval.
Setting (geographic): Action takes place in Terre d’Ange (Land of the Angels), loosely based upon medieval France. The epic plotlines range across recognizable equivalents to medieval Britain and the Mediterranean area.
Heroine type: Subtle and sophisticated
Subtle, sophisticated, and serious. The heroine of the first three Kushiel books (Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, and Kushiel’s Avatar) is Phaedre, abandoned as a child to be raised in a brothel. In Terre D’Ange, however, sex is considered sacred and prostitutes are held in the same esteem as priestesses. Phaedre narrates the first three books from the perspective of a much sought-after courtesan who is also an elite spy. This is nowhere near as frivolously adventurous as it sounds. Phaedre is a very grave person, driven by loss and duty to queen and country.
The heroine of the next three books (Kushiel’s Scion, Kushiel’s Justice, Kushiel’s Mercy) is Sidonie, seen through the first-person narration of Imriel, Phaedre’s foster-son. Sidonie is the Crown Princess of Terre D’Ange. She struggles to repress her inappropriate attraction to Imriel and focus on her duty as the daughter of the queen.
Hero type: Strong and intense
The hero in the first three Kushiel books is Joscelin, a warrior-priest viewed through the first-person narration of Phaedre. Being rather young and inexperienced, he comes across believably rigid and intolerant. Assigned to protect Phaedre, he expresses his on-going disdain for her exploits as a courtesan. (Apparently, his particular priesthood holds a view towards prostitution that is atypical of that of most D’Angelines.) Later, he believes her to be a traitor. Eventually, he comes around.
The hero in the next three Kushiel books is Imriel, the foster son of Phaedre. Imriel is third-in-line for the throne. He’s probably the most complicated character in the six books: a handsome and hot-blooded type haunted by the memories of the slavery he endured as a child. His parents are remembered as the worst traitors in the history of the realm. Not only does he have their infamy to live down, he also has to struggle with an inherited tendency towards sexual sadism.
Plot: (action-oriented / character-driven): Both
Primarily, these are character-driven plots. The main characters make decisions based upon their fears and desires. This is turn results in real-world consequences such as intrigue or revenge which provides the action-oriented aspects of the plot.
Plot (slow/fast): Slow
Due to ornate writing, many side-plots, and a huge cast of characters.
Writing style (simple v. ornate): Ornate
From the first page of Kushiel’s Dart:
“It is not, of course, that I lacked beauty, even as a babe. I am a D’Angeline, after all, and ever since Blessed Elua set foot on the soil of our fair nation and called it home, the world has known what it means to be D’Angeline. My soft features echoed my mother’s, carved in miniature perfection. My skin, too fair for the canon of Jasmine House, was nonetheless a perfectly acceptable shade of ivory. My hair, which grew to curl in charming profusion, was the color of sable-in-shadows, reckoned a coup in some of the Houses. My limbs were straight and supple, my bones a marvel of delicate strength. No, the problem was elsewhere. To be sure, it was my eyes; and not even the pair of them, but merely the one. Such a small thing on which to hinge such a fate. Nothing more than a mote, a fleck, a mere speck of color – My eyes, when they settled, were that color the poets call bistre, a deep and lustrous darkness, like a forest pool under the shade of ancient oaks.”
Dialogue (lots v. little): Medium
A medium amount flavored with the occasional Elizabethanism (e.g., “Mayhap”).
Humor (Yes/No-serious/some): No-serious
Some subtle glints of irony and wry observation.
Emotional Angst (high/medium/low): High
Lots of emotional angst. See “Conflict” below.
Conflict (externally driven/internally driven/both): Internal
The internal conflict centers upon the sacrifices one must make for duty, and the hardships involved in growing beyond the legacy left by one’s parents.
Heat level: (kisses/warm/hot/scorching): Hot
Other than the graceful writing, the treatment of sex is what makes these books so remarkable. In romance fiction, sex is par for the course. But in fantasy fiction, sex never used to occur and especially not in detailed descriptions.
In Terre D’Ange, the guiding principle is “love as thou wilt.” Sex of any type is sacred and there are houses of pleasure devoted to gay, straight, and lesbian love; and to sadists and masochists. Our heroine Phaedre is an anguisette, which is a rare type of masochist who thrives upon pain and heals quickly. In the later books, our hero Imriel has sadistic tendencies. Since both tell their stories in first-person, and there are a lot of sexual encounters, you can probably guess how explicit the narrative can get. The courtly and formal writing style does tend to keep the reader at a comfortable distance, and this is why I rated the Heat Level “Hot” rather than “Scorching.”
Other variables to consider:
The books are written in first-person viewpoint, past-tense. The focus tends to be upon medieval action such as battles and court intrigue with very little emphasis upon magic.
If you like Jacqueline Carey, you’ll like -
Fantasy books that come to mind include George R. R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire. The first book is A Game of Thrones These books, set in a made-up medieval kingdom, combine intrigue, gritty realism, and the cast of thousands found in many historical novels.
Also, there are the various Robin Hobb books such as the Farseer series and the Liveship Traders series. Her books are populated with vivid characters and much intrigue. Historical romance fans may enjoy the nautical details in the Liveship Trader books.
Readers, feel free to suggest any romance titles.