‘love as thou wilt’
I read and adored Jacqueline Carey’s magnificent Phedre’s Trilogy last year so I thought I’d combine my reviews for the trilogy here in case you fancy some exquisite writing and epic romance in a Renaissance-esque fantasy setting. Featuring royalty, pirates, kidnapping and betrayal, happy reading!
While the start is a bit slow, with an emphasis on setting the scene and world-building, I fell head over heels for the characters. We learn about our protagonist’s childhood, the house system she grew up in and the gods that influence the country. Set in an alternate medieval/renaissance France, religion is a huge part of our characters lives and influences their motives, actions and political connections. It’s a very unique world and I can’t do it justice here, you’ll have to read it to believe it. Saying that, it’s not overly complicated and I really like how the religion and politics intertwine. It remains integral to the characters and plot throughout the series, my only niggle is that while we learn plenty about the house Phedre learned her craft, we don’t really learn that much about the others.
Phedre herself is a bit of a strange heroine, I’m not sure I like her all that much but a great protagonist needs flaws to be realistic so I can forgive her for them. She makes terrible decisions, allows herself to be blinded by dangerous emotions and sometimes takes people for granted but her heart is in the right place and is definitely a strong woman. She embodies one of the series’ quotes ‘that which yields is not always weak‘ perfectly.
The writing is sumptuous and addictive, it is not a small book yet I devoured it quickly. Many scenes are uncomfortable to read, there is quite a bit of torture, but the plot remains complex and compelling. It does not shy away from the darker side of ambition, religion, obsession and often blurs the lines of love, friendship and desire. This combination makes for compulsion reading, I couldn’t believe this was a debut. It’s smartly written and doesn’t shy away from death, pain and loss. If you find the beginning a little hard to get through due to the intense descriptions (‘info-dumping’) I do recommend you push through, it’s so worth it and doesn’t crop up again once the scene/world has been set. Also, read for Joscelin. He is possibly one of my favourite characters ever. He does have his flaws, but his loyalty and love outweigh any of his negatives.
While I’ve never read any other series similar to this one, I smiled in the middle when the court politics, intrigues, backstabbing and coups really kicked off and it reminded me of the same in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. Toward the end we get strategic warfare, huge battles and plenty of death which made me think of GRR Martin’s ruthlessness and cruelty to his characters. Altogether, it makes a wonderful read.
For fantasy, this is quite light on the magic and fantastical creatures but as I said above, the characters are incredible. The villain in particular is the epitome of love-to-hate, super crafty, unsettling and complicated. The magic comes into play more in the later books but it’s worth the wait.
Kushiel’s Chosen is a fantastic sequel to Kushiel’s Dart. The opening is far stronger than in KD, mainly because the lore and histories of the world have already been established in the first book. This meant we can dive straight into the good stuff. More court intrigue, betrayal, kidnappings, danger and love. We travelled far and wide with Phedre and met some wonderful new characters as well as remaining with some beloved ones (and sadly losing a fair few!). I’m not sure i’ll ever not be a little in love with Joscelin.
Phedre remains very flawed. Extremely brave and courageous yet her decisions are questionable, but that is point of her character. She is complex and following her navigate her turbulent emotions and conflicting loyalties is fascinating. I regularly disagree with her actions and obsession with Melisande (and sometimes even Nicola, although to a lesser extent – what can I say, I’m a Joscelin fan all the way) but I found it to be a great exploration of how desire and admiration can blur with hatred and distrust. It makes for extremely interesting character dynamics and they really push the plot forward.
I was convinced this instalment would be one of my all time favourites until roughly two-thirds of the way in. Don’t get me wrong, this is an incredible book but I found that in the latter third events seem to continuously pile up against Phedre to the point where it felt a bit forced and unrealistic. Just as we start to think the tide could be turning, something else happens to prevent the plot flowing. Perhaps this frustration was intentional on the author’s part, after all even in real life we cannot always foresee what’s coming and it can often feel as if the world is conspiring against you, but it was irritating. Saying that, the delays were necessary and added to the mythology of the world and proved to be important later in the series. Again, maybe it was due to the lack of a certain character whom I adore…
A powerful conclusion to this epic trilogy. It got very dark in the middle, so much so that I did put it down for a while, but i’m so glad I continued. Carey’s writing is so beautiful it brought me to tears at the end. Such friendship, such tragedy and yet such joy to be had.
Everything about this trilogy is bittersweet and all the more emotionally powerful for it. The characters are so well developed and remain true to their histories throughout, shaped and destroyed by the events that unfold.
Joscelin. Joscelin is my favourite.
The world, religions and mythology are excellently crafted and I loved visiting Egypt, Venice, Cyprus, Croatia (among others!), and how the separate mythologies we know today intertwined in this story and came to this beautiful conclusion. Fantastic, a must read if you like epic romance with your epic fantasy.