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Sarcasm? This early in the post?
It's never too early for sarcasm. Besides, I only ask because I somehow managed to not have a ton of spoilers for that book in its review. However, your spoiler-free reviews end now. I'll try to avoid major spoilers for Kushiel's Chosen— the second book in the series— but prepare for some new info from the previous book to crop up. It has to, because there is no way I could review this otherwise! I will do my best to keep it condensed. Oh, and one more thing: since I've been listening to these as audiobooks, I'm not really sure how to spell the characters' names. It'll probably be more weird for me than you, but I just wanted you to know what's going on.
Consider us warned. Carry on!
Very well, then! In Kushiel's Dart, we were introduced to the world of Terre d'Ange. Imagine that angels landed in France and bred with the populace. Due to their celestial ancestry, the d'Angelines (as they call themselves) are considered to be the most beautiful people ever, awash in talents, in a country overfull with richness. This is great for them, of course, but it does make them somewhat conceited. It also makes their country a target for threats, when others want all their beauty, science, and fancy ways. Their religion and culture are centered on the precepts of their main god, Elua, who bid them simply to love as they will. And they do. The d'Angelines have raised love-making to an art form, worthy of being taught, practiced, and used as a means of worship as well as pleasure. Much of what they do, they do for love.
What the hell does "loving as they will" mean?
It means, "you do you." Would you like a plethora of lovers who all know about each other? That's cool. You do you. Want to add some group sex to that? Go for it. Your preference is for monogamy? Or celibacy? To each their own. How about group bondage sex? No problem! Just remember the safe word. Above all: keep it consensual, and love as thou wilt. It makes for some interesting pairings.
I mentioned in the review for Kushiel's Dart that there was political intrigue, fights, monsters, and True Love. When Phaedré nó Delauney is sold into slavery in the previous book, she goes with her bodyguard: a young, celibate, warrior priest named Joslin Verai. Potentially due to the adrenaline-fueled nature of their time together, they fell in love as they escaped captivity. It's all very romantic, but let's stop for a moment and consider the spiritual and mental ramifications for Joslin: after 12 years of rigid, prudish education and training, he breaks every vow he made in order to protect and serve his ward (who just so happens to be the courtesan spy he now loves). There are metric butt-tons of guilt for him to work through, but he manages. He's surly about it sometimes, but he manages. Having given you the barest amount of background I can get away with, we can now move on!
Kushiel's Chosen picks up with the bait left at the end of the previous book. Phaedré is convinced there is a new plot against the queen of Terre d'Ange when she receives a package from Melisande Shahrizai— the woman who sold Phaedré and Joslin into slavery and escaped her death sentence for treason. In an effort to find the truth and locate this dangerous enemy of the state, Phaedré returns to the service of Naamah.
She what now?
Try to keep up. Naamah is the d'Angeline goddess of love. By returning to Naamah's service, Phaedré is practicing her trade as a courtesan. Her ulterior motive, of course, is to glean information from her patrons that could help her locate Melisande and stop her nefarious plots. This is where True Love starts to be an ass. Despite Phaedré's sound reasoning, Joslin disapproves of her plan vehemently. Her return to Naamah's service strains their relationship almost to the breaking point, as neither seems willing to come to a compromise. Actually, that isn't true... Phaedré is willing to compromise with Joslin on many things, and Joslin will compromise on nothing. Though he does not outright leave her, he is often absent and thereby negligent in his duty/vow to protect her.
But you can't expect someone who only believes in monogamy to be okay with having a prostitute for a girlfriend and stick around!
Yes you can. If Monogamy Bob falls in love with Polyamory Sally knowing full well that she's into multiple people, I expect him to suck it up and deal with it. Does he have to like it? No, of course not. He just has to find a way to deal with it. If it doesn't work out, leave. Hence, I totally side with Phaedré in this book. She was always honest with Joslin about who and what she is. She is also well aware of his vows, and how it would hurt him if she tried to solve this mystery Melisande baited her with. She laid everything out in front of him and told him why she had to do it. If he doesn't agree, so be it. But for fuck's sake, dude, pick a bloody side. Work something out, make an agreement of how long this can go on, and then revisit the agreement if you must. Or leave. Instead, Joslin is contantly sulking, and I spent a great deal of time wishing a fictional character were physically in front of me so I could punch him for being such a stubborn mule.
Sounds like you're kinda mad at this dude.
Yes! Because Joslin's vow to protect Phaedré is the reason he won't leave her, but then he is often missing when she needs protection! To make matters worse, he then blames her for going off without an escort. I want so badly to beat the crap out of him! For about two-thirds of the book, anyway. That's when shit hits the fan, Phaedré gets tossed in a foreign prison, and Joslin makes the most daring rescue attempt I've ever read. It might've worked, too, if she hadn't fallen off that cliff!
Way! It does take approximately two-thirds of the book to set up, but when that domino effect gets going— it is an insanely satisfying experience. Phaedré hunts for traitors at court, and their trail eventually leads her and her companions to leave Terre d'Ange for the city state of La Serenissima (which is essentially Venice). There she finds her traitors in the last place she ever would have thought to look. That's when she gets tossed in jail and Joslin, finally realizing that he cannot live without her, goes to her rescue— only to have her fall off the side of a cliff. Again, I'm kinda mad at Joslin, but he so makes up for all the crap he pulled from that moment forward. From there on, you just get so excited for them to be reunited! Because she doesn't die, of course.
She doesn't die. I'm just telling you that because you looked scared.
I wasn't scared. I was just concerned.
Sure you were. Well, she doesn't die. She almost dies, having fallen off the side of a cliff and into the sea. Luckily, though, she gets picked up by pirates!
No, I'm not making this shit up, I swear! Look, aren't you convinced yet that you just need to go read this book?! I'm afraid that if I were to go into every little detail that makes this such a great book, worthy of being read repeatedly, I would end up writing a series of essays. I haven't even told you guys about her best friend and how she's trying to break the curse he's under, or her men at arms, or the queen she loves enough to get herself into such a mess!
Yes, Kushiel's Chosen does take a little longer than the previous one to get going, but once it does the experience of it is phenomenal. And yes, I know I spent most of this review describing the story in terms of how the main guy is being such a jerk, but only because that's one of the main ways I remember it. I remember it because I love the characters, and I want them to work together and be happy, but then of course we wouldn't have a story. So instead, I'm listening to all of the shenanigans, the intrigue, the web of lies and sex thinking, "I love you guys. I can't wait for you to be happy again."
I'm just going to warn you right now to clear a day or two on your calendar, because it'll be tough to put this down once you get started. It made me laugh, and legitimately wrenched a tear or two from the depths of my little black heart. If you haven't read the previous one, that's actually okay. One of the things that slows the story down some is how it repeatedly touches on some of the things that happened in the previous book. So if you're okay with jumping around in the series and you want to start in the middle, that's okay! You won't be completely lost. And if you've already read the first book, then you're totally set to start on this one. So go on! Get reading! You can thank me later for recommending it.