Since this is the third book in the Kushiel’s Legacy trilogy, there’ll be a few spoilers for the first two books. Stop reading now if you haven’t read either…
The book starts ten years after the end of Kushiel’s Chosen. Phèdre and Joscelin have lived a comfortable and peaceful life after putting Ysandre firmly on the throne of Terre d’Ange, and hopefully, having negated Melisande Shahrizai’s machinations. Joscelin has come to terms with Phèdre’s nature as an anguissette, and now Phèdre takes assignations with patrons only three times a year.
However, Phèdre is still searching for something which will free her friend Hyacinthe from immortal but ageing servitude; that something may well turn out to be the Name of God, but searching for it has taken the past ten years and she is still no closer to an answer. However, a message comes from Melisande in her splendid sanctuary at the Temple of Asherat-of-the-Sea in La Serenissima: in return for knowledge of a man who might be able to lead Phèdre to what she seeks, Melisande asks her erstwhile enemy to find her son Imriel. Imriel, being also Benedicte de la Courcel’s son, is third in line to the throne of Terre d’Ange (after Ysandre’s daughters Sidonie and Alais), and no-one close to the Queen has any idea where he has been hidden. However, Imriel has disappeared from his home, a sanctuary of Elua in Siovale, a hilly province of Terre d’Ange close to the border with Aragonia, while herding goats.
By the time Phèdre picks up the trail, Imriel has been gone for nearly three months, but she and Joscelin track him to Aragonia (Carey’s equivalent of Spain) and from thence to Menekhet (Egypt) and beyond. Imriel is found, eventually, but finding him and freeing him are two entirely different things, and forces Phèdre (and Joscelin) to confront the real nature of what it means to be stricken by Kushiel’s Dart. The second half of the book details the journey to find the Word of God, in the countries of Jebe-Barkal (Ethiopia)and Saba (Sheba, roughly Sudan).
This third book in the trilogy was more satisfying than the second, partly because it wraps up certain strands of plot, but also because of the changing nature of the relationships between the characters. The horror of Daršanga in Drujan (roughly Azerbaijan) is well-evoked, as is the sheer gutsiness of the zenana’s inhabitants, though it nearly breaks the love and understanding between Joscelin and Phèdre, since he’s forced to look on and not do anything while she’s forced to undergo appalling pain and humiliation. In a way it welds them together more closely; in fact it’s arguable that the other’s presence there makes each stronger; though both need time to heal afterwards.
Imriel is delightful. He isn’t cute, or winsome; he loathes Phèdre when he first encounters her, and is frightened of Joscelin, but he’s believably strong for a ten-year old, rebellious and mischievous and vulnerable. I also particularly enjoyed Kaneka, whose initial hostility to Phèdre gradually changes and how the two women become friends. Carey also gives names to the minor characters who don’t speak, and who, in the hands of other authors, would just be nameless “servants” or “bearers”, which is admirable.
The importance of love is stressed throughout the novel, and the power of women to effect change (particularly in the revolution of the zenana and the council of women in Saba) is notable. I particularly enjoyed Phèdre’s descriptions of the wildlife on her journey from Menekhet to Saba, too. There is not nearly as much intrigue as in the previous two books, though Imriel is the target of an assassination attempt, since the book is really a traditional fantasy quest narrative: though one quest could not have been achieved without the other. Call me an old softy, but I also really liked seeing the love and trust and intimacy between Phèdre and Joscelin in this, particularly after the quarrels and coldness and estrangement in Kushiel’s Chosen.
I enjoyed the third in the series more than the second; the labyrinthine intrigue of the first two books is jettisoned for a relatively straightforward quest. The narrative grips, however, the characters are beautifully drawn and believable, and the ending is extremely satisfying. Again, it would be possible to read the book as a stand-alone, but it has much more poignancy and relevance having read the first two novels. Highly recommended.
Published by: Tor (2005)