Kushiel’s Avatar is the last novel in Phèdre’s trilogy, which I actually began when I participated in a Wyrd & Wonder readalong for the first book, Kushiel’s Dart. I participated in a readalong for second book, Kushiel’s Chosen, as well and was so curious about how the story would end that I buddy-read this third book with Millie at Milliebot Reads.
It was a good read, and I had so many thoughts when done that I felt overwhelmed, procrastinated on doing this reflection, and now have so overdone it that it’s quite long with two summaries (yep, really overdid it).
Phèdre’s Trilogy, book 3
Quick summary (for those new to the trilogy)
If you want to read high fantasy sword & sorcery but want something a bit different, I highly recommend this trilogy, especially if you have strong interest in myths and history and the like, as I do. The story isn’t exactly set in the real world (or you could argue it’s the real world but waaay in the past with some fantasy flourishes), but it is obvious how much religion (especially Catholicism), history, and certain cultures have influenced it.
“Well, never let it be said that I allowed a D’Angeline peer to face death ill-garbed for it.”
The majority of the story is set in Terre D’Ange, a country whose people, called D’Angelines, are said to be descendants of angels. Because of their divine blood, the D’Angelines are considered the most beautiful in the world. Beauty is held in high regard, and love is the D’Angelines’ religion. Indeed, the highest precept is to “love as thou wilt,” and one of the ways the D’Angelines practice this precept is by visiting the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers (a.k.a. the Night Court) — 13 houses that train individuals to become courtesans, called Naamah’s servants (Naamah is one of their angels/gods). Each house has its own principles about how to approach/express love and develop their training based on them. Because of this, the story also contains some erotica bits, so this is one for mature readers.
The story focuses on one of Naamah’s servants, Phèdre, who grew up in the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers in the Cereus house. Perfection is of high importance in the Night Court, but Phèdre was born with a red mote in her eye (I think it’s the left eye), marking her as Kushiel’s chosen (Kushiel is another angel/god) — an anguissette, meaning she receives pleasure from pain. This red mote was considered an imperfection, so for that and other reasons, she was sold to Anafiel Delaunay (a noble lord dude), who trained her to become a spy. Later, Phèdre would use both her skills as a courtesan and in spy-craft to save her country several times.
Quick summary for this novel (some spoilers)
(Yep, I’m summarizing EVERYTHING. I like to reread these sections years later to refresh my memory.)
Many things happened in the second novel leaving Ysandre secure on the throne; Melisandre “locked up,” well, taking sanctuary, at the temple Asherat-of-the-Sea; Hyacinthe training in loneliness to become the new Master of the Straits; and Phèdre and Joscelin favored by the queen and seen as legendary heroes for what they’ve done to save the throne.
And so many things happen in Kushiel’s Avatar that it seems like two novels in one. There’s Phèdre vowing to Hyacinthe that she will seek a way to break the geis on him by finding God’s Name, a venture that involves much research into the Yeshuites and that sends her on a long journey to basically Africa to seek the Tribe of Dân in Saba, where the unpronounceable name of God is spoken voiceless by a tongueless man.
(This part of the story was one of my favorites and a major reason why I would love to reread it. It made me wish I knew more about history and religion and the myths of various cultures since it’s obvious this was a journey to Ethiopia, and the queen of Saba mentioned is the queen of Sheba and so on and so forth, like mentioning the warrior queen Makeda. I love when such facts are mixed into fantasy stories, although it makes me wonder what I missed since there’s much I don’t know. And I loved the visit to even more countries, like Egypt, and encountering more cultures, which is something I was hoping for after the countries visited in the second book.)
In addition to that adventure, again Melisande calls Phèdre to set her on a task, as happened in the second book. But this time, the task is more personal and pressing: Melisande’s son has been kidnapped and because she is “bound” (does/can anything bind Meli?) to Asherat-by-the-Sea, she’s limited in what she can do to find her son. So Meli calls on Phèdre to find him for her. Ysandre is also interested in finding Melisande’s son, mostly for the boy’s safety but also because he can be used by others to claim the throne.
This wasn’t an adventure Phèdre intended to get caught up in, but the gods (Elua or Kushiel or both) pulled her into it because her unique skills as a courtesan and ability as an anguissette were the only things that could possibly save Melisande’s son, Imriel, free a god, and save another country.
(I loved how this came about, how the two paths Phèdre was on, to save Hyacinthe and to save Imriel, were pulled into one and how Phèdre was made to realize that. I also loved that the only way she could have accomplished her intended goal, to find God’s Name, was by traveling to the palace of Daršanga in Drujan and happening to find a guide in the unlikeliest of places — the dank, dismal darkness of the Mahrkagir’s seraglio. The things Phèdre endured there under the Mahrkagir’s hand were awful. I was surprised and speechless and couldn’t believe it sometimes.)
My thoughts (some spoilers)
This was such a fantastic read and one of the best stories I’ve read so far this year, but it took a while, several chapters — almost to the middle of the book — for me to get going with it. It could have been because I was in a serious reading slump at the time, or because I was feeling super burnt out by everything, or maybe I was just deeply annoyed by all the recap and repetition of prior events I had to wade through before the story finally got going. Either way, reading this was slow-going and a bit frustrating for the first couple chapters.
But despite such feelings, I deeply admired Carey’s prose and didn’t mind at all reading from Phèdre’s POV again. Carey’s writing is descriptive and easily brings to life the settings and cultures and people she describes in her stories. Her writing is transportive. We read from Phèdre’s POV in all three books, so we are stuck in her head and thus become convinced that everyone in the world believe the D’Angelines are the shit — that they are the most beautiful, the most graceful, and the best at everything, especially lovemaking (since that’s their form of worship). Phèdre’s love for her country and culture and her confidence in her countrymen borders on arrogance, which sometimes made me wish to break from her POV just to see if people from other cultures and countries really think this of the D’Angelines too. Phèdre encounters others who express amazement, fascination, attraction, and intrigue when meeting her, Joscelin, and other D’Angelines, but I wonder what thoughts they have and if they are truly as captivated as Phèdre believes.
I often think it’s pointless to read the same story from another character’s perspective because I think I’d just be wasting my time having the same thing repeated in a different book (although the few times I’ve read such, I was impressed and just as hooked), but this is one story I’d love to read from another character’s perspective. And I mean Joscelin here. I want the entire trilogy from his POV because he suffers a lot too, probably questions himself and struggles with self-doubt more than Phèdre does, and I think being in Daršanga almost broke him. I felt so sorry for the dude. The journey afterward, to seek the Tribe of Dân in Saba, was healing for him as it was for Phèdre and Imriel.
Speaking of Imriel, considering what Phèdre endured under the Mahrkagir, I flinch to think about what Imriel suffered while there too. I think the series that follows this is about Imriel, but after reading about Phèdre’s time with the Mahrkagir and that awful device with the blunted spikes he uses on the women, I’m a bit reluctant to read Imriel’s story — although it may not be as violent and Carey doesn’t seem to be the type of storyteller to overdo goriness and bloodiness and violence or dwell on such things for long. Still, I cringe to wonder at what Imriel has endured. But I am curious to read more about him, especially if the story focuses on him growing up as part of Phèdre’s household. I’d love to see how Phèdre and Joscelin function as parents, which we got a glimpse of in this book.
Speaking of which, I love the relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin in this book. The characters and their relationship with each other are more mature here, so there’s more understanding and patience with each other in addition to their love and attraction, which is quite different from their relationship in the second book. I loved that because it shows that the characters have grown much over the years and, in turn, their relationship has developed too.
I also prefer this more mature Phèdre who’s even more self-possessed, sure, confident, and accepting of herself, faults and all. I think Joscelin is about the same too and has found some way to be okay with Phèdre’s anguissette nature. And I love that the addition of Imriel to their family helps to bring out the best in both of them and strengthen their love. I guess Imriel was a blessing to them since Joscelin loves kids and Phèdre was afraid (I think) to even consider having a child herself, worried that Kushiel’s Dart may be hereditary and not wanting to burden her child with it.
“She was a scion of Kushiel such as the world has never seen, and I was Kushiel’s Chosen, the only anguissette born in living memory. We were connected in a manner nothing born of rational thought and the mind’s volition could touch. I could no more cease wanting her than I could stem the tide.”
I guess the connection to Kushiel — Phèdre possessing his dart and Melisande being his scion — is the cause of the strong attraction between the two, so strong that Phèdre feels unable to deny Melisande anything when in her presence. To be honest, this strong attraction was annoying to me for most of the trilogy and this book because I didn’t understand it. I think there’s another set of books about another person who possesses Kushiel’s Dart, and I’d like to read it to see if that person feels the same compulsion as Phèdre does when in the presence of Kushiel’s Scion.
As I mentioned before, this seemed like two books in one. When the adventures in Drujan were completed, it felt like the end of a story, and that was such a dark, tense, heavy read that I needed a break from the story, as I’d take after completing a book. Although there were many pages left and things left unresolved, I was surprised that there was still more to read. Once the journey to Saba began, the story began to lighten and seemed almost entirely different from what came before. One of my favorite things about these parts — in addition to the characters healing, Phèdre and Joscelin reconnecting in love (and Imriel encouraging that), and learning Kaneka’s story (she’s one of my favs) — is Phèdre seeing beauty and love everywhere after receiving the Name of God, and marveling at everything, so much so that it worries Joscelin. It reminded me of Cazaril at the end of Curse of Chalion after a goddess (was it the Daughter?) worked through him to touch the world. Afterward, he spent hours working on a poem about his beloved nose (lol).
So, in my opinion, Phèdre has achieved sainthood. She’s one of the most devout characters I’ve ever read about. And her commitment to her religion (love), the effects of Kushiel’s Dart, her book nerdiness (I’m convinced Phèdre is a fellow book nerd), and steadfastness in her goals were all great help in enabling her to find a way to free Hyacinthe from his geis. To be honest, I didn’t expect that to happen. I was expecting Melisande to trick her somehow, causing Phèdre to fail in all her goals and Melisande to grab her kid and escape again. I was surprised at how positive the end is.
Overall: ★★★★☆ ½
I initially gave it 4 stars because I really struggled to get going with the story. But it is a great and amazing read and wraps up the trilogy well and is now one of my favorite set of books, so I bumped it up half a star.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I HIGHLY recommend the trilogy.
Quotes from the book
“So often, a time of great happiness is recognized only in hindsight.”
“I drank to his memory, and tasted the salt of my tears.”
“It is a scholar’s weakness, to run narrow and deep.”
13 thoughts on ““Kushiel’s Avatar” by Jacqueline Carey”
Keep reviewing these and I’ll keep moving the series up on my reading list. 🙂
lol I HIGHLY recommend them!
I am glad you enjoyed it. The original Kushiel trilogy remains close to my heart to this day, it’s one of the first series that got me into fantasy in the first place 🙂
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It was such a great read. I think I might read the other books too.
I’ve long been curious about this author since her worlds seem so lush- the world building sounds so developed- and bonus that she’s a local author. She lives in the same area I do roughly. I just haven’t tried her books yet. And I’ve been a little hesitant, thinking maybe they’re not entirely my thing… sounds awesome however.
This. “the unpronounceable name of God is spoken voiceless by a tongueless man.” I mean, seriously? Stuff like that is catnip lol. Sounds like it delves just enough into like real life folklore/ legend/ whatever. And just as an aside, I love the names she uses… Mrlisande, Ysandre, Joscelin. Something about ’em.
Glad this was a good one. 🙂
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I highly recommend the books if they pique your interest in any way. They are totally worth checking out.
And, oh man! The parts where the name of God is spoken were pretty dope. I loved the build up to those sections. Highly recommend the books.
Whee! I’m glad you made the end and loved it. It’s a really intense, involved book – even by the standards of the other two in the series – and I do think that can hamper it with some readers.
Re Imriel’s story – I recommend it. I might like it more than the original trilogy. It makes it clear that some bad things happened to Imriel but there’s no flashbacks, and the story is about a young man finding his own way after a decade spent with intelligent, sensitive parents who love him fiercely, not the poor traumatised boy we see for much of this book. If anything, I think it’s a little less dark than Phedre’s story.
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So happy you shared that about Imriel’s story. Makes me more willing to try those books. Thanks Peat!
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