Last week Allison was raving to me about The Remnant Chronicles, and it reminded me of another series with a similar feel that I love, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series, specifically the Phèdre trilogy (I’d love to read the Imriel trilogy at some point, but unfortunately the books aren’t available in the UK and it was an effort to even find the first three). I first picked up The Kiss of Deception after I read an excerpt and the voice so vividly reminded me of Phèdre’s; Lia has the same lyrical, contemplative perception of the world around her as Phèdre does. Because I told Allison she absolutely must read this series, I figured I should also tell everyone else, too.
The world Carey creates in the Kushiel series is remarkable. It’s a cross between an alternate history and a true secondary world, with some places being more recognisable than others. La Serenissima is a clear corrollary for Venice (La Serenissima being another name for the city), complete with the Doge’s Palace and distinctive canals. On the other hand, Terre d’Ange, while having linguistic and cultural ties to France, is distinct from historical France.
One of the most significant ways in which Terre d’Ange departs from French history is in its origin myth. It’s believed that d’Angelines are descended from the angel Elua, and the country’s provinces, reminiscent of mediaeval France’s duchies, were founded by his angelic companions.
Elua’s most important belief, taken up by the humans of Terre d’Ange, is ‘Love as Thou Wilt’. This has implications throughout d’Angeline society; not only does it mean that the nobility do not have arranged marriages such as their French counterparts did, but prostitution is normal, even sacred. Courtesans are members of one of the Thirteen Houses of the Court of the Night-Blooming Flowers, and, while they are often born into the Court or sold into indentured servitude in one of the houses as children, it is considered important that they serve in a way most suited to their own personality, because ‘Love as Thou Wilt’ means consent is important.
Phèdre is sold into one of the Houses as a child, but she has a red mote in her eye, marking her as chosen by Kushiel. Though she has an angel’s favour, however, this is a mixed blessing. The mote mars her otherwise perfect features, making her unsuitable to serve in the Night Court, and her gift is much misunderstood, for those marked by Kushiel are fated to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.
As you can tell, the world building is my favourite part of this series. The books are long, too, each giving a good 800-odd pages to relish the world of Terre d’Ange. Their sheer size also means that they cover an enormous breadth of plots and subplots, from Phèdre’s personal relationships to the fate of Terre d’Ange. In fact, those two are often intertwined, with one of the main threats being Phèdre’s sometime client Melisandre, a woman Phèdre at various times respects, admires and loathes.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of this rich and atmospheric series; suffice it to say, whether you’ve just finished The Heart of Betrayal and are looking for something with a similar feel, or you’re just interested in a detailed world with multi-faceted characters, this series will not disappoint.