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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Kushiel's Justice" by Jacqueline Carey

Read CHAPTER 1 + CHAPTER 2 from “Kushiel’s Justice
Preorder “Kushiel’s Justice” (Release Date: June 14, 2007) via Amazon HERE (US) + HERE (CA)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's interview with Ms. Carey HERE

Every book offers a different experience. There are those that are page-turners, uncomplicated and impossible to put down. Others require patience or attentiveness to complete or fully appreciate, while some you just want to throw into the trash. Then, there are those books that you want to savor like a fine wine, drawing out the experience as long as possible, luxuriating in every moment. For me, a Jacqueline Carey novel, specifically the Kushiel books, are like that – a richly detailed world that is at once believable and fantastic; a colorful cast of characters that you can’t help but fall in love with; stories that manage to be grand, intimate and erotic all at the same time; exquisite writing that stimulates the palate with intoxicating flavor and aroma… I could probably go on and on, but suffice it to say that Ms. Carey is a favorite author of mine and the Kushiel books a favorite series, so it’s no surprise that I’ve been highly anticipating her latest novel “Kushiel’s Justice”.

If you haven’t read any of the Kushiel novels, then I recommend at least “Kushiel’s Scion” if you want to know what’s going on in “Kushiel’s Justice”, and all of the previous Kushiel books for the most rewarding experience. If you’ve followed the series since its inception, then you know that “Kushiel’s Scion” commences the ‘Imriel Trilogy’, which in itself is a direct sequel to the Kushiel’s Legacy trilogy that introduced readers to Phèdre nó Delaunay, Joscelin Verreuil, Hyacinthe, Ysandre de la Courcel, Drustan mab Necthana, Terre d'Ange, etc.

Taking place a few years after the events of “Kushiel’s Avatar”, “Kushiel’s Scion” establishes the first-person perspective of Imriel nó Montrève; son of Benedicte de la Courcel & Melisande Shahrizai; a Prince of the Blood, third in line for the D’Angeline throne; and foster-son of Phèdre & Joscelin. Throughout this coming of age tale, readers get to see Imriel’s life at the Montrève estate, his integration into the D’Angeline royal court, his introduction to the Night Court, making friends (Eamon mac Grainne) and enemies (Barquiel L’Envers, Maslin de Lombelon), embracing his Shahrizai kin, studying abroad at the University of Tiberium, partaking in clandestine affairs of both love & covertcy, and many other adventures, tragic & heroic. By the time Imriel returns to Terre d'Ange, he’s a very different person, and not only does he agree to wed Dorelei mab Breidaia out of duty, but he’s also ready to face the letters written to him by his mother, the traitor Melisande Shahrizai who vanished from the Temple of the Asherat of the Sea in La Serenissima and is still unaccounted for.

Which is where “Kushiel’s Justice” picks up. Like its predecessor, the first part of the book takes place in Terre d'Ange where we learn some of what Melisande wrote her son, issues are resolved with the Trevalions and a dash of intrigue & Night Court exploits are encountered, although the story focuses mainly on Imriel’s torrid affair with cousin & heir Sidonie de la Courcel. From there, the second part of the book deals with Imriel’s marriage to Dorelei, adjusting to life in Alba, and facing a new, yet ancient force in the Maghuin Dhonn. Finally, following a heart-wrenching tragedy, the last third deals with Imriel’s quest for justice, and along the way he will learn more about himself, love, and the gods than he ever thought possible… (Also be prepared for another somewhat unresolved ending).

In short, “Kushiel’s Justice” is another fantastic novel by Ms. Carey, and yet another gratifying reading experience for me. There are a few things I’d like to point out though. For one, if you’re an advocate of the original Kushiel trilogy, and hoping that Imriel’s adventures will read the same, then you’ll probably be disappointed with “Kushiel’s Scion/Kushiel’s Justice”. While there are obviously similarities between the two, Imriel is a much different protagonist from Phèdre, the most significant being that Phèdre is a much more heroic character, and her books read that way. Thankfully, Ms. Carey understands this point, so rather than trying to recreate the grandness of Phèdre’s journeys, she has made Imriel’s much more intimate, with “Kushiel’s Justice” being the most personal one yet in my opinion. I also felt it was the most poignant book in the bunch. I won’t get into specifics, but some of the events that transpire can be pretty tear-jerking, so for you ladies out there (and gentlemen), you might want to have some tissues at hand.

Going back to my earlier point, another difference between the two trilogies is the secondary characters. While the original sported such memorable characters as Joscelin Verreuil, Hyacinthe and Melisande Shahrizai among many others, the new one lacks any real standout faces, though I think Sidonie will emerge as one, and I do like Eamon & Maslin even if we don’t see enough of them. And while Phèdre & Joscelin are present in the series, and others like Hyacinthe and Micah ben Ximon make an appearance, they’re really only peripheral players. This doesn’t really detract from the enjoyment of the Imriel books, just something I wanted to point out.

A third distinction between the two trilogies is the eroticism, a trademark of the Kushiel books. While sex is still prominent in Imriel’s novels, very much so in “Kushiel’s Justice” in fact, it lacks the mystique & wickedness that Phèdre brought to the series. It’s not unexpected given that Phèdre is an anguissette trained as a courtesan who used her Kushiel lineage as a tool/weapon, while Imriel is a member of the D’Angeline royal family who mainly follows his passions, but I’m sure some readers might be disappointed by the lack of erotica. To be honest, even I was somewhat disappointed by this absence and certain other elements that I had come to love & expect from the Kushiel series, but truthfully, did we really want to see Ms. Carey rehashing the same old ideas? Of course not, and I think that Jacqueline has done a tremendous job of revisiting this familiar world, while establishing a distinctive new voice in Imriel whose stories may be different from Phèdre’s, but no less compelling.

As much as I love Ms. Carey’s work, and all of the Kushiel novels to date including “Kushiel’s Justice”, I did have a few issues with the book, though straight up I’ll admit that I’m probably nitpicking. First off, much like the opening installment in the ‘Imriel’ Trilogy’, I felt that too much of “Kushiel’s Justice” paid homage to the previous Kushiel’s Legacy trilogy. I’ll admit, it’s nice to reminiscence about those books and to revisit familiar places and peoples, and I’m sure readers who haven’t completed the Kushiel’s Legacy series appreciate the background information. Personally though, I felt the best moments in “Kushiel’s Scion” and “Kushiel’s Justice” were when Imriel ventured out from under the shadow of Phèdre, Joscelin & Terre d'Ange, and experienced his own adventures such as attending the University of Tiberium, starting his new life in Alba, or traveling through distant lands in search of justice. Apart from that, the only other concern I had was the book’s lack of a prominent nemesis. Obviously Melisande is still out there lurking in the shadows, but disappointingly she is virtually nonexistent in “Kushiel’s Justice”. Then there’s Barquiel L’Envers and Maslin de Lombelon who possess the potential as notable rivals, yet they too are strangely absent…for the most part. The simple truth is that so far in the ‘Imriel Trilogy’ no one has really come close to the level of villainy that such memorable protagonists as Waldemar Selig, the Mahrkagir, and of course Melisande brought to the original trilogy, though I’m sure that we haven’t seen the last of the Shahrizai villainess. On a related note, I was also somewhat disappointed by the lack of intrigue in “Kushiel’s Justice”, particularly the Unseen Guild, which was introduced in “Kushiel’s Scion”, yet sadly is only referenced a few times in the new book.

Like I said, I’m really only nitpicking though honestly I did enjoy “Kushiel’s Scion” a bit more than I did “Kushiel’s Justice”. That’s not to say that “Kushiel’s Justice” is a lesser quality book. On the contrary, Ms. Carey’s writing is as superb as ever – in fact, I think she continues to improve with each release and the realism in which she brings Imriel to life while providing credible world-building is impressive to say the least. And, as I mentioned earlier, “Kushiel’s Justice” could be the most emotional novel of the series. No, my reasons for liking “Kushiel’s Scion” a bit more are merely based on personal tastes, namely my love for coming of age tales and specifically stories about characters attending a school (Harry Potter, The Name of the Wind, etc.), so when you combine Imriel’s transition into majority age with his time at the University of Tiberium, what can I say, I loved it.

In the end, “Kushiel’s Justice” is another wonderful entry in the series, and if you liked “Kushiel’s Scion” or any of the other Kushiel novels, then you should definitely enjoy this one. For some, it may even become your favorite. Personally, I think the tentatively titled “Kushiel’s Mercy” is primed to be the best one in the trilogy. What with the potential political firestorm in Terre d'Ange; the unresolved plotlines involving Melisande Shahrizai, the Unseen Guild & Barquiel L’Envers; the impact that the new-found empire of the Yeshuites will have on Terre d'Ange, etc.; the potential dissent in Alba; the situation regarding Hyacinthe, finding a successor as the Master of the Straits & the Book of Raziel; and so much more, “Kushiel’s Mercy” could be spectacular. I’m getting ahead of myself though. “Kushiel’s Justice” comes out June 14, 2007. Mark the date, buy the book, read it and savor the experience…


arvin said...

That was great review! You pointed out all there is without spoiling anything. I am so looking forward to it and scared with the whole SADNESS tone to it. OMG I am sooo ready!!!! Thanks =D ur review made me more excited!

Robert said...

I'm glad you liked the review. I try not to reveal any spoilers, so I hope I did a good job in that area. Enjoy the novel and definitely share your thoughts once you've finished reading it...

Anonymous said...

I really disagree that there was an antagonist in Justice, or even in Scion, in each book I think the real antagonist is Imriel himself, the dark view of himself in the mirror, his more deeper and darker self that he has struggled with in his quest in "trying to be good".

It was hinted at some in the first book, and I think it comes out even more in the second book in his dilemma of trying to be good, which in this case means to due his duty to his country and the marriage he is somewhat forced into, and to following his desire, which is his love for Sidonie. Just when he comes to terms with that, everything is changed, and again the antagonist is his dark self, which is hell bent on vengeance, and the part of him that is good that wants to believe in mercy. In the end there is a reconciliation of both parts.

To me in the Imriel books that is the key, and what makes it more personal in the way you mentioned before and marks this series of being different then the first Trilogy. There is no grandiose antagonist, and why should there be, when the stage has already been set with the circumstances of hsi birth and life in the previous series setting the stage for his greatest enemy to be his own self.

I think in the next book we will find clearer antagonists as the relationship between Sidonie and Imireal will not be without conflict, but I think for the first book, the first opening line sets the stage for who is the real villain in the series.

"What does it mean to be good..."


Robert said...


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Very insightful. Just wanted to clarify something. I never said that there was an antagonist in either of "Kushiel's Scion" or "Kushiel's Justice". What I was trying to say was there was a notable 'lack' of villains and it was something that I, from a personal standpoint, missed having.

The point you make that Imriel is his own worst enemy is dead on and I totally agree with you. Considering everything that Imriel went through as a child, and all that he had to overcome as he grew up, was definitely as difficult as anything that Phedre or Joscelin had to face. So, kudos on your observations and thanks again for sharing...

Kelly said...

I just finished reading "Justice" and I concurred with you on some points and not on others. I found this book more compelling and interesting than "Scion", which I felt was lacking something I can't quite name. Perhaps it was the lack of love in that book, where there wasn't the same emotional investment in his relationships. I'm not sure.

Contrary to your opinions, I actually most enjoy the parts of the Imriel trilogy that involve Phedre and Joscelin, but I think that's because they remain my favorite characters. I've come to love Imriel, even more so after this book, but he didn't capture my heart as deeply as Phedre and Joscelin did. I understand the need for Imri to set out on his own and have his own life; all children must strike out on their own eventually, and he had a bigger shadow to step out from than just about anyone. Between his heritage, the horrors of Darsanga, and his foster parents, it's a lot of baggage to carry around.

So I see the need for it, but at the same time I just love Phedre and Joscelin so much, I'm sad when they aren't around, and I love the Montreve family unit. Ah well, even so it's a wonderful story. I just love the perfect irony of him and Sidonie--unintentionally fulfilling his mother's plans.

Speaking of Melisande, I too was disappointed that she wasn't more than a few mentions in the book. I kept waiting for some word from her, some involvement even through an agent, but it never really happened.

And I do also agree that having great villains really strengthened the original trilogy, although I also agree with the point that Imri's dark side IS a major antagonist of this trilogy. I do think our boy has learned quite a bit though so far, and has come to accept and know himself fairly well. But there IS something rather fascinating about the devious Melisande... here's hoping she runs rampant through Kushiel's Mercy! Mercy hmm.... Mercy for his mother?

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