|Trigger warnings: Murder, self-harm, dubious consent, gore, sexual assault, suicide mentions
Content warnings: I cannot speak to the depiction of the Tsingani (who are clearly inspired by Romani/Travellers), but approach with caution
I had come into this book on a massive hype train once the option had been announced. It’s always been lurking in my TBR as something people greatly enjoyed and its small bit of notoriety for being “that one 900-page BDSM fantasy novel taking place in not-Europe.” Then someone had mentioned to me that this book does cool things with translations and characters talking across different languages.And there was so much more.
Kushiel’s Dart follows the tale of Phèdre no Delaunay and her land of Terra D’Ange in a totally-not-Europe featuring Viking, Picts, Romani, and an off-shoot of angelic totally-not-Jesus descendants with different gifts. She’d been blessed by Kushiel and served Naamah, which basically means she gets a lot of pleasure from pain. But there is so much more as she discovers a conspiracy, several people are murdered, she’s captured, and then suddenly there’s a war.
I arrived for the language, visited for the sexual content, stuck around for the intricately woven political intrigue and delightful characters. My lordy, did all of this stick so many landings. What I also enjoyed most, I think, was how badass a character Phèdre was, but in ways that don’t hinge on violence. She’s adept at language, appealing to emotions, sympathetic and empathetic, and other soft skills that are very important in a world where anyone might betray you.
But there are so many other things to like. For example, the battles, are super good! New character and cultural introductions, also well-executed. The world feels so thoroughly lived in, a bit dangerous, but there are enough small folk encountered to buffer the terribleness of most of the nobility.
The page count, I will admit, is rather intimidating. It’s about twice as long as books I would peg as massive, but it goes so quickly. Kushiel’s Dart is exactly the kind of road map and case study I needed to get into my own epic fantasy that’s in progress. I will, however, take a small break from door-stoppers, but I really want to know what else happens.