Kushiel’s Chosen, by Jacqueline Carey, is the second in a trilogy that recounts the story of Phedre no Delaunay. If I said that the plot of the first book was dark, and I did, it does not begin to describe the depths that this second book plunges the reader into.
The reader who has not picked up the first book, Kushiel’s Dart, will have no problem picking the storyline. Phedre herself takes the reader by the hand from the very first page, frankly recounting the path she has traveled thus far; the adventures of an anguisette, Kushiel’s Chosen, destined to find pleasure in pain. In the wild, pseudo-European backdrop of Terre d’Ange, Phedre is a rarity that has been sought by Kings and villainesses. She has survived through her own determination, leaving in her wake a blazing trail that is weaved into mythical proportions during her own lifetime.
Unlike many sequels, it is obvious from the beginning of the book that this installment of the Kushiel series will not be the same as the first. One of the most remarkable things about this book, in fact, is how strongly it stands on its own, without the support of the other books in its series. Jacqueline Carey holds no punches in this piece (literally, in fact) which might cause some readers to back off. Phedre’s life moves as the marque that she wears on her back; hard, painstaking, blood-rending work performed in the selfless love of others. This intriguing facet of the series, the high spirituality found in the depths of what most people would call “deviant” behavior, has drawn loyal fans to Carey’s books.
In Kushiel’s Chosen, Carey doesn’t let them down. The characters in this book are even more vivid, more in-depth than the first. From the loyal Casseline Warrior Monk that follows in Phedre’s stride to the wild, adventure loving Pirate that captures the anguisette for his own, every page the reader turns is filled with people who capture your heart. Survival remains an integral concept of this book, but the overriding theme is one of love; a great love story, filled with all the intense adventure, high eroticism, intrigue, and swordplay that masterpieces are crafted from.
I must stress that the nature of this book makes it unsuitable to wide audiences. Violence, violent sexual content, explicit sexual content, extremely graphic scenes are all contained in the pages within this book. If it were to be rated as music and movies are, Kushiel’s Chosen would warrant a Parental Advisory and no doubt about it. The hands of the God, Kushiel, weighs heavily upon Phedre and she is not the kind of character to let you get out of living the struggle any more easily than she is allowed to.
When I turned the last page of the first book, Kushiel’s Dart, I was saddened and eager for more. As I turned the last pages of this book, Kushiel’s Chosen, I was in tears; the last hundred pages had taken me through an emotional rollercoaster right along with our unusual heroine. Much as she looked forward with a calm heart, I take a pause before cracking open the next book to reflect on how our own lives might benefit from living as fully, as openly, as Phedre lives hers. A definite, without-a-doubt must read for those with the mettle to live through it.