Date read: 12.28.2012
Book from: Borrowed from cousin
This past autumn proved to be the kind that required a lot of popcorn reading, and I mean a lot. As winter came on, I ended up barreling through several examples of one of my favorite popcorny subgenres: the epic courtesan-spy adventure. Training montages, poisons and daggers, sexytime intrigues – aw yeah.
Kushiel’s Dart was one of those reads. Its protagonist, Phèdre, is a sacred courtesan whose superpower happens to be sexual masochism. Her homeland: a sexually enlightened, medieval France-analogue, unfortunately threatened by an unstable monarchy and oh-so-barbaric Germanic barbarians. (Persistently and distastefully, Carey cannot stop letting her characters indulge in a very juvenile, even if fictional, sort of nationalism/racial superiority: Phèdre harps endlessly on the unparalleled beauty and sophistication of her people, who are the descendants of stray angels.)
As I’ve seen advertised by its many fans, Kushiel’s Dart is, indeed, very kink-friendly, very queer-friendly, and generally embracing in its portrayals of myriad variations on desire and preferences for sexual and romantic fulfillment. It’s perhaps also groundbreaking in its depiction of a respected, even exalted, form of prostitution, built around consent and reverence for free sexual expression. (“Love as thou wilt” is the country’s founding credo.) Compare that to, say, Companionship in Firefly, where, as far as I can recall, Inara’s status as Companion is mostly used as an excuse for Mal to repeatedly call her a whore.
High-school me would have been over the moon to find this series – except that at the time, Kakaner and I were tearing through Storm Constantine’s delightfully loony and even more baroquely erotic and melodramatic Wraeththu series. The Kushiel series would hardly have measured up in terms of sheer fun.
In fact, setting aside the sexcapades and superficially elaborate political intrigues, I found Kushiel’s Dart pretty dull. Read the rest of this entry »