Review: Jacqueline Carey – Kushiel’s Avatar

Hmm… After having read 967 pages fairly quickly, does it still sound convincing when I say I’m not impressed? As much as I loved Kushiel’s Dart, I was already very disappointed with the sequel, Kushiel’s Chosen. Too much travelling, too little plot – it felt like a story merely thought up to showcase the world Jacqueline Carey has built. And so does this third part.

kushiels avatarKUSHIEL’S AVATAR
by Jacqueline Carey

Published by: Tor, 2003
ISBN: 0330420011
Paperback: 967 pages
Series: Kushiel’s Legacy #3

My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: It ended with a dream.

***SPOILERS FOR BOOKS ONE AND TWO IN THE TRILOGY***

Ever since Phedre no Delaunay was sold into servitude as a child, her path has taken a strange, and often dangerous course. She has lain with princes and pirate kings and battled a wicked temptress still determined to win the crown at any cost. All this time Phedre has had at her side the devoted swordsman Joscelin, who has never violated the central precept of the angel Cassiel: to protect and serve. Now Phedre’s plans will put his pledge to the ultimate test.

For she has never forgotten her childhood friend Hyacinthe, and has spent ten long years searching for the key to free him from his eternal indenture to the Master of Straits. To redeem Hyacinthe, Phedre and Joscelin embark on a dangerous journey that will carry them to far-off countries where madness reigns, and to confront a power so mighty that none dare speak its name.

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Having finally finished this trilogy, the overall story arc has left me rather underwhelmed. I will always love Kushiel’s Dart but there were many things wrong with its sequels.

Most importantly, the novelty has long worn off, Phèdre’s extraordinary gift – feeling sexually aroused by pain – as well as her profession as courtesan, is an old hat by now. We’ve spent almost 2000 pages with her, we know what it means to bear the mark of Kushiel. The romance part was pretty much resolved in the first book except for some force drama in the second novel, and that middle volume did little to resolve the open plot threads. That doesn’t mean I didn’t get some enjoyment out of this novel. Carey’s language is as beautiful and flowery as ever, the world of Terre d’Ange and beyond (far, far beyond) is brimming with life and mythology. Discovering new areas on the map, new religions and cultures was a true pleasure. But the book didn’t need to be anywhere near as long as it is.

Certain scenes (and by “scene” I mean a good 100 pages) were so thrilling that they could have made a story on their own – I would have gladly read a novel entirely devoted to Phèdre’s stay in that harem. Wow! However, most of the novel is spent travelling. We are told in minute detail of everything that happens not only on the journey to a new place but also back. There is no need for that and it was mostly these scenes that stretched the novel to its unnecessary lengths and were quite tiresome to read.

What truly intrigued me about the first novel was the relationship between the characters, the dynamic bond between Phèdre and Joscelin, or her and Hyacinthe, her devotion to Anafiel Delauney, her dangerous attraction to Melisande… I didn’t think I would say that, having grown to hate her, but there was far too little Melisande in Kushiel’s Avatar. The lack of Hyacinthe was felt sorely as well and almost all the new characters – while fully fleshed-out and interesting in their own right – were introduced and dismissed rather fast. They were friends for a short period in Phèdre’s life and didn’t have any longterm impact, like Phèdre’s Boys or Quintilius Rousse, side characters I’ve grown to love. That said, I must mention Imriel who is probably the best thing in this book. I hear the second trilogy set in the same world centers around him – which is why I’ll definitely check those books out.

One thing in particular I have noticed that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Phèdre becomes a major class bitch! Joscelin, his oath still swearing him to protect and serve her, is the truest, most loyal character you can imagine. And Phèdre – while always having good excuses of course – risks his life on numerous occasions, forces him (knowing his oath well enough) into dangerous and terrifying situations, having him follow her around like a dog. And she knows it, too. I used to love her independence and how she showed us that female protagonists can very well exist without a male counterpart – but this went a little too far for my taste. I’m also not sure at all how I feel about Joscelin now for never opening his fucking mouth or simply saying No. Oath or no oath, he should be able (and allowed) to tell his girlfriend that she is going too far… I have been having this discussion in my own head for a long time and it may actually have added to my reading pleasure.

For those curious to find out if it was all worth it in the end: The plot threads left open in books 1 and 2 are resolved, although it felt almost as if that part had been a chore to write, rather than pleasure. As I read this, I got the feeling that Jacqueline Carey simply wanted to explore her own imaginary world. As great as it is, world-building alone does not make a good story. With some editing, as well as tightening of the plot, this could have been a much better book.

dividerTHE GOOD: Beautiful writing, the characters feel real, certain scenes left me at the edge of my seat.

THE BAD: Large parts of the book are simply boring, unnecessary, full of details of travel without furthering the plot (of which there isn’t all too much anyway).

THE VERDICT: I suppose if you’ve come this far, you’ll want to know how it ends. Despite its lengths, this is a good read that showcases the author’s great ability for world-building and character development.

RATING:   6,5/10 – Quite good

The Kushiel’s Legacy trilogy:

  1. Kushiel’s Dart
  2. Kushiel’s Chosen
  3. Kushiel’s Avatar

 

2 thoughts on “Review: Jacqueline Carey – Kushiel’s Avatar

  1. Carl V. says:

    Sorry to hear that. I had went back and forth in the past on reading these and could never bring myself to do so. Although they sounded interesting there was always something there that made me think I wouldn’t enjoy them. Must be very frustrating to have a first book experience that is so good only to be let down not just by the second but also by the third.

    As a side not, John Jude Palencar’s art for Kushiel’s Chosen is one of my favorites of all his work.

    Like

    • Nadine says:

      I like the covers too. But I don’t know what went wrong between those sequels and me. I suspect if I had read the entire trilogy in one go I would have liked it more.

      But I waited years between books 1 and 2, which made the re-introduction of the world and its politics so tedious. And then the same thing with the last book. Oh well, we can’t love them all. I warmy recommend the first book though – despite its first 300 pages. Once you hit that mark, it’s all fun and games (or rather: adventure and intrigue) until the end.

      Like

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