If you’re looking for some fantastically suspenseful writing, this is the series to beat. Jacqueline Carey has already given us a complex, compelling world complete with fascinating mythos in Kushiel’s Dart. In this sequel, we travel with the protagonists away from their home again, this time to a place that feels like Italy/Venice. Phaedre is again the only person with the unique skills, knowledge, and influence who can save her country from deadly intrigue.
When I was praising these books the other day to my husband (trying to get him to read them) he mentioned that he doesn’t really want to read a “romance.” I guess people hear about the courtesan with BDSM leanings and assume they’re looking at a romance or even erotica novel. This series is far from typical of either of those genres. I would say it’s more similar to Romantic literature, almost, though a better description would probably be “alternate history Earth with compelling female protagonist.” The books they remind me most of are actually Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle, though that might have more to do with the narrative style and the fact that you’re starting out with a particularly naturally-skilled protagonist.
Any “romance” in these books is more slow-burning, almost like how we had to wait so many books to see Ron and Hermione finally happen in the Harry Potter series. The relationships between characters are intricate, and never simple. I have an immense amount of admiration for how Carey can write a character at war with themself. She doesn’t skimp on the secondary characters, either. Everyone feels complete and complicated, like normal humans are.
The stakes feel higher in this book than the first, which I wouldn’t have thought possible. Strangely enough, Carey is able to raise them even more in the third book. I don’t know that I even need to urge anyone to read this second installment—if they aren’t automatically picking it up right after finishing Kushiel’s Dart, then my words would probably be falling on deaf ears. I have trouble imagining a person who would dislike these books (how can you dislike writing that is THIS good?), but I suppose they probably exist somewhere. If you like compelling characters, intricate worlds/mythos, and suspense, you’re missing out until you’ve read these.