I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to raise the stakes higher than they already were in Kushiel’s Dart and Kushiel’s Chosen. You’d think it’d be enough, one amazing protagonist saving her country, saving her queen. But Phedre isn’t done yet.
This third installment in her legacy takes Phedre and Joscelin to a new location—not north or west this time, but east. During the story you’re so caught up in the characters and how vividly they’re drawn that you don’t immediately notice the intricate way in which Carey draws connections to the world religions that we are so familiar with. Her alternate-history Earth is as rich with religious history as ours, and you can spend hours after reading just drawing comparisons, calling on all your knowledge of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
Even if I wasn’t a fan of Carey’s writing (which I am), I would have immense respect for the type of magic that she incorporates in this third book. These aren’t meant to be mystical fantasy tomes—their mysticism comes from religion, and outright magic wouldn’t be subtle enough. Instead, Phedre and Joscelin travel in search of the Name of God, to help free Phedre’s childhood friend, Hyacinthe, from an ancient binding.
The Earthsea cycle was my first foray into naming magic, and more recently we see it done especially well in The Kingkiller Chronicle. It just makes sense, in my humble opinion. There’s something about waving a wand and creating magic that seems too easy. But if you have to travel to the ends of the earth, and study for years and years, to learn the true name of something and thus gain power over it—that makes sense to me. It feels right. It feels earned. Other books do magic in different ways, and some of them are just as thoughtful and earned (like Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series). In this third book, when books one and two didn’t include an ounce of magic, Carey folds in a mystical religious power and makes it feel completely germane to the story.
What makes this book even better is the detour that our protagonists take on their way to the final destination. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but their time in the northeast while they’re doing a “favor” for Phedre’s arch enemy (though that term falls far shot of encompassing the beautiful complexity of Melisande), is the creepiest, most dangerous and deadly stuff that I’ve read in a good long while. It isn’t unsettling in a horror/suspense kind of way. It’s a window into the darkest depths a human soul can reach and still be vaguely human. It’s the perfect example of a villain who is terrifying because they are so thoroughly convinced that they are doing the right thing.
Carey, like any good author, doesn’t allow her protagonists to escape unscathed from contact with that sort of character. They are forever changed, and will bear those scars for the rest of their lives. The stakes are real—so real that you feel yourself hurting for them.
The last wonderful thing I’ll mention about this book is the introduction to a very important character. If you’re like me, and you can’t get enough of reading Carey’s writing, you’re going to want to keep going straight into the next trilogy. That trilogy features Imriel de la Courcel, who is introduced in a very effective manner in Kushiel’s Avatar. I don’t think you could truly understand him unless you know what he goes through in this book, so I highly recommend reading this one before you pick up Kushiel’s Scion.
All in all, Carey goes above and beyond and creates a more thrilling and rewarding book here than I would have thought possible. I love expecting fantastic writing and being surprised with phenomenal writing instead.