Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Report: Kushiel's Dart

How to not endear a character to me: start out by describing how she's beautiful except for that one little flaw which would only matter to the sort of shallow, vapid person she was born and bred to be. Then spend the first five or six chapters watching her glide through a childhood where she never even peels a potato, sighing about how she doesn't "belong."

So the story shows signs of life around six chapters in (what do they tell writers about starting at the beginning, not before it?) and normally I would've tossed the book already. But this did make Tor's top ten list and my vocabulary is getting a workout, so I hang on.

Our narrator improves, and is surrounded by characters I came to care about. Did I enjoy it? ...yes, but Phedre's essential arrogance and martyr's attitude remained tedious whenever they resurfaced.

When I picked this up, I learned that it apparently has a reputation for being "about S&M." That's an element, true. As such things go, it's braided into the story better than most. But for all Phedre's carrying on about it, she always shifts to glossing over such scenes at some point. Which is a little like singing the glories of the hunt but skipping the part where you cut an animal's throat, hang it up by its ankles for the blood to drain, and eviscerate it carefully so you don't get excrement all over your meat. It's a bit dishonest to ignore the grim realities of what you're doing, IMO.

Just my opinion. But if you're curious about S&M, this is a good book for seeing if you're curious enough to go deeper into the genre. Or not. Back when I was curious about such things, I picked up The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, which is really too much, too soon, and what-the-hell-does-this-have-to-do-with-anything for someone who's only curious.

I read Kushiel's Dart for the supporting cast, and because of the supporting cast I won't be reading the other two books in this trilogy. I may try the first volume of the second trilogy, though. The author writes a dense, lush prose that, as I mentioned, gives your vocabulary list a workout without losing you if you don't know the word immediately. (off the top of your head -- what's fustian?) That, I respect.


Lucy V Morgan said...

The Kushiel novels are some of my favourites.

I found the second and third in a discount bookstore and took them on holiday. To begin with, the opening to no2 was dense and I pressed on with it because I was on a plane and had nothing else to read(!).

So glad that I did, though. True, Phedre is a bit Mary Sue (in fact Dart was the last of these books that I read, and she did irk me a bit) but Carey really shines when she's writing Imriel and friends (Scion-Mercy). There's a lot more humour to offset the angst, and he keeps screwing things up as opposed to inventing the wheel. He's really suffered, and the way he deals with his childhood traumas as a young man is touching. He also has a more realistic--and intriguing--approach to s&m.

You might not fancy it, Blankenship; if anybody else does, though, Kushiel's Scion is a good place to dive in.

Anonymous said...

Fustian is a type of fabric, I think. But then I read lots of medieval history...

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