Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey

The Big Peat

Darth Buddha
Apr 9, 2016
Most of the things I have to say about Kushiel's Avatar, the final book in Jacqueline Carey's Phèdre trilogy, amount to you should read the whole thing.

Which is ironic given how much time I spent griping when doing a recent readalong of the book. Still, this review assumes you didn’t see any of that. This review assumes you’ve not read the series that starts with Kushiel’s Dart at all.

Kushiel’s Avatar displays all the traits you will find in said starter turned up to eleven. The combination of a highly personal journey and idiosyncratic worldview with huge stakes and epic travails. The non-judgmental exploration of sexuality, particularly as relating to BDSM, violence in sexuality, and sexual violence (which aren’t the same thing). The use of that exploration as a jumping off point for themes of power, strength, and free will. The combination of all those things into emotional, dramatic arcs that provide huge amounts of cathartic joy at the risk of the occasional eyeroll.

Carey executes this with lucid prose, deft timing, and a love of her characters. Even the minor characters have their quirks, their histories, their reasons for mattering.

This all ticks a lot of boxes on the list of what I like in books, and what I know others like as well. The series deserves promoting today in particular for its emphasis on reasons why our chosen one, Phèdre, gets involved in saving the day. Make no mistake; she is a chosen one, of a most unconventional nature. She is marked from birth for a destiny, granted supernatural gifts of being very, very masochistic in the bedroom. Even today, there’s a limited choice when it comes to fantasy books where the protagonist sometimes gets a little dreamy about the time someone put them on a leash…

… while still being heroic in terms of resilience and intellect…

… and without their sexual tastes being a mere footnote or completely taking over the book.

I digress, although that too will be a selling point for some. I feel like there’s a lot of fantasy fans who want to see people save the world, but for reasons beyond “the world needs saved”. They want to have it all when it comes to personal and epic, and Carey delivers by the ton here.

Kushiel’s Avatar turns that to eleven too.

Of course, going through these sort of events is likely to be life-changing and here’s an element where the book shines. The way Phèdre’s personality has evolved is put completely on display. Carey is so good at those little callbacks, that sense of evolving character and world.

Or, at least, evolving world within the constraints of the book. Carey’s worldbuilding doesn’t do it for me. It has a decent level of surface glamour but that is limited by it being more or less alt-history, and when you dig I don’t find it bears the load.

I must add too that these books are very long. In Kushiel’s Avatar‘s case, too long as a rereader (although the one fresh reader with us seemed to have less problems, which is in line with my memory). Truthfully, much as I like parts of this book, and this trilogy, Carey doesn’t quite stick the landing here.

Yet the good hugely outweighs the bad. What Jacqueline Carey has wrought here deserves to be remembered. Hopefully this review will help.

[This review was originally posted at Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey ]

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