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This is the first book in the Treason's Heir trilogy, a follow up trilogy to Kushiel's Legacy (Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's chosen, Kushiel's Avatar). You don't need to have read the first trilogy, but that one does explain the world that the books are set in a more detailed way and first introduces the main character- Imriel. The book follows Imriel's growth into manhood through his troubled adolescence. He is the son of the realm's greatest traitor and he is third in line for the throne. Imriel must suffer jealousy and suspicion as well as dealing with his tragic past. When he comes of age, he leaves his homeland, and ends up embroiled in a battle, where one of his friends dies.
The book is set in a country modelled on an alternative renaissance France, although the religion and culture are unique to the author's imagination. The world is richly imagined, and full of depth. There are lots of interesting characters and cultures to explore, so if this appeals to you, then the books probably will too. However, this can make them slow moving at times. Kushiel's scion is probably one of the more fast paced of Jacqueline Carey's novels towards the end, but the beginning it is tedious, which helps the reader empathise with Imriel's frustration.
The book is written in the first person- Imriel's point of view. I don't think the writing style would be to everyone's taste as there is a lot of description and flowery language but for me this just adds to the beauty of the book. If you liked Kushiel's legacy, then the writing style is similar, although perhaps not entirely the same. It is Imriel's voice instead of Phedre's and they are two very different characters.
There is less sex in this book than in some of Jacqueline Carey's other novels, but it is perhaps some of the most disturbing. Imriel lives with the scars, both physical and mental of being sold as a sex slave in Kushiel's Avatar. There are descriptions of non consensual sex, which are not suitable for all audiences, although they are very moving scenes. There is also a scene in which Imriel attends a BDSM orgy, which, if this is not to you taste should probably be avoided. However, unlike Phedre, Imriel is not comfortable in this environment.
The battle scenes are really well written, and I felt real grief when one of the characters dies. This book is probably one of the more action packed in the series. There is a lot of emotion, and I really felt involved with the characters and their dilemmas. I would say that the series comes across occasionally as having a bit of an agenda- You should do what your heart feels is right, rather than what you think you "should" do. However, the books are not preachy and it's not forced down your throat.
I would really recommend this book but it is very long- 768 pages in fact! If you enjoy it, the sequels are Kushiel's Mercy and Kushiel's Justice. It can be bought for under £5 on Amazon currently, which is a bargain. I also think the cover art is nicer on these books than the Kushiel's Legacy cover art, but that is obviously a matter of opinion.
Set in the same alternative Renaissance time line as Carey's previous three Kushiel novels, this is the first of a trilogy focusing on Imriel nó Montrève de la Courcel. Whilst it is able to stand on its own by giving some needed background information within the story, told from Imriel's point of view, it is actually a continuation of the Kushiel saga featuring Imriel's now foster mother, the anguisette former courtesan Phèdre nó Delauney. It's a tale of a young boy's quest to discover who he really is as a human being and to find his true place in the world, when all he has known before was a lie.
His parents were of the royal house in the land of Terre D'Ange and committed treason in a grab for the throne. His father escaped his sentence by dying before he could be executed, and his mother by fleeing and taking refuge in a temple. After giving birth to Imriel, his mother sent him away to a monastery where he grew up happy and carefree, believing himself an ordinary child. Taken by passing slavers at the age of ten, he endured horrific sexual abuse at the hands of a dark prince and his minions, only escaping when the queen of Terre D'Ange charges Phèdre and Joscelin to find the missing prince of the Blood and to return him to the bosom of the family his parents betrayed.
As you might guess from the my use of the word saga earlier, this is an epic novel. A real doorstopper of a book, it is not something to just pick up lightly and try to read in snatches on a train. A real page turner, this re imagining of the Renaissance world is rich and textured. It's an easy world to slide into, with ancient place names (such as Alba for Scotland) giving us points of reference. The multitude of gods worshipped are rather central to the storyline, with the Christ-like Elua and Kushiel being the most prominent in the story's importance. Kushiel himself is a dark godling/angel, but not a devil figure, being numbered amongst Elua's companions.
Kushiel is the Punisher: "He gave them pain like balm, and they begged him for it, finding not redemption, but a love that transcended the divine. " His followers and mortal descendents are sado-masochists, who seem to search for the divine through pleasurable pain. The story is ripe with sexual tensions and some readers may feel uncomfortable with the discussion of the child sex abuse Imriel suffered, as well as the graphic sexual scenes of his later adulthood. It's all tastefully done, however, and actually central to the story and its politics. It's disturbing when it is supposed to be, and in other places beautiful, though definitely not for younger readers or the sensitive as it quite graphicly plumbs both the depraved and the gently sublime ends of the sexual spectrum, along with bloody battle scenes with their requisite gore. Not a moment of reading time is wasted on scenes that are unimportant, however. The book is not meant to merely titillate, but to explore along with Imriel as he comes to grips with his legacy as a Prince of the Blood and his dark heritage.
The ending of the book ties up quite neatly, though with an awareness that just as Imriel has now moved forward into a new chapter of his life, the saga will continue into the next book picking up where we left Imriel. Having encountered tantalising hints of as yet unrevealed intrigues in the background, the reader is left looking forward to seeing more of this personable young prince and seeing him continue to right old wrongs as he finds his way. It leaves a promise of more convoluted plots, swashbuckling adventure aplenty, dark sorcery lurking in the wings, and tortuous romance, both literally and figuratively speaking. It's a promise I find myself hoping that Jacqueline Carey can deliver on as well as she did in this novel, and looking forward to finding out.
This review first appeared at The Book Bag.