You know the phase, “Never judge a book by it’s cover”? Well, I never really listened to that one. I was always drawn to pretty, sparkly covers, and shunned their dull sisters, occasionally, to my regret. (Oh, regrets, I’ve had a few…) With some books, however, there is a justification for such superficiality.
The book Kushiel’s Dart transfixed me enough by its cover that I began to read it despite its bizarre jacket summary. (Actually, I’m lying here as I also cannot resist the truly bizarre, but that’s neither here nor there.) A summary that goes something like this:
‘In the land of Terre d’Ange, people are judged by their perfection. Phedre, who is almost perfect, is unlucky enough to be sold into indentured servitude, although her luck turns around when it appears her buyer, Anafiel Delaunay, recognizes her “imperfection” as a heavenly sign that she’s a perfect masochist.’
Yes, it gets better.
‘Phedre is taught to be a courtesan and a spy. While doing her “duty,” she discovers a plot to overthrow the throne and must seek out adventure if she is to save her homeland.’
Ok, it’s a little bizarre, but if anyone thinks about how strange some of the stuff genre fans read, it seems about right. After all, in Ender’s Game, a boy trained by computer games unknowingly annihilates an entire species at the request of the government. How normal is that even when compared to a masochistic prostitute leading a war to save a queen? (alright, forget it.) If, however, he or she can get past the unusual premise, the skeptical reader can find a well-written and well-paced book. The characters are interesting (given the subject matter, I would hope so) and there is enough situational humor to help get past even the darkest parts of the book. I especially liked how they took a heroine who, for all intents and purposes should have been weak and gave her nerves of steel. In fact, her biggest weakness (can you guess??) turned out to be her biggest strength since she could withstand pain her friends couldn’t.
The mythology, as opposed to others in the genre, was really well done. There is a pantheon of beings and Ms. Carey can not only keep them straight the whole way through (which I don’t always find), but she treats them as real beings and almost had me believing in them as well. Her mythology gives a solid motivation for her characters and explains many evens such as why (plot twist straight ahead!) Phedre’s greatest enemy is also her greatest love (cue the ‘oooh’s) who is the perfect sadist to go with the perfect masochist (and now the groans). The humor inherent in their struggle against each other is there, but is also done in such a deadpan as to not make it trite. That, as children of the same god, they can love and hate in equal parts was an interesting concept.
So, as it turns out, the cover did not disappoint. There was romance, adventure and strong chicks. The tone and language were simple, elegant and compelling, which is nice in a book as odd as its target audience.