Note: It is possible to read this book as a stand alone as relevant events from Book 1 and Book 2 are reflected upon in enough detail for a reader of Book 3 to grasp the point. However, I highly recommend reading the earlier books so that you get the most out of this book.
Set 10 years after Book 2, Kushiel’s Chosen, Phedre and Joscelin have had all that time to settle into their relationship. Both have made compromises to their wants in order to make room for their love. Phedre only takes two assignations a year in Naamah’s service while Joscelin has learned to let his sense of humor show here and there. But through this well-earned and hard-found bliss, Phedre has never forgotten Hyacinthe and his sacrifice for Terre D’Ange and herself. He still lives an isolated life out on the Three Sisters, learning the powers of the Master of the Straights. Then she receives an unexpected missive from an old enemy and one-time patron, Melisande. Phedre’s adventuring days are not over yet.
This is a re-read for me. I have enjoyed this series over and over again and it was awesome to revisit this book as part of a read along with several blogger friends. They brought new insights to this much beloved book. I have always found this book to be the darkest of the first trilogy. The entire series deals with consent in its many myriad forms. However, in this installment of the series we see how those lines can get blurred and shattered apart. This epic fantasy is not for the faint of heart.
There’s two plot lines for Joscelin and Phedre to solve in this book and one has always been more interesting to me than the other. First, as we know from Book 2, Melisande had a son who she somehow spirited away. Now, it is up to Phedre and Joscelin to track down this long-lost Prince of the Blood, Imriel. Second, the Master of the Straights has passed his powers on to Hyacinthe after a long 10-year apprenticeship. Phedre still searches for the key to free him and will never give up.
The search for Imriel is the one that has always held my attention. It deals with child slavery and the broken trust of a child and how, if ever, to recover that trust. Meanwhile, I have never gotten caught up fully in Hyacinthe’s plight. He went into the agreement with full knowledge as an adult. I know the life on the Three Sisters is a complete 180 for him, being trapped on these three isles with only his servants and the Master of the Straights for company. And yet…. Well, I always felt that he was moping about it, for ten years. He wasn’t trying to make the most of the situation. He wasn’t making an effort to embrace the few, yet awesomely powerful, perks of his new station in life and I think that is what dampened my feelings towards him. Meanwhile, Phedre was all in an anguish over him every other chapter and felt this great survivor’s guilt for not having been the one trapped on that isle instead of Hyacinthe. It’s totally in keeping with Phedre’s personality, and yet I still found it a little tiring.
So, setting aside that one tiny quibble, this is an excellent book to wrap up the first trilogy. Phedre’s gods ask her to take on a dangerous and most difficult task. The asking is subtle and I feel there’s plenty there for each reader to interpret their own way. The magic of Terre D’Ange is not often direct. Phedre’s deities will be tested by the dark powers that have taken up residence in Darsanga, a land far to the east of Terre D’Ange. Phedre and Joscelin won’t be able to count on any help from friends and allies. My heart really went out to Joscelin on this one. In the past books, Phedre’s actions have often tested Joscelin’s vows, but this is a new level. I think both Phedre and Joscelin lost a little bit of themselves.
There’s plenty of travel for Phedre and Joscelin in this story. New lands and new cultures are explored. The Yeshuites continue to play a part in this tale. Indeed, they have quite a significant role in part of the adventure. It’s easy to see how both Phedre and Joscelin have grown throughout the series in this book. They take on meeting new peoples in stride and adapting their own manners to be more accommodating to their hosts. In Book 1 and Book 2, Phedre can sometimes come off as a little conceited. I think she’s really grown out of that here in Book 3. She still observes differences, but she’s not longer simply comparing those differences to the ways of Terre D’Ange.
As with the first two books, the author doesn’t shy away from detailed sex scenes. They are always used to move the plot forward or show some aspect of the characters. One of the reasons that I adore these books is that they don’t ignore the fact that sex is a main driver for human behavior and that how we treat someone both outside and inside the bedroom is important (and sometimes is mightily different). This book contains one of my favorite sex scenes of all time. It involves fishing. The scene was moving, beautiful, arousing, loving, sensual, and meaningful.
Enough gushing. You know by now that I adore this book even if I find it the darkest of the three. I also find that it holds the most food for thought. The myriad of characters show their strengths, and try to hide their weaknesses, in a variety of ways. It’s not just swords and muscles that will win your way through this adventure. The ending was quite satisfying. Not everyone got everything they were hoping for, but everyone got enough.
The Narration: Once again, Anne Flosnik gives a stellar performance. The list of accents needed for this trilogy grows yet again with this installment. I can’t imagine the amount of research she had to put into this before she could begin the narration. Her character voices are always distinct and she holds this accent or that accent steady for each character. I love her little kid voice for Imriel. Great narration!