Last year, I reread one of my all-time favorite series of books – Jacqueline Carey’s Phèdre trilogy (Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, Kushiel’s Avatar). I highly, highly recommend this series. I’m a lifelong fantasy reader but I have to admit that I find the whole white guy on a horse carrying a sword aspect of fantasy highly problematic. What’s so great about a white guy on a horse carrying a sword? That’s the last thing the American Indians saw before their entire civilization was destroyed and their populations completely decimated. In this trilogy, Carey subverts the tradition of the warrior hero. She still tells a broad, sweeping, epic adventure story about a chosen one who saves the world in a time of epochal war but in her story the chosen one is a woman whose power is the ability to transmute pain into pleasure. Phèdre is an anguisette – a woman gifted by the gods with the ability to turn pain into pleasure. Yup, basically her magic is all about sex. Which means these books are chock-full of sex scenes and there’s a strong BDSM element to those sex scenes. But before you write this book off as another 50 Shades of Grey, let me emphasize that the books are well-written and that Jacqueline Carey thinks very carefully about the implications of what Phèdre’s abilities mean and these books are as intelligent as they are fun.
The theme of these books can easily be “that which yields is not always weak”. Fantasy heroes and heroines tend to be warriors. A sword is an inescapably masculine object. Warriors, regardless of sex, are yang. Their success depends upon aggressive action. But the heroine of the Phèdre trilogy is not a warrior. She is completely yin. Her strength lies not in her ability to use overwhelming force, but in her ability to love, in her intelligence, in her resilience. Jacqueline Carey uses the idea that “that which yields is not always weak” and takes the heroine and the reader on a surprising journey over the course of these three books.
I wish I could write more about these books but I have 20 books to review in two days so I’ll just have to hope that someday I’ll do Jacqueline Carey justice and write a better, deeper review of her amazing series.