There’s a stigma at the mention of Kushiel’s Dart, where labels do label things and either turn people off of books or turn people onto them (pun not intended, but very welcome). Romance and all its subgenres are particularly vulnerable to labels doing label things, as is YA, where people look up a book, see its most popular labels, and judge the book as easily as they would by its cover. It’s something I formerly did subconsciously, finding a book labeled as a genre I generally don’t like because of its themes and casting it aside. I recently came to realize what I was doing – generalizing entire genres without a second thought – and once I did realize and actually picked up those I would have cast aside, I came across some of my favorite recent books, like Pierce Brown’s Rising trilogy, Victoria Schwab’s work, and now Kushiel’s Dart.
On the surface, sure, there’s romance in the book, and in my mind most good stories need some kind of romance to have that feeling of completeness. Romance just can’t be the thing, the entire focus of the book, for me. After finishing, I can safely say that it’s not. Kushiel’s Dart is one of the most sweeping, richly detailed, and simply engrossing books I have read for quite some time. It really does have everything: action, adventure, intrigue, love, war, heroes & villains, you name it. Yeah, it obviously has BDSM, considering Phedre is a courtesan that receives pleasure from pain, but it isn’t the focus; it’s a tool that Phedre uses to see her will done in the same way a sword is to a soldier, as she has a rare gift being the first anguisette in an age.
Incredibly deep world and characters, plenty you love to love, like Joscelin, Hyacinthe, and Ysandre, love to hate, like Melisande, and many yet in between. The book’s an absolute tome at almost a thousand pages, though. I can’t imagine how anyone can look at Kushiel’s Dart, see its labels, description, and page count and still think it’s a shallow romance for kink-enthusiasts. Carey writes in an odd manner that’s generally beautiful but occasionally purple in its use of archaic speech:
And then the sails rose, steady and majestic, deep blue with the Courcel swan: three in a row, the greatest at the center, with smaller sails fore and aft. The wind filled them and they bellied out, snapping, setting the silver swan aflight.
and I reckon a few pages could’ve been edited down here and there, but there were no points in the story that I was thinking “are we there yet?” from Phedre’s coming of age a few chapters in all the way to the final pages, where my heart stopped and restarted too many times to count.