One of my favorite low fantasy series is Kushiel’s Legacy and Naamah’s Saga, both written by Jacqueline Carey.  The only word that adequately describes the entirety of the series is the word ‘epic’, and that’s because there is just so much going on in every book.  Hopefully I’ll be able to describe them adequately.

First off, some world back story.  The entire world that the Kushiel and Naamah books take place in is an alternate version of our own medieval European history.  The books are largely set in a land called Terre d’Ange, which in our world would be France.  And Terre d’Ange is very ‘French’.  Jacqueline Carey does a good job of miming the characteristics that we associate with certain cultures in her own.  Terre d’Ange is a place full of beauty, grace, love and political intrigue.  Their religion mirrors our Christianity very, very closely and brings a little bit of mortality to their gods.

Their principle god, Blessed Elua, can be associated with the Jesus of Christianity although he is technically a fallen angel in this canon, and Elua had several companions (disciples) all extolling different human virtues.  Naamah is love and desire in all its forms, Kushiel is justice, there’s a god for music and healing, one for childbirth and motherhood, the list goes on.  And each companion of Elua founded a line in Terre d’Ange, and centuries later the decendants of these houses carry the gifts of their ancestors, no matter how thin that blood is within the individual.

Now Terre d’Ange follows Blessed Elua’s principal law of ‘Love as thou wilt‘.  And really there’s no need for translation there.  D’Angelans are free to love whom they will in what manner they desire, so long as both parties are willing.  In this culture rape is only referred to as heresy as it goes against the basis of their religion.

There’s so much more to talk about, but the foundation has been laid for the books so lets move on.  I’ll be briefly summarizing each book here, and linking to the wiki pages of each book as we go if anyone wants more detailed information.

The start of the Kushiel Legacy is Kushiel’s Dart where we are introduced to Phedre, a young girl born in the city of Elua to a servant of Naamah and is sold to one of the night plasure houses to be trained as a courtesan.  Now Phedre has a distinctive red mote in her left eye, a characteristic that marks her as one of Kushiel’s bloodline, or at least one of his chosen.  And because of Kushiel’s hand on Phedre’s destiny, she is ‘cursed’ to feel pleasure through pain, in all their forms.  Physical, mental, emotional, it’s all good.  Any kind of pain she personally experiences or inflicts on another, she gets off on it in some way.  Phedre was also taken in rather young by a peer of the realm of Terre d’Ange, and raised as a lady of the court while being trained as a spy.   So she’s a courtesan spy, and thankfully she’s either possessed of a certain inherent grace, or else it’s instilled in her, because she recognizes this flaw in her and does not seek to feed it.

Kushiel’s Dart obviously is all about back story.  We’re introduced to Phedre, her best friend Hyacinthe, her patron Anafiel Delaunay who trains her as a spy, her body guard Joscelin Verreuil who becomes her husband later in the series, and Melisandre Sharizzai who is Phedre’s lover, nemesis, kindred spirit, the antagonist of most of Phedre’s Trilogy, and the lynch pin to Imril’s trilogy.  Phedre is sold into slavery, almost skinned alive, uncovers a plot instigated by Melisandre to overthrow the current ruler of the realm, stops it, units two monarchs in marriage and love, and does it all through love, pain, sex and understanding.  Whew!  And that’s just book 1.

Book 2, Kushiel’s Chosen has Phedre running around the world searching for the traitor Melisandre, her affirmation as a chosen of Kushiel, as well as trying to find a way for Hyacinthe to escape a curse that was laid upon him in Kushiel’s Dart as Phedre was trying to save the world.  At the end of this one, Phedre finds Melisandre, Hyacinthe is still kinda cursed, and she learns the true name of God.

Kushiel’s Avatar rounds out Phedre’s trilogy. Taking place ten years after the events of Kushiel’s Chosen, Kushiel’s Avatar finds Phedre happily married to Jocelyn and at peace with her life as part of the creme of D’Angeline society, but the curse her friend Hyacinthe suffers under still haunts her.  And in her continuing quest to try and free him, Phedre must journey to the far corners of the world, endure all manner of darkness and evils, and fight through hell itself to save the most unlikely key to saving her friend: Melisandre’s son, Imriel.

But Kushiel’s Legacy does not end here, but it is the end of Phedre’s time in the spotlight and the rise of the star for the next hero: Imriel.  Kushiel’s Scion starts Imriel’s trilogy, where the young prince is tasked with a great quest to win the hand of the princess he loves.  Find his traitor mother and clear the cloud her actions created that follow him through not fault of his own, and find who trained the master of spies, Phedre’s patron and trainer Anafiel Delaunay.  And of course it’s not easy for him.  Like Phedre, he must travel far to complete his quest, a task made much harder for the distrust and cold shoulders his ‘family’ and peers give him all because of who his mother is.  Phedre is still a part of this trilogy as she was Imriel’s foster mother once she rescued him from hell, but she makes few appearances and serves more as an adviser and friend more than anything else.

Kushiel’s Justice comes next, and here Imriel sets into motion events that will have reprecussions for centuries.  Engaged to a princess of neibouring Alba, Imriel goes against his heart and Blessed Elua’s precept of Love As Thou Wilt by marrying her and getting her with child.  A child who will bring blood and death to the world.  As a result, a shaman of Alba kills Imriel’s wife and unborn child, condemning himself and his people by his actions and launching Imriel into a quest of vengeance for the rest of the book.

Kushiel’s Mercy is the last of Kushiel’s Legacy and Imriel’s trilogy.  After the disastrous events of the first book, Imriel and his true love, the D’Angeline princess, have finally faced the truth that they are meant for each other.  But fate always conspires against them and the gods use their chosen hard.  During a demonstrationg by some wizards of a far away land, the entire city of Elua is placed under a spell, and the princess is spirited away to be the bride of the king of the land in an attempt to execute a bloodless coup and take over Terre D’Ange.  But one must never stand in the way of true love, and Imriel goes forth to save his lady love and return her to their homeland so they can both break the spell that the populace was cursed with.

The Moirin trilogy comes next, and starts off Naamah’s saga.  Here we see the joining of D’Angline and Alban bloodlines when a bear-witch of the Magda Dohn lies with a priest of Naamah and gets with child.  Now Alba is basically our Britain, and the Magda Dohn are essentially Celts.  They worship a very natural, very primal goddess called the Magda Dohn who takes the form of a giant bear, and our heroine Moirin is born into their proud, primal, somewhat savage culture.  Accepted by the bear goddess of her people, Moirin is tasked with a great destiny and sets forth to find her father and his people, and learn more about his gods who have always played a role in her life.  Naamah’s Kiss is the first of Moirin’s tale, and again this is mostly used for back story but she does take the first steps into her destiny here.  She almost frees a demon, beds a queen, and travels to far away Ch’in (China) where she meets Bao and his master Lou Feng who teach her many things about the world, and help her to save it by saving a dragon and stopping an all out war.  But this book does not have a happy ending.  Bao and Moirin begin to fall in love with each other, but he is scared and confused and leaves her, and at the very end she decides to go after him.

Naamah’s Curse picks up here, where Moirin eventually tracks down Bao, but once again they are separated albeit against their will.  Bao tries to marry the daughter of a powerful chieftain of the plains, and when Moirin comes along she convinces him to follow his heart and come back to her.  But before Bao can, Moirin is betrayed by the chieftain and sold into slavery to a fanatical religious cult where they try to brainwash her into forswearing her goddess and her people, and is almost stoned to death as a witch when she refuses.  But escaping with the help of a young man questioning the world, she set off again to find Bao who believes her dead and has gone in the opposite direction and become a slave himself of a dark goddess of desire.  Moirin of course save him through daring heroics and adventures, and they set forth once more for Terre D’Ange where Moirin learns that the queen she so loved in Naamah’s Kiss has died giving birth to a daughter.

Okay!  That’s a lot to take in.  But trust me dear readers when I say it is all worth it in the end.  Now you know almost as much as I do, for there are so, so many things that happen between these lines that I cannot even begin to describe.  Love, lust, loss, joy, pain, sorrow, life, death, adventure and political intrigue.  Kushiel’s Legacy certainly has it all.  And with one more in Moirin’s trilogy coming and no true end in sight, I think it will continue to deliver for some time yet.

Enjoy folks.