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Kushiel's Justice

(Cross Posted from Time4Reading)

So yeah...I sorta neglected the other books I was supposed to be reading for December and January...cause...well...there was history and kinky sex. Can you blame me?

We left off in Kushiel's Scion with Prince Imriel no Montreve de la Courcel returning from nearly dying in the siege of Lucca, coming home to the safety of Phedre and Joscelin's love, and the vagaries of his 2nd cousin Queen Ysandre's court, (as Imriel's father is Ysandre's great-uncle). He has come home to do his duty to his Queen, as Ysandre asked him in the last book to marry the niece of her husband, the Cruarch of Alba, to ensure that there is a D'Angeline presence involved in the succession of the Cruarch's line, (it is passed down to the son of the sister of the Cruarch). While Imriel hardly knows the girl and isn't thrilled with the idea of marrying someone he doesn't know, he feels that perhaps he can escape the demons of his birth mother's deeds by doing as the Queen wills, and thus bringing a settlement to what was proving to be a long argument about the Alban succession.

There is one small problem though...Imriel is very much attracted to Queen Ysandre's heir, the Dauphine Sidonie. And it turns out she feels the same for him. No sooner as Imriel returned and taken on the mantel of his new duty as a future Prince of Alba than he and Sidonie begin a illicit affair, hoping that whatever it is that is between them will burn out and fade before Imriel has to wed Dorelei, the Cruarch's niece. What neither expects is that they would fall in love with one another. Blessed Elua founded Terre D'Ange on the precept of Love as thou wilt, the only command he had for his children. But Imriel and Sidonie are caught in a careful game of politics, and ignore Elua's precepts in order to appease the thrones of Terre D'Ange and Alba. What transpires brings tragedy and grief for Imriel, and threatens the throne of both nations. And Imriel, as the Scion of Kushiel, is forced to bring the justice of the One God's punisher to one who would slaughter the innocent, learning a great deal about himself, his love for Dorelei and Sidonie, and what it meant when it was said that "Kushiel loved those he punished too much."

As in her other four books, Jaqueline Carey paints for us a vivid world that is like ours, but not. In this adventure we get to go back to Alba, for the first time since Phedre went there in the first book, Kushiel's Dart. There we get to see a different Alba, a peaceful one and learn about the culture there and the people. We see it through the eyes of Imriel, who is made a prince of the land through his marriage, and how strange and threatening, but at the same time warm it is to him. She also manages to take us to the 'Flatlands', that area that makes up the countrys of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in our world, a place that is little mentioned in the previous books, but which serves as the jumping off point for a totally new land, that of Vralia.

It is a land that is eerily like the newly converted Christian lands of the real life medieval Rus, with a touch of Constantine the Great about it, a place where the beleagered Yeshuites, (the Christian/Jews of this world), can call home, but at what price to their faith. It's a land that is being born out of the tumultuous changes it finds itself in, being forced to by sword to a new faith that preaches non-violence. In an eery parallel to the real life promulgation of Christianity in Europe, (including in Russia in the 900's), Vralia is both a safe haven for believers and a deadly place for those who do not wish to agree to the new world order according to their now Yeshuite ruler, Tadeuz Vral. I found this juxtaposition of the real life/fantasy world very interesting. And I loved the question it posed that as a student of history from this period, I had never asked...how much do the gods change when we force them to? Yeshua is being adapted to this new Vralian world, much to the discomfort of the pilgrims from the west who have held the same belief for years. How comfortable are they with that change, and does this make Yeshua different? The questions Carey posses are no different than the scholars of the real world ask themselves, and I think that it's brilliant that she didn't flinch in bringing them out in what is, for all intense purposes, an erotic fantasy book.

Mind you, most of the erotic happens in the first part of the book...but then...

Imriel's development as a person has been interesting to watch. As much as he grew in Tiberium, seeking to find what it meant to 'be good' and to do what was right, it is only through his marriage to Dorelei that he finds out what it is that he could be. Self-centered and brooding, Imriel perhaps has a right to be all those things, but its Dorelei who convinces him that he doesn't have to be defined by his parents, his position, or the situation he finds himself in. Thrown into a marriage of political convenience and against the hearts of both of them, they agree to make of it what they could, and in their own way find love and respect for one another despite the fact that Imriel's heart belonged to Sidonie. While Imriel did not love Dorelei half as well as he believed she deserved, he did love her, and his quest to find her murderer after her death would teach him a lot about what loving someone and caring for them meant. Sometimes, it isn't about getting what you want, it's about meeting somewhere in between, and in doing so, finding something special and wonderful all of its own. It is this heart and compassion that Imriel is learning, first from Phedre and Joscelin, then from Dorelei, that is making Imriel the caring, compassionate person that he is, so different from the cruel calculations of his mother.

Imriel perhaps is a Prince of the Blood in Terre D'Ange, but he's gone through much in his young life. Perhaps his greatest strength is in learning to accept those cultures and societies that are different from his own, even if he doesn't always understand them. Imriel tries to accept Alban society, even as he longs for his home. He finds in Alba men worthy of respect, especially in the form of Urist, and the others from Clunderry who perhaps are barbaric in D'Angeline terms, but who are more honorable and worthwhile than the likes of Barquiel L'Envers. As his travels to him to Vralia, he learns a great deal of this new Yeshuite world, and how a faith is changing the land, much as his own land was changed. And he even befriends a Tartar prisoner, a man whose people Imriel dislikes thanks to his own experiences in Darsanga. Unlike his mother, who often sought to see how she could best employ these cultures for her own ends, Imriel takes them as they are and embraces them, much in the same way that Phedre herself did. And because of this, Imriel is not blinded by the wonders of his homeland, like so many other young D'Angelines are, but has gained a greater understanding of the worth of the world around him, and what it can bring him.

I think I am most impressed by Imriel's acknowledgement of the mistakes he has made and the consequences of those mistakes. He never means to hurt anyone intentionally, but sometimes it is a fact in the decisions we make. I think this is something key to understanding his mother, and it was once alluded to in passing by Melisande to him, and by Mavros, his cousin as well. Everyone makes choices that hurt, sometimes kill people. It is facing the fact that you have made those choices and deceiding how best to deal with them that is important when growing up. And in this book, perhaps more than in the previous one, Imriel passes from boyhood to adult, and learns how to deal with the consequences of the choices he's made.

As always, I have to complain about something in the book, and as usual, I think my biggest complaint is the pacing. It spans a period of two years, starting from Imriel's return from Lucca, to his return from Vralia after retrieving the head of the man who killed his wife. It seemed to take forever in some spots, and while much of the information on Clunderry in Alba was enjoyable to read, I felt that so much time was devoted to it, I forgot that there was a whole section before that with Imriel and Sidonie. It seemed almost as if it were a seperate book unto itself.

Also, the title, Kushiel's Justice, OK, I sorta get it in the multiple levels of 'justice' going on here, but I never quite understood WHY Kushiel wanted justice on Berlick. I know it may go without saying in a way, he did kill an innocent girl and her unborn child, but was there a particular reason WHY this had to be a mission of Kushiel's? Because the last time Kushiel's justice was given out, it was to thwart a great evil on the world. Perhaps we could have gotten more of a clue? I couldn't figure out if it was justice on Imriel and Sidonie for ignoring Elua's precepts and going along with Ysandre's desire for Imriel's marriage, or on Ysandre for putting thrones before Elua's precept, or on Berlick for killing the innocents and breaking his word, or on Drustan for ignoring the threat of Berlick's people.

And maybe...it's all of the above and that's part of the point.

I am sad now though, this is the end of the series so far, at least till June. Jaqueline Carey says there will be more Kushiel books afterwards, and I'm looking forward to her further forays into the world she's created. I find it fascinating and intersting, and I can't wait to see what happens with Imriel and Sidonie, and what their love means for the future of Terre D'Ange.