Kushiel's Mercy

Kushiel's Scion, the first volume in Jacqueline Carey's second Kushiel trilogy, had extremely big shoes to fill. Doubtless, it was unfair as far as expectations go. Its predecessor, Kushiel's Avatar was the culmination of a great tapestry of complex storylines that had been woven over the course of three unforgettable volumes. Naturally, it raised the bar sky-high and created lofty expectations that could not possibly be met by whatever came next. Overall, though it was a great read in its own right, Kushiel's Scion turned out to be a transition book bridging the gap between the two Kushiel series and a vast introduction setting the stage for what would take place in the two subsequent installments. With Kushiel's Justice, however, Carey truly knocked it out of the park. With most of the groundwork laid out in the first volume, the set-up phase was pretty much non-existent and the author took us on a number of memorable journeys that would change Imriel's life forever.

And with Kushiel's Avatar being such a grand slam, I had high hopes that Kushiel's Mercy would bring this second trilogy to the same kind of remarkable ending. Although this one started off quite strong, I felt that it relied a little too heavily on the romance between Imriel and Sidonie. As a result, it was not as multilayered as previous Kushiel books. And though it offers resolution regarding plotlines from both series and it closes the show on this second trilogy in satisfying fashion, Kushiel's Mercy was the weakest installment of the bunch. Granted, this has more to do with the fact that the five novels that preceded it were truly amazing reads. And weakest volume or not, there is no denying that Kushiel's Mercy remains better than most fantasy offerings on the market today.

Here's the blurb:

Having learned a lesson about thwarting the will of the gods, Imriel and Sidonie publicly confess their affair, only to see the country boil over in turmoil. Younger generations, infatuated by their heart-twisting, star-crossed romance, defend the couple. Many others cannot forget the betrayals of Imriel’s mother, Melisande, who plunged their country into a bloody war that cost the lives of their fathers, brothers, and sons.

To quell the unrest, Ysandre, the queen, sets her decree. She will not divide the lovers, yet neither will she acknowledge them. If they marry, Sidonie will be disinherited, losing her claim on the throne. There’s only one way they can truly be together. Imriel must perform an act of faith: search the world for his infamous mother and bring her back to Terre d’Ange to be executed for treason.

Facing a terrible choice, Imriel and Sidonie prepare ruefully for another long separation. But when a dark foreign force casts a shadow over Terre d’Ange and all the surrounding countries, their world is turned upside down, alliances of the unlikeliest kind are made, and Imriel and Sidonie learn that the god Elua always puts hearts together apurpose.

Jacqueline Carey's worldbuilding has always been astonishing and I feel that the author never received the respect she deserves in that regard. Eschewing the traditional European medieval environment, Carey's creation is akin to the Renaissance era and it is set in an alternate version of Western Europe. With each new book, she took us on fabulous journeys that enabled readers to discover more about her universe and she never disappointed in doing so. Richly detailed and imagined in terms of cultures, religions, and politics, like all its predecessors Kushiel's Mercy is another textured and sophisticated novel that hits all the right buttons. Still, the novel is not as dense and sprawling as most of the other Kushiel installments. Indeed, this time around the action is limited to Terre d'Ange (France), Cythera (Cyprus), Euskerria (Basque Country), and Tunisia (Carthage). As is the author's wont, the web of murder and political intrigue that Carey wove through this novel is as incredible and unexpected as the politicking of such masters as George R. R. Martin and Katherine Kurtz.

As I said before, Jacqueline Carey continues to write with an elegance that reminds me of Guy Gavriel Kay at his best. Her lyrical prose is something special and I have a feeling that it could well be the very best in the genre today. Even the darkest and more shocking scenes are written with a distinctive literary grace that makes them even more powerful than they would be in the hands of a less gifted author. Once again in Kushiel's Mercy, her gripping prose creates an imagery filled with wonder and beauty that never fails to fascinate. Like Robin Hobb, Carey also possesses a subtle human touch which imbues some scenes with even more emotional impact. Moreover, once again à la Hobb, Carey makes her characters suffer like no other genre authors out there. Given the dark and disturbing events that Imriel was forced to live through in Kushiel's Avatar, Kushiel's Scion, and Kushiel's Justice, one would think that the poor guy deserves a break. But no, far from it. Just when you thought that he had finally found some happiness after suffering to such a degree, yet again he gets the rug pulled from under him.

To a certain extent, I still miss the first person narrative of Phèdre nó Delaunay. As a deeply flawed character, her strengths and weaknesses made her genuine and her perspective, that of an older woman relating the tale of her past, misled readers on several occasions by playing with their expectations. I liked how Phèdre's strenghts often became her weaknesses and vice versa. And yet, Imriel is deeply flawed himself and his point of view, though it took some getting used to, now works nearly as well as that of his foster mother. Though relatively brief, Leander Maignard's POV offered a different perspective that was interesting. Jacqueline Carey has a knack for creating engaging and memorable secondary characters, and once again she came up with a good cast of men and women. Two of them, Kratos and Astegal, truly stand out in this final volume and they left their mark on this tale, if for vastly different reasons.

In my last review I mentioned that I had a feeling that Phèdre and Joscelin's quest for Hyacinthe would have repercussions in Kushiel's Mercy. But no, this is barely hinted at. Not surprisingly, this third volume focuses on the love story between Imriel and Sidonie, as well as on Carthage's magical treachery that has Terre d'Ange under its spell and which has brought the country on the brink of civil war. I am aware that the next series, the Naamah trilogy, takes place a few generations in the future. But I have no idea if that secret quest will have repercussions that will echo down through the years and have a role to play in that tale, or if readers will have to wait for a yet unwritten future series featuring Phèdre and Joscelin that will focus on that journey. Time will tell.

Kushiel's Mercy is the shortest book in the series. As far as the rhythm is concerned, the pace is never an issue. Though it's by no means a slim tome, it is no doorstopper of a book, the way its predecessors were. It is, however, another page-turner. Although there is a love story at the heart of the tale, the fate of both Terre d'ange and Aragonia hang in the balance. The author has a knack for coming up with plot twists that suck you in and won't let go. And let's say that Carthage's spell may be the biggest one yet. In a nutshell, Kushiel's Mercy is yet another sophisticated and convoluted read full of wonder and sensuality. Written on an epic scale and with an elegance seldom seen in this subgenre, Jacqueline Carey managed to do it again. Kushiel's Justice was more complex and rewarding, true, but there is no denying that Kushiel's Mercy is a worthy sequel and a satisfying ending to a superior fantasy series..

I've said it before and I'll say it again. These two trilogies deserve the highest possible recommendation. Give them a shot ASAP. You won't be disappointed!

The final verdict: 8/10

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