The physically exquisite inhabitants of Terre d’Ange reckon themselves descended from an angel, Blessed Elua. Among them, the arts of sexual expression are highly developed, with the various Houses of the Night Court catering for all needs. Young Phèdre is unremarkably lovely—except that one eye is marked with a pinprick of red: Kushiel’s Dart distinguishes her as a rare “anguissette” whose gift is to enjoy any form of sexual stimulation, including pain. Sold by her parents, she becomes the indentured servant of the noble Anafiel Delauney, who arranges for her an orthodox education—languages, politics, history, philosophy—as well as training in sexual skills. He also helps her sharpen her observational and critical faculties—she’ll be not merely an exotic sexual toy, but a capable and unobtrusive spy. Phèdre accepts only those clients she chooses, and receives no payment, though the satisfied ones give rich gifts. The information astute Phèdre gathers for Delauney feeds some mysterious purpose he refuses to reveal—but his intrigues involve the Royal Family and the succession to the throne, as well as revenge. Delauney’s former partner, now rival, the cold, calculating, and utterly ruthless Melisande Shahrizai nestles at the center of a series of truly Byzantine plots, intrigues, and treacheries; she aims not only to destroy Delauney but to rule Terre d’Ange. Phèdre cannot resist Melisande or prevent Delauney’s downfall, and is sold into slavery among the barbarian Skaldi. And Phèdre’s adventures, like Melisande’s intrigues, have only just begun.
Superbly detailed, fascinatingly textured, and sometimes unbearably intense: a resonant, deeply satisfying, and altogether remarkable debut—but, emphatically, not for squeamish or judgmental readers.