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There are nine books in the series, three trilogies. I will be talking about the first trilogy.
Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen, Kushiel's Avatar
This series' main character is the heroine Phedre.
Background of the setting:
The story is set in a world that seems parallel to Renaissance France. The country is Terre D'Ange, a nation founded when Blessed Elua, son of Yeshua and Mary Magdalene born of earth and tears, marked that land as his home. He had his companions who followed him who heavily influence this country as well. Namaah, the angel (of prostitution) who lied down with others so that Elua would sleep and eat, and at one point be freed from imprisonment. Kushiel, the angel of punishment, who punished out of love for those of Terre D'Ange. Cassiel, who was the only chaste angel among them, the perfect companion, still gained a following, the Cassiline Brotherhood. The Cassilines were warrior priests often hired by royalty and nobility. They too practiced chastity. Those who are Cassiline were often the middle male child of nobility class, sent in when they were ten years old. Slavery isn't a trade here, but indentured servitude is.
The main character, Phedre, was born with what was at first believed to be a flaw in her appearance. While it wasn't liked it was tolerated among the D'Angelines (who are known for their beauty and vanity in their beauty), it wasn't a sought after trait. A single dot, a mote in her bistre eyes colored crimson is what set her apart from everyone else. Phedre's mother was an adept at Jasmine house (one of the thirteen houses in the Court of Night Blooming Flowers), as part of a long line in her family who served Namaah. (Prostitution was seen as sacred given the background). Her pregnancy was tolerated by the house, and at the age of two they set out on the road (Phedre's mother and father, as well as Phedre herself) they set off on the road to do a trade, paid for by the father's father. At the age of four after a failed attempt by her father to trade, the paternal grandfather offered another chance at it if the father could pay for it with his own money. As they were near penniless their only commodity was their daughter, Phedre. It is with that, that she was sold to the oldest house, Cereus, in exchange that the mother who was pregnant again, would name the unborn child as her first, and they would not live in the City of Elua again. Phedre found solice in Night's Doorstep, the bustling busy area where many mingled, when she found a Tsingano boy who became her friend. When she heard the story of how Blessed Elua cut his hand and showed God that he bled as mortals did, she pricked her finger with a needle and found pleasure. The Dowayne (head of the house) had initially thought to send her to Valerian House, where the adepts were masochists and served sadistic clients. However she changed her mind and got a shrewd nobleman who would very much change Phedre's life. He confirmed she was Kushiel-struck; by Kushiel's dart. The mote in her eye was the sign of that. When one was struck in such a way, they are chosen to bare pain in their life, and they are naturally meant to feel pain and pleasure as one. Her life with him started at ten, with her foster brother Alcuin, and eventually, with a Cassiline Joscelin Verrueil.
Phedre was taught covertcy. She was taught tumbling, history, languages, stories, diplomacy. It would serve her well as she aged.
This book isn't necessarily a romance book, and it wasn't all about erotica. But Blessed Elua's law; love as thou wilt, made these books have a lively society that allowed love of many forms, and many had an interest in kink. My favorite quote that could speak volumes about this book (I have some of these quotes from this book inked upon me);
"Love as thou wilt. They are fools, who reckon Elua a soft god, fit only for the worship of starry-eyed lovers. Let the warriors clamor after gods of blood and thunder; love is hard, harder than steel and thrice as cruel. It is as inexorable as the tides, and life and death alike follow in it's wake."
The characters have plenty of depth, the background and setting, the plot is complex, there's political intrigue, romance, action, adventure.... the writing style flows so well and pictures a world so vivid. This has become such an enticing book, and it was by my misfortune that this was the second book I read of the series, for I had found the second book of the trilogy first and dived right in.
Phedre is older, and a little wiser. She had made her marque, she found some enemies, she loved, she lost, she won, she fought, and she saw more of the world. She's in good standing and status in the City of Elua, and still she had problems one of her abilities would obtain. She needed to find a traitor, not only to the throne but to her family and herself. Love and hate were of the same blade, and she found out the hard way just how true that was. In this book the magic actually manages to continue, and you meet new characters to love and follow in the story and through their lives.
This book (not the final one she is in, mind you) finds her called for help by an unlikely person. It called for her to go to lands she had yet to travel, and she had to figure out her loyalties, and do something even her rival in covertcy could not manage. Many problems ensue, and she had to solve the decade-old problem that haunted her and pulled her in her years of quiet bliss. In this book you see other sides of characters you haven't before, you meet new characters, which ultimately set you up for the second trilogy for the series as Phedre goes to save a royal family member, a little boy named Imriel; the son of her rival who needed rescuing. The writing continues to entrap you into a new progressive plot as Phedre and Joscelin continue on to more adventures of importance to the throne and the woman Phedre learned to hate.
All in all, this is an amazing, beautiful series that sucks you in and you don't leave even after you stop reading the books; at least, that is my experience. It's elegant, it's descriptive, complex, and has inspired many other works of art including (not limited to) clothing, cosplay, ink, and perfume. With such rich references to our real world and some views, and a story of characters, heroes to be sung for years to come, I couldn't recommend this series enough. To this day I have read the first trilogy, of Phedre, and I have read the second trilogy, involving the boy Imriel. Such thought was put into this, and many thought-provoking words come to mind and have one think, and all in a book that many would put in a romance and erotica column, but has so much more to it.