It's officially summer, the season of strappy sandals, sexy sundresses, barely-there bikinis, and the latest offering from Jacqueline Carey. Yes, June is no longer just about summer vacation and fruity girlie drinks on the beach - it's also the time to immerse yourself in the sweet and sexy world of the Kushiel's Legacy series.
"Kushiel's Justice", of course, is the fifth and most recent in the series. It's also the second book in Imriel's subtrilogy - and, in an almost unheard-of development, in this case the middle book has actually surpassed the first. Fantasy fans know what I'm talking about - it's an unwritten rule that the second book of any trilogy is the weakest link. It even held true in Phedre's trilogy - "Kushiel's Chosen", while still fantastic, didn't quite measure up to "Dart" or "Avatar". However, "Justice" takes the bar set by "Kushiel's Scion" and blows it out of the water, if I may mix my metaphors. It is at once darker, more personal, and yes, more erotic than "Scion" - in fact, perhaps more than any other book in the series.
Imriel has returned from his rebellious phase in Tiberium, a little older, a little wiser, and prepared - he thinks - to finally prove to his enemies that he is not tainted by the treason of his parents. He will marry a princess of the Cruithne and provide Alba with a half-d'Angeline heir. It will cement Terre d'Ange's alliance with Alba and help silence the grumbling against Queen Ysandre's own half-Cruithne heirs, and thus, Imriel hopes, establish once and for all his devotion to his country. (If this paragraph has just blown your mind, it is only proof that yes, you do need to read the entire series from the beginning to understand what's going on.)
But you know what they say about the best-laid plans. Before the royal wedding can commence, Imriel finds himself head over heels with the last person he ever expected to capture his heart - his first cousin, twice removed, the Dauphine Sidonie. I must admit, this was a coupling that blindsided me when it was first hinted at in "Scion." But here, Carey makes it clear that everything we've seen of Sidonie to date is her public face, very different from her private side. She then sets about introducing Sidonie in such a lovely way that she makes it very easy to understand why Imriel falls in love with her.
But although it breaks his heart, Imriel chooses duty over love - a huge no-no in Terre d'Ange, where the only commandment is "Love as thou wilt." He marries his Cruithne princess, Dorelei, and leaves Sidonie for Alba. Once there, however, a power darker and older than even Earth's Eldest Children seeks to control him by using his love for Sidonie against him. Tragedy ensues (I was terribly spoiled on this point, but it still shook me up, big time. Still, I won't ruin it for anyone else) and Imriel vows vengeance, never realizing how far his vow will take him, nor how much it will cost.
Once again, this is a book about Imriel's personal journey, rather than the save-the-world plots that characterized Phedre's trilogy. I like the execution here much better than in "Scion"; rather than being a bit player in a relatively unimportant conflict, in "Justice" Imriel is cast in a singular and lonely quest that alienates him from the world and from his loved ones. He is forced to confront his own worst failings and weaknesses, and realize that he can't blame Melisande for all of them. In fact, irony of ironies, it is in part his mother's tenacity and perseverance that see him through the worst of his trials.
I can't even say how much I loved this book. It might even edge out "Dart" as my favorite in the series so far! The emergence of Sidonie as a major character; the resolution of several minor storylines from previous books (and I might be the only one who squealed in delight at the brief return of Childric d'Essoms); Phedre and Joscelin going off on their own, completely unrelated adventure for most of the book (which gave me warm fuzzies for some reason); fascinating secondary characters, including Dorelei, Alais, and Maslin; Carey finally establishing a distinct and authentic voice for Imriel, rather than 'Phedre Jr.'; and oh, yes, yes, YES! The amazingly hot sex. Did I complain that the sex in "Scion" fell flat? Well, maybe Ms. Carey thought so too, because "Justice" more than makes up for it. This is some of the best erotic fiction since... I don't even know, for some reason I can't focus. Suffice to say, Imriel has, indeed, grown up. A lot. Ahem. And Sidonie! You naughty, naughty Dauphine.
Readers of Jacqueline Carey, this is simply a can't-miss. I cannot wait for the final installment, and I only pray that it is not the end of Terre d'Ange! Of course, now I only have those fruity girlie drinks to see me through the rest of the summer.