After the hideous disappointment of "Banewreaker", I was on pins and needles regarding Carey's return to Terre D'Ange in "Kushiel's Scion." Would the sexy, dark, original voice that had given us Phedre, Joscelin, Hyacinthe, and Melisande be replaced by the boring tediousness of the "Sundering" series? I just knew it would kill me to see that happen to these beloved characters. Furthermore, what to make of the fact that the next three books would not be narrated by that most cunning of linguists? Would Terre D'Ange without Phedre be whipped cream without the cherry?
Thank Elua, all my fears were unfounded. "Scion", while taking the Kushiel's Legacy series in a new direction, is a welcome and worthy addition, and Imriel is an excellent and insightful new narrator. His voice is, naturally, different from Phedre's, but the beautiful, rich language is the same. Carey has done a great job making the transition from anguissette to prince.
Imriel's story is also very different from Phedre and Joscelin's, and part of what makes this book interesting is that he recognizes it. Imri adores his foster parents, but despairs at ever living up to their example. For one thing, Phedre and Joscelin are once-in-a-generation heroes, larger than life and - in Phedre's case - chosen by Kushiel himself. Imri, while a royal Prince of the Blood, is still ordinary, and the son of Terre D'Ange's greatest traitor to boot. More than anything, he wants to be good - but first, he must decide what that means. Can he be good without ever saving the world the way Phedre did? Is it possible to be good with Kushiel's blood - and his mother's treachery - in his veins?
More than anything (and unlike previous books), "Kushiel's Scion" is a coming of age story. Still scarred by his childhood abuse, and troubled by the shadow that his mother Melisande continues to cast, Imriel stumbles through his life, torn between the various factions that either support or suspect him. One of the most interesting things about having him as a narrator is seeing old and beloved characters through his eyes. For instance, while Phedre loves Ysandre and Nicola dearly, Imri doesn't like either of them - and Carey makes us understand why and even empathize. On the other hand, Phedre's feelings towards House Shahrizai (Melisande's family) were justifiably complex, bound up with mistrust and desire. Imriel feels some of that, too, and yet his young Shahrizai cousins are among his closest and most loyal of friends.
The second half of "Scion" has Imriel participating in that most time-honored rite of adolescent independence - going away to college. In this case, it's the University of Tiberium, where Anafiel Delauney studied so many years ago. Imri hopes to find out where Delauney learned the arts of "covertcy", and ends up stumbling into a large and powerful Guild of spies and power-brokers who are quite interested in Melisande's talented son. He also makes a group of international friends, including the Dalriadan Prince Eamonn mac Grainne, the Skaldian woman Brigitta, and a troubled and haunted young Tiberian, Lucius.
The action in the book comes in the form of a large siege and battle towards the very end. Imriel is, at best, a periphery character in the battle itself - he's caught up in it by chance. Yet this, too, is part of his search in learning to be good. He learns that it's not necessary to be a god-chosen hero like Phedre or a great swordsman like Joscelin in order to be a good soldier, a good friend, and a good man. Phedre did heroic things because she was the only one who could do them. Imriel does small things because sometimes, they're all he can do.
Nitpicks - I hope the prudes out there who objected to the explicit sexuality of the first three books are happy, because the sex here is toned down considerably. Indeed, Imri's history means that almost every sexual encounter is entangled with feelings of guilt and horror. Pity. I really started to miss Phedre's exuberant eroticism about halfway through; the sex here feels a little cold and unsatisfying. The ending of "Scion" is likewise slightly frustrating, without as much of a resolution as I might have liked. Still, it does leave me wanting more. The groundwork is laid here for another fascinating triptych of books about an extraordinary character, executed by a brilliant and talented writer. I am, again, on pins and needles - in a good way!