Kushiel’s Legacy: To Err On the Side of Compassion

It’s time to talk about an old favorite epic fantasy series, with doorstopper books, recommended for anyone who loves adventure, history, travel, intrigue, or mythology. Romantic subplot.

Kushiel’s Legacy, in which the first book is Kushiel’s Dart.

Borrowed from kushielsdebut.org

In an alternate history fantasy world, Terre d’Ange (pseudo-France) was founded by the religious figure Elua until the One God sent him and his companions to another plane. Elua left behind one commandment–“Love as thou wilt”–and this drives the religious doctrine of Terre d’Ange.

Warning: the people of this country, and other countries when we get to them in the series, will have different values than those accepted in our societies. For me, getting to explore how people take to different ideas is part of the fun, but it’s up to each individual to decide what works for them.

Kushiel’s Legacy actually spans six books, but let’s just focus on the first three, since they share one narrator, Phedre. Phedre was raised in the Night Court, which is devoted to a kind of sacred prostitution. She grows into a courtesan with a patron who trains her to double as a spy.

Of course, things go horribly, horribly wrong.

The biggest draw for me from these books–all nine that are set in this world, not just Phedre’s–is how the characters get to travel to new places, with different customs, beliefs, and histories. I love how these differences are generally treated with respect, and how Terre d’Ange’s strengths and weaknesses are highlighted through these interactions.

Phedre loves her country, and there are things to love about it, but naturally there are a lot of flaws, too.

For one, D’Angelines have a strong sense of superiority with respect to their nationality–this isn’t exactly an uncommon phenomenon, but they’re especially known for it. It certainly doesn’t help that the land of Elua has been blessed with uncommonly beautiful people–Phedre’s vanity is not exactly a rare trait amongst her people.

I love the scope of the world, and how much we get to see of it. The first book, Kushiel’s Dart, takes place in Terre d’Ange, Alba, and Skaldia. Future books set in this world take us to pseudo-China, Ethiopia, the Middle East, India, and even the Americas. Amongst others.

Travel and its depiction is engaging–I’ll never forget some of the imagery from one trip through the desert, and the utter misery of it.

The language is beautiful, without being pretentious. And of course, some of the philosophy is very interesting:

“There are those who do not hold that there is any innate goodness to mankind. To them I say, had you lived my life, you would not believe it. I have known the depths to which mortals are capable of descending, and I have seen the heights. I have seen how kindness and compassion may grow in the unlikeliest of places, as the mountain flower forces its way through the stern rock.” 

“It is my observations, though, that happiness limits the amount of suffering one is willing to inflict upon others.” 

“We are all these things. Pride, desire, compassion, cleverness, belligerence, fruitfulness, loyalty…and guilt. But above it all stands love. And if we desire to be more than human, that is the star by which we must set our sights. ” 

Behind the actual plot of story, reverberates the idea that we should always try to err on the side of compassion and understanding. It was a powerful thing to read back when I was a teenager, and it was a theme that spoke to me.

Jacqueline Carey’s series was generally well-loved, but it also sparked some controversy. Mostly with the sex. When I read the books, it wasn’t really about that to me. It was about understanding others to the best of our ability. It was about seeing new places, without a sense of superiority towards them. It was about acting with compassion to whomever we could.

There was just something about it.

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