Speculative fiction is indeed like a vast city. There are the luxuriant parks and discrete villas of staid literary fantasy, industrial wastelands with miles of aged pulp factories (many with a fresh coat of paint but same product), the hard sf quarter and its high, barbed-wire walls, the ghettos and slums of overt horror, the Bohemian block of New Weird, the old city and its alternate history, the recently constructed apartment blocks of urban fanasy, the endless suburbs of epic fantasy (and the grungier side-streets of grimdark), the shining, multi-story commercial district with latest releases, and, of course, the lengthy, wide open boulevards of mainstream genre. In my ramblings through the city, perusing books available on the boulevards, I’ve encountered many titles, looking for those which will end up moving to more respectable neighborhoods. There is one that has routinely appeared (seemingly on opposite ends of the city and unlikely corners), enough to make me take interest: Jacqueline Carey’s 2001 Kushiel’s Dart.
Praised by a wide spectrum of genre, Kushiel’s Dart seems a winner from both men’s and women’s point of view. From fans of paranormal romance to epic fantasy, erotica to historical fiction, a wide range of readers profess its qualities. Having now read the novel, I understand the boulevard appeal. The pace is neither too fast or too slow. The setting is fully tactile. Introduced slowly and developed with plot, the characters brew into life. It’s sprawled across a European-esque continent and featuring a recognizable yet altered Christian myth. Relationships and social interaction are handled with a deft, revelatory hand. Titillating the reader, sexuality is a key component. The prose, while occasionally purple, is a sight or two better than a lot of other commercial efforts these days. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the heroine is a strong, semi-relatable (at least understandable) character who consciously bends when the circumstances require so that at opportune moments she can go rigid and get what she wants—anything but standard fantasy heroine fare.