The last time I read Kushiel’s Legacy, only the first two trilogies had been published. Since then, there’s been a third trilogy, and I wasn’t optimistic about it: I’ve read way too many fantasy or SF series that go off the rails as they get extended, so it’s time for that series to lose its spark, and the reviews on Amazon seemed to agree with that. Still, I thought the first trilogy was amazing, and the second trilogy can be powerful in its own way as well, so I figured I should continue on to the third trilogy this time through the series.

And I’m glad I did! There’s certainly some of the “playing out more of the same ideas” feeling (where haven’t we gone yet? Hmm, I guess we’ll do Asia and the Americas this time), but the trilogy is actually rather thoughtful about the question of how to avoid feeling numb about repeating the same old heroism over and over again. It puts that question front and center: Terre d’Ange is rather more settled a few generations later, and the country as a whole (or at least people close to the political center) are feeling like they want more opportunities for heroism. In a lot of series, this setting would turn into an external threat attacking a country that isn’t prepared for it, with unexpected heroism saving the day; instead, the people in this trilogy who want to do something more end up causing trouble, trouble for themselves and trouble for others. (But not really existential trouble for the nation; the threats are lower-key than that.) Moirin and those close to her certainly do more than their fair share of heroic deeds, but there’s not the same savior complex, and to the extent that they are saving countries they’re nudging the people living into those countries back onto how they would like to behave anyways. (Well, mostly; how they would like to behave combined with modern liberal sensibilities.)


Other than that, the part of the series that stuck out the most to me was the second book, specifically its portrait of Christianity. It’s a much more direct, pointed attack on an aspect of modern life than we normally see in the series. Which isn’t to say that the series as a whole is so dramatically anti-Christian: the middle book of the previous trilogy presents a duel between two views of what Christianity could mean, both of which are presented as significantly different from worship of Elua (let alone of Naamah) but one of which is very much crafted with love and as a vision of love. But, in the time and area where Naamah’s Curse is written, that vision of love is on the run, replaced by one that’s much more oppressive, with authoritarian misogyny cloaked in language of spiritual growth. (The Kushiel series as a whole makes an interesting counterpart to another book I’m reading now, From a Broken Web; Joan, the next time you’re looking for something to read, you could do a lot worse than giving this series a try.)

Authoritarian misogyny is, of course, awful; but beneath that, there’s a whole denying of physicality, denial of the body in Christianity, which that volume presents. I was probably relatively sympathetic to that when I was younger, but I’m a lot less sympathetic now: as focused as I am on matters of the mind, my body is a big part of who I am. And that includes my mind’s reactions to my body.

Of course, sex isn’t just about bodies: it’s about emotions, it’s about pleasure, it’s about connection. None of which Christianity is great with: it’ll accept all of those, but only on narrowly prescribed turns. Yes, sex can lead to places that are at tension with spiritual growth; the answer to that isn’t to deny it, the answer to that is to figure out how to get that tension going somewhere productive. (If it’s a source of tension that’s relevant to you; if you’re not into sex or spiritual growth, I certainly wouldn’t mark that against you in any way!)

It’s not like that distaste for sex, bodies, and pleasure is unique to Christianity, of course: I have shelf after shelf of Buddhist books upstairs, but the older I get the less patience I have with “all life is suffering” as well. Life isn’t something to be gotten beyond, life (even including suffering) is something to learn from and to embrace, and there’s an awful lot we can do to try to reduce suffering on earth.


Which reminds me of the vinegar tasters; returning to the Moirin trilogy, I guess Master Lo Feng is a sort of Taoist wise man? That’s a message I’m happy enough to accept; probably time for me to dive back into it.

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