A little while back, I read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel trilogy. A trilogy of thick fantasy novels, the sort of thing that I normally avoid, but I’d been getting the feeling over the last few years that I’d been avoiding fantasy novels more than I should. So when I ran into an interesting review of the trilogy in The New York Review of Science Fiction, I thought I’d give it a try. Plus, the protagonist’s name ends in Delaunay, which is kind of like Delany, which probably isn’t an accident.

I’m glad I read them. I’m not sure fantasy is quite the right genre characterization: maybe it’s more alternate history. (A genre that I read almost never.) Hard to say; not a lot of magic, and such magic as there is is more the effects of gods than people casting spells, but on the other hand the history becomes alternate two millenia ago, and the trilogy takes place seven centuries (if I recall correctly) after the point of divergence. So it doesn’t fit too neatly into either genre’s mainstream, for what that’s worth. (Not much, I know.)

The divergence comes (if I’m remembering correctly – I checked the first two books out of the library, so I don’t have them at hand) in the form of somebody who was created from Christ’s blood during the crucifiction, and an angel who follows that person all over Europe, having sex with strangers whenever necessary to ease their passage. Eventually, they settle in what is now France, and a nation arises that follows their teachings.

And this divergence is handled in interesting ways; I like the way the book questions Christianity, and gives glimpses of what could have been. For one thing, some people will claim that Christianity is all about love, and certainly those aspects of Christianity are what I find most attractive about it. But there seem to be a whole lot of Christians in the world for whom love is the farthest thing from their mind, and Christianity in general seems quite sex-negative. So it’s nice to see a take-off from Christianity that starts by focusing on love, but starting from the more physical side of things. And other aspects of love are never absent from the book, and come to the fore more and more as the trilogy progresses, in ways that I found quite powerful.

Also, it’s nice to see a world where monotheism never took over; caught as we are now in a war between monotheists, I am, quite frankly, sick of the whole idea.

I’m not in the mood for plot summarization, but I will say that each book in the trilogy kept me reading much later than was wise as I was finishing it.

So: score one for following random fantasy recommendations. I wonder what I should read next in that genre?

(Unrelated note: a Penguin Classics complete collection is about to be released. Pretty cool; I spent a lot of time reading Penguin Classics when I was younger…)

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