Jacqueline Carey, 2001
Premise: Phedre is born to the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers, although the irregularity of her eyes means that she will have no place in the structured courtesan Houses. Instead she will make her own way, as a patron-supported courtesan seeking both information and pleasure, but finding danger in the intrigues of politics in the capital and elsewhere.
Overall I liked: the plot of the second half of the book, most of the characters, learning about the religion and history of the (alternate-historical-ish) countries. The book takes place in alt-France, called Terre d'Ange, supposedly once the home of angels on Earth. The people are a little, well, French. The religion is neat, I liked the mash-up angels-as-pantheon-of-gods thing they have going on.
Overall I didn't like: the style of the narration, how long the book was, how slow the plot moved, all of the sex scenes, the structure of the society of Terre d'Ange. I couldn't follow the politics in the first half; there were too many names and everything was vague. I know it was on purpose because the main character didn't understand what was going on, but I got bored. Especially early on, the narrator (Phedre) kept saying things along the lines of “oh, but if I'd known then how horribly so-and-so would betray us...” This happened a LOT. I found it melodramatic and thought it sucked all the tension out of the plot, because it meant I expected every twist before it happened.
I think the author is a bit too free with the fake-medieval verbiage. Cutting half the instances of “mayhaps” and “somewhat” would have really tightened the pace. There is way too much telling things without showing, or without any credible reason I should believe what the character is asserting.
Now, once the pace picked up in the second half, I did really start to enjoy the book. I liked the action, I liked most of the supporting characters, especially those living in alt-Britain. I kind of wished the whole book was set there.
I suppose my main problems with the book were: 1) I wasn't in the mood for a 900-page doorstopper, and 2) I just didn't find the sex... sexy, and I didn't like the circumstances.
I mean, CHILDREN ARE BEING SOLD INTO INDENTURED SERVITUDE AND GROOMED AS PROSTITUES. I don't really care how much hand-waving is going on about how they have to choose to serve Namaah and it's some sort of spiritual whatever, I couldn't quite get over my revulsion about that premise.
Also, Phedre is magically the only “true” masochist in this world. Half the time she's at the mercy of her feelings (which seems like a bad idea for a courtesan/spy) and the other half it's about how no one can resist bedding her. Because she's the one true masochist. I... just don't get it. The whole society and morality of alt-France seemed to me to be designed around making the author's kink (having people pay Phedre for the opportunity to hit her with things) be the most awesome, accepted thing in the world. Plus there's no pregnancy or STDs. That's, frankly, not an interesting story to me.
There's no real exploration of why Phedre feels the way she does, it's just god-touched magic. Okay.
I'm not against reading about BDSM, but I didn't feel that this book provided an illuminating perspective. Also, personally, I'd rather read about it in the context of a relationship. That part's just my taste.
Again, ALL that said, I still became invested in the plot (once there was a real plot) and the secondary characters.
If I were just reviewing the second half, it might get 3 or 4 stars, but considering my low opinion of the society, the premise and the whole first half....I'm going to have to go with:
2 Stars- An Okay Book, just not up my alley.