Today's book review is Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey.
Wow, I finally finished it. At 700 pages of smaller-than-usual print, this is a pretty big book, but there's so much in it that it's surprising that it didn't take more.
This is a fantasy novel set in a very rich world which starts out being very nearly the historical earth. Some geography and many names are changed, but it mainly diverged when something different and very significant happened on the Via Dolorosa on the way to the Crucifiction. The story actually takes place a somewhat inderminate number of centuries later, and the ramifications of that event have made a very different world. The world feels very real and should appeal to most fantasy fans.
What makes this book really unusual -- and the reason it will definitely not be for everyone -- is that the heroine is not only a sacred prostitute, but a genuine masochist; the things she has done to her will turn some people off to the story, and the way she reacts to them will trouble more. To appreciate this story, the reader must be able to empathize at least somewhat with a character who enjoys and seeks out pain; to the reader to whom such feelings are completely alien or abhorrent, this book would be a real struggle. This is not to say that this is just a book about sadomasochism; there is a great deal more. But much of the story is seen through the lens of sadomasochism; for the reader to whom that lens is totally opaque, this book would be inaccessible.
There is grand intrigue, noble sacrifice, love both heroic and touching, and almost non-stop action and excitement. It's quite a ride, if you can handle the heroine. 9 out of 10.