[trigger warning: child abuse, rape, bdsm]
Cover of Kushiel’s Dart (Kushiel’s Legacy)
I’m about 200 pages into Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. I’ve been meaning to read her work for a while, for a number of reasons, but primarily because I’d heard it was pretty queer friendly. I want to start with some positive things: it is awesome to read a book about a society in which consent (regarding sex) is a fundamental societal/religious norm, and it is awesome to read a book in which most people are fairly pansexual and it isn’t a big deal. Indeed, Carey has said that she set out in creating the world of the books (Terre D’Ange), to create a land in which she’d like to live.
But it is with regards to that that I have some….concerns….surrounding the book. (Warning: spoilers for the first couple hundred pages of the book commence here.) In simple terms: the main character, Phedre, is sold as a very young girl by her parents to a brothel (a fancy one, but a brothel nonetheless) to pay off a debt. She is then raised there, although she cannot apprentice there because of a physical defect. The physical defect, however, indicates that she is Kushiel’s Chosen, which as near as I can tell means she has some kind of extreme affinity to being a BDSM sub. Because of this, her marque (think payment for indentured servitude) is bought by a nobleman, Delaunay, who proceeds to train her in all sorts of things, including prostitution, and then sends her out (as a child, still) to sleep with his political enemies and spy on them. Eventually, if they give her enough monetary gifts, she’ll be able to buy her marque from Delaunay.
Now there’s nothing wrong with a book describing problematic people and problematic relationships. But this book (at least so far) doesn’t seem to problematize this at all: it is treated as utterly normal and unproblematic and Delaunay is upheld as being a hero, a virtuous/kind/generous man, etc. etc. I just have real trouble thinking of this, as Carey does, as a world in which I’d like to live. One where it isn’t completely revolting and disgusting for a man to buy a girl and then send her off to have (violent, bdsm) sex for money to spy on his opponents.
Again, I haven’t finished the book, so this all may be dealt with later in it. But I’m having a hard time motivating myself to read any more, because, frankly, it disturbs me far too much to see this presented as a world in which consent, “love as thou willt”, and sexual freedom are paramount.