Kushiel’s Dart was published almost twenty years ago. In the decades since its release it has become a classic, spawning two sequels and half a dozen other books set in the world of Terre d’Ange. Full of the sinister, the sensual, the political, and the personal, Kushiel’s Dart centers on the remarkable story of Phèdre nó Delaunay, a holy courtesan in the service of the angel of punishment. Her journey is progressive now; in 2001, it was revolutionary. Geekly had a chance to ask author Jacqueline Carey a few questions about Phèdre and her world at this remarkable anniversary as we anticipate the re-release of the Kushiel trilogy.
Phèdre’ s story has resonated with many, many people over the years. Was there ever a specific audience you were writing for, or conversely an audience you thought you’d never reach?
Honestly, Kushiel’s Dart is a book I wrote because I wished it existed in the world—which I think is an impetus for many authors. As a life-long lover of fantasy, I was yearning for stories that combined all the soaring beauty of the fantastic with real-life adult emotion and sexuality. So in a sense, I was my own target audience, and I was writing in the faith that I wasn’t alone in longing for just such a narrative. Turns out it was true!
What has surprised you most about the reactions to Phèdre’s story? What has pleased you most?
Most touching to me are those readers who have found courage, healing and inspiration in Phèdre’s journey. I’ve heard from many survivors of abuse; and also from many couples for whom this series has provided an opportunity to open a dialogue about desire and need, and how to navigate those issues in a positive, safe and healthy way. I’ve even been a guest at a wedding inspired by that series! Overall, the degree of appreciation of a heroine embodying a form of strength and resilience that’s so seldom depicted has surprised and delighted me.
The intermingling of sacrality and sexuality is still unusual in SFF (and culture…), but so essential to your work. What inspires you to focus on–and blend–these particular human impulses?
Love and sex are such an essential component of humanity, at least for most of us (I don’t want to discount the ace community, but it’s not something I can speak to from a personal point of view). For me, combining the carnal and spiritual urge for the divine just felt natural.
In many ways, Kushiel’s Dart and its sequels anticipated a lot of conversations we are only now having in popular culture about fluid sexuality, female and queer desire, and sex work. Did these ideas seem progressive or shocking to you as you were writing them?
Yes, of course; to this day, despite the extent to which our dialogue has progressed, it’s difficult to explain how this all works as a massive epic tale featuring a heroine who’s essentially a divinely-touched masochist. That was always Phèdre’s nature from the first spark of inspiration. But before I wrote it, I was profoundly terrified by the question of whether or not I could do so without being exploitative. It was the scariest creative thing I’ve ever done, but I think I pulled it off.
It’s been almost 20 years (!) since Kushiel’s Dart was published. What do you hope readers take away from the story in the next 20 years?
Wow, 20 years! It would be great if 20 years from now, the idea that Kushiel’s Dart was revolutionary in terms of incorporating sexuality seemed… quaint. I hope that Phèdre’s unique heroism—“that which yields is not always weak—” continues to inspire readers to find their own inner reserves of courage and resilience and to recognize it in others. And I would hope that the architecture, intricacy and the depth of research that went into the worldbuilding and plot still shine—and perhaps all the brighter—on their own merits.
Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, and Kushiel’s Avatar are all being re-released this month. If you haven’t read the trilogy, you should definitely grab copies. If you have, and you’re like me, it might just be time for a re-read!