REVIEW: Cassiel’s Servant by Jacqueline Carey

The central precept of d’Angeline society is ‘Love As Thou Wilt’. That is, for everyone except for Cassiline monks. The adepts of Cassiel are celibate warrior-monks, trained in a highly ritualized manner of combat from boyhood, isolated in a highly sexualized society. Jacqueline Carey’s latest novel, Cassiel’s Servant returns readers to the familiar world of Terre d’Ange from her Kushiel novels – which have become a cornerstone of the genre over the course of the two decades since the initial publication of Kushiel’s Dart. For those who are familiar with the novels, Cassiel’s Servant retells the events of Kushiel’s Dart from the perspective of Joscelin Verreuil, whereas Kushiel’s Dart and the subsequent books are told from Phèdre’s point of view. This means that this is a great point to enter the world of Terre d’Ange, just as much as it is a wonderful homecoming for those of us who have visited before.

Cover of Cassiel's ServantPhèdre was born with a scarlet mote in her eye – Kushiel’s mark. This means she will always feel pain and pleasure as intertwined sensations. And Joscelin Verreuil is assigned to guard her. A newly graduated Cassiline monk, sworn to celibacy, is honour-bound to protect a courtesan and spy. What could go wrong, you ask? Well… Phèdre stumbles over a political conspiracy and they find themselves sold as slaves, and a long and arduous journey to bring word back and save Terre d’Ange begins.

Reading Cassiel’s Servant took me back to the first time I read Kushiel’s Dart, as a starry-eyed and innocent first-year undergraduate. The books were already backlist then, out for a few years, but I fell in love immediately. Jacqueline Carey’s world is vibrant and far-reaching, stretching countries and continents, religions and cultures, all of which are presented with layers of bright detail. Terre d’Ange itself is most closely based on Renaissance France and Italy, and in Cassiel’s Servant alone, we spend time in a Slavic- and Celtic-inspired culture respectively. Reading this new story in the same world made me realise how well the books still hold up – and I’m now desperately due a re-read of the entire series.

First published shortly after the turn of the millennium, the motto of ‘Love As Thou Wilt’ is taken as crucial to both story and society. It is essentially a queernorm world, kink-friendly, with codified social places for sex workers and a religious system that is explicitly pro-choice for those able to bear children. Cassiel’s Servant, looking at this world from the perspective of one sworn to celibacy makes it even more starkly obvious how remarkable Carey’s worldbuilding is in that respect.

I absolutely devoured Cassiel’s Servant – its lush prose, brilliant characters and the nostalgic pull of the world itself all contributed to how much I loved diving back into Terre d’Ange. It was great to see the story through Joscelin’s point of view after spending a lot of time in Phèdre’s, giving this a similar reading experience as I tend to have with retellings. I didn’t know exactly how the story would be told, but I was familiar with the broad beats of how the plot would move from event to event. Joscelin is a very different character to Phèdre, calmer and more cautious in many ways, but also physically stronger and pious in a very different way. He spends much of the book trying to come to terms with betrayal and his relationship to the Cassiline Order, as well as his faith, while being pulled in a very different and unexpected direction. Phèdre and Melisande, familiar to readers of the original books, are back in all their grimdark glory, Phèdre fighting for what she believes in and Melisande, well, she is my favourite villainess of all time. And that’s just three of the many, many brilliant characters we meet and spend time with in Cassiel’s Servant.

Do yourself a favour and join me in Terre d’Ange – pick your poison, the newly written Cassiel’s Servant from Joscelin’s perspective, or the classic Kushiel’s Dart from Phèdre’s.

Read Cassiel’s Servant by Jacqueline Carey

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.