Kushiel’s Legacy, people! Can we please talk about this?
In a genre populated by straight white farmboy heroes, here’s a series where the heroine is a sex-worker, and a sexual submissive. Neither of these things are looked down upon in that society (sex work is a sacred calling in Terre D'Ange), but to go one further, when the antagonist underestimates Phedre because of her submissiveness, it causes her downfall. That which yields is not always weak.
Every time I think about it, I’m just blown away by the fact that a series like this exists. I can’t think of any other work of fantasy that places a sex worker and a sub in the cherished position of the protagonist. Also, THERE ARE QUEER PEOPLE. Lots of them, because Terre D'Ange is a pansexual society by divine decree.
In short, if you like fantasy and haven’t read this series, READ IT NOW.
“Joscelin.” He looked at me, then, reluctant. “Since the day you were assigned to ward me, I’ve been a trial to you. A thousand ways I’ve tested your vows, until your very Brotherhood declared you anathema. I swear to you, I’ll only do it once more.” I cleared my throat. “If we must… if we must part, you must abide by it. You were trained to serve royalty, not the ill-conceived offspring of Night Court adepts. You swore your sword unto Ysandre’s service. If you would serve her, protect Drustan. Promise me as much.”
“I cannot promise it.” His voice was low.
“Promise me!” My fingers bit into his arm.
“I do Cassiel’s will! No more can I swear.”
It would have to be enough; I could ask no more than I would give. I released him. “Even Cassiel bent his will to Elua,” I murmured. “Remember it.”
“Remember you are not Elua,” Joscelin said wryly.
1: I adore Phedre and Joscelin banter, especially at this point in their arc. She doesn’t yet realize she loves him, and she remains totally oblivious to the fact that he is hopelessly in love with her, a point that doesn’t kick in ‘til book two, when he scales a goddamn sea-prison to save her.
2: The one word to associate with Joscelin (besides stubborn, or noble), is wry. He’s a rather snarky young man, which is surprising, considering he’s a priest.
3: Out of all their scenes in KD, this is one of my favorites. It sums them up so perfectly. Joscelin’s devotion, Phedre’s endless burden of responsibility tempered with too much knowledge. Both of them are incredibly stubborn and willful, but they work together in this amazing give and take that makes their later romantic relationship feel so damned satisfying, and such a long time coming.
For context: Cassiel is the name of an angel who turned away from God to join Elua (a kinda sorta divine guy not many of the religions in this series enjoy). Cassiel wasn’t the only angel who joined Elua, but he was the only angel who did so with a heavy heart. He swore to be a Companion to Elua, and that’s part of the vows that priests of Cassiel take when they are assigned to guard someone: to protect and serve.
What Joscelin does in his tenure as Phedre’s companion is exactly as she says: a trial. He breaks almost every single vow possible, not because they mean nothing to him, but because the circumstances they have to face are so dire. They’re so awful, in fact, they require him to go against what he swore in order to uphold the ultimate duty: protect and serve. He literally kills for Phedre, he uses his sword to threaten, not to kill (a crime among Cassiline priests); he errs, he’s human, and his mistakes put Phedre in danger; he sleeps with her, falls in love with her – one of which is strictly forbidden, the other I’m sure is implied forbidden. Everything that some say make a Cassiline is stripped way in his service to Phedre, everything except the one promise: protect and serve.