Love as thou wilt. That was the only thing that Blessed Elua asked of his scions. But when politics and the fate of realms enter into the picture that is not always such an easy command to follow.
Against his expectations as well as his wishes, Imriel finds himself in love with Sidonie, his own kin as well as the heir to the throne of Terre d’Ange. Worse, his love is reciprocated, Sidonie’s dislike for him having turned into desire. But even if Queen Ysandre has never blamed Imriel for being the son of traitors, she would never dream of allowing him to wed her daughter. Too many people in Terre d’Ange mistrust his motives and fear that he is truly his mother’s son, with great ambitions and a ruthless nature.
But the Queen and the nobles of Terre d’Ange is not all that stands between Imriel and Sidonie. He has already agreed to wed a pictish heiress, Dorelei, to ensure to the worried nobles of Terre d’Ange that there will be a continued d’Angelline presence in Alba to offset the pictish blood on the d’Angelline throne. What he does not initially realize is that not only will he go against the wishes of Blessed Elua by forsaking his love for Sidonie, he will also be putting himself on a course that may have dire consequences for Alba.
In some ways Kushiel’s Justice mirrors the middle book in the first Kushiel trilogy, Kushiel’s Chosen (and, in fact, there are some direct plot-related connections too). It is a book where the love that entered into Imriel’s life in the first book is faced with numerous difficult challenges, just as Phèdre’s and Joscelin’s delicate relationship was strenously tested. The intrigues of the first book, which tied back to Imriel’s mother Melisande, take a backseat in this novel in favour of a more straight-forward storyline. This book is not so much about figuring out who did what and why, but rather about Imriel continuing to learn who he is and how his life fits together with that of other people. It is also about making difficult choices and facing the consequences of said choices.
As with Carey’s previous books, travelling to new, more-or-less exotic locations is a large part of the book’s structure, but as always she handles these travels deftly. They are not merely there to get a character from point A to point B physically but also to take them on an emotional journey. The only point where the travels feel somewhat slow is towards the end, but in large part this has to do with the fact that the reader knows what will happen at the end of that specific journey and feels a certain urge to get to that point.
It was perhaps easier (though, it may also vary from reader to reader) to be emotionally swept up in Phèdre’s story, but Imriel still works quite well as a narrator and his relationship with Sidonie engages and feels very well written (not the least when it comes to the sexual tension and their hurried, illicit encounters). Overall, this book is just as enjoyable as the previous Kushiel books, and it sets the stage for a finale that promises to reconnect with the intrigues of the first book as well as continue to deal with the more personal complications in Imriel’s life.