This isn’t the book that started it all, but it was formative. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart, along with Richard Adam’s Maia. (I’ll write about Maia in a Thoughts post because I don’t like it enough to actually recommend it!)
The Phèdre Trilogy (made up of Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, and Kushiel’s Avatar) was the first time I’d ever seen a sexual submissive, a masochist, become the hero who saves the world. Actually, it may well be the only fantasy epic I know of in which that is the case.
(You can make an argument that Maia is a similar a protagonist, but she’s not a masochist, and she’s not the same kind of heroine.)
I read the books way back in 2006-2007, and have reread them a few times since. I really enjoy aspects of these books, and I think they’re well worth the read. I’m also critical of them because there’s plenty about them that frustrate me! But that’s for another post.
Kushiel’s Dart introduces us to our narrator, Phèdre. The books take place in an alternate history; in this world, she is chosen by the angel Kushiel to always feel pain as pleasure. She is raised to be a courtesan, and finds herself embroiled in intrigue and adventure.
The intrigue is a lot of fun. Phèdre picks up information from sexual assignations. The sex scenes are fairly softcore throughout, and range from the extremely kinky and sometimes dark to soft and romantic. Phèdre is a bisexual protagonist, which I appreciate greatly.
There’s a lot I like about the sexuality in Phèdre’s home country of Terre d’Ange. The sexual act is considered sacred, and all kinds of different expressions of it are celebrated. At their age of adulthood, young people may have sex with, essentially, sexual mentors who can help and teach. I really wish that were possible in the real world. I wish we lived in a world where that would be a healthy venue for exploration, with abuse as a made-up nightmare, far away.
In general, Kushiel’s Dart and the others in the series are fun fantasies full of sex, intrigue, travel and escapades.