Literature / Kushiel's Legacy
"Love as thou wilt."
Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy
series encompasses three trilogies, told from first-person perspective by one character in each. It lies somewhere between Alternate History
and fantasy, using recognizable names for real-world places, events, and occasionally people.
The first trilogy (beginning with Kushiel's Dart
, continuing with Kushiel's Chosen
, and ending with Kushiel's Avatar
) follows the exploits of Phèdre, a woman with a red mote in her eye which marks her as an anguissette
, one who experiences pain as pleasure. This talent means she draws a high price, as prostitution is a highly valued and respected profession in her home country. Added to this, she is trained in espionage, escape, and other things by her bondholder, with intent to use her as a weapon to stabilize the realm. Over the span of three books, Phèdre goes from girl to adult, and winds up deeply involved in the politics of the realm and the divine, thanks in part to her... unique talents, both as courtesan and spy. Much of the story focuses on her sexual encounters, both consensual and at times very non-consensual.
The second trilogy begins with Kushiel's Scion
, continues with Kushiel's Justice
, and ends with Kushiel's Mercy
. It follows Phèdre's adopted son, Imriel: who happens to be the biological son of one of the realm's most infamous traitors
. The books follow his coming of age, and his struggle to live up to his adoptive parents while putting aside the reputation in his blood.
The third trilogy takes place a century after the second trilogy ends, and follows the adventures of the druid Moirin from the land of Alba. A descendant of the Maghuin Dhonn from the second trilogy, Moirin must learn to deal with the consequences her ancestor's actions foisted on her people, master her magical powers, and learn about her half-D'Angeline heritage. The first book, Naamah's Kiss
, came out in 2009, Naamah's Curse
in 2010, and Naamah's Blessing
in June 2011.
All nine books are interesting stories without the sex. Kushiel's Legacy
is widely lauded by reviewers for having complex societies, likable characters, and a continuous onslaught of politics and intrigue which blend seamlessly with the sex.
In 2010, the short story "You, and You Alone," part of the Songs of Love and Death
anthology, told Phèdre's mentor Anafiel's backstory.
Now has a Character Sheet
Kushiel's Legacy provides examples of:
- Founder of the Kingdom: Elua for Terre d'Ange. House Courcel can trace their lineage back to him.
- The Fundamentalist: In Naamah's Curse Moirin is abducted and taken to Vralia (read: Russia) by a Yeshuite patriarch (read: Orthodox Christian bishop). There he offers her the choice of conversion or being put to death as a witch, with a long argument where he calls her sexual practices filthy and disgusting. He's also fighting hard against a more liberal, forgiving interpretation of his religion's doctrine.
- Geas: The Master of the Straits controls the ocean between Alba and Terra d'Ange with ancient magic, and is bound under geas to prevent anyone from crossing for all eternity. He will resist this command for those who sing new songs for him, and for a time this is the only way to cross the Straits without sinking. The geas is later eased by the union of Ysandre and Drustan, a love that dares the Straits much like in the story of his curse, although this also allows the Master to pass his curse to another. At the end of the first trilogy, Phedre uses the Name of God to force the angel who set the geas to lift it completely.
- Girls Love: Amarante, the daughter of the head priestess of the goddess of prostitutes, was hired to teach Sidonie, the crown princess, of the realm the "arts of the bedchamber."
- Phèdre winds up in this position, occasionally. Her relationship with Nicola L'Envers is pretty much friends with benefits. And her relationship with Melisande is... complicated.
- Moirin has a number of female lovers. Including Jehanne, Snow Tiger, and the Rani Amitra.
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Perhaps an explanation for the lengthy sections between Moirin and Jehanne and Moirin and Snow Tiger. Also the celestial Dragon in Snow Tiger is either of this opinion or a Yuri Fan. His comment when Snow Tiger decides that she's not too different from D'Angelines.
- Go Mad from the Isolation: The prisoners on La Dolorosa are imprisoned in solitary confinement, often for years. Most are driven insane over the years, with behavior ranging from talking to themselves or people who aren't there and self-harm. Phedra also begins to experience it during her stay there.
- Gondor Calls for Aid: Phèdre journeys to Alba to enlist the Albans' aid against the Skaldi in Dart.
- Good Parents: Actually more than the other kind for a fantasy of this nature. In paricular, Ysandre and Drustan are wonderful with their children.
- Good People Have Good Sex: But S&M is subsumed under this umbrella and Imriel needs to accept and explore his sadistic side in order to accept his sexuality. Basically, especially in Terre d'Ange, the only "bad sex" is rape. If it's consensual and nobody dies (or is seriously injured: Phedre is once yelled at by Anafiel for letting a client burn her with a hot fireplace poker and ordered to use her safeword next time) and everyone has fun, it's good for D'Angelines!
- Government in Exile: Drustan and his mother and sisters are hiding out with the Dalriada, due to his cousin, the old Cruarch's son, seizing power.
- Graceful Loser: When Phèdre appears to testify against Melisande, Melisande quickly gives in, knowing she is beaten... and then subverted when she breaks out of prison that night.
- Green Thumb: Moirin's power through Anael's line let's her talk to plants and make them grow.
- Green Eyes: Moirin's eyes are often mentioned to be jade-green and she is regularly called a bear-witch. Her ability to talk to plants fits in the nature aspect nicely.
- Happily Adopted: Imriel by Phèdre and Joscelin.
- Harmful to Minors: Everything that happens to Imriel in Darsanga. The trauma stays with him well into adulthood.
- Healing Hands: Raphael and Master Lo Feng from Naamah's Kiss.
- Heir Club for Men: After Rolande dies, there is some of this problem in Terre d'Ange. Ysandre can inherit, and is next in line for the throne, but some people prefer to support her cousin Baudoin de Trevalion simply because he's a man.
- Hero of Another Story: A few examples, but most prominently Micah Ben Ximon and the Yeshuite pilgrims from Kushiel's Chosen, who later reappear in Kushiel's Justice. Not to mention the result in Naamah's Curse...
- Heroes Want Redheads: Imriel carries on an affair with red-haired Claudia in Scion.
- Heroic Bastard: All of Grainne's children, but particularly Eamonn mac Grainne who becomes a good friend of Imriel's and fights at the siege of Lucca.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Isidore d'Aiglemort's death after dueling and killing Selig.
- Heroic Seductress: A lot of problems in the first trilogy are solved by having Phèdre find the right person to sleep with. This ranges from seducing an on-the-fence admiral to infiltrating the harem of a horrific dictator.
- Hidden Depths: The first time Phèdre really gets to see Ysandre, she notices that while the Dauphine is very young, she is also the perfect example of Cereus House's beauty with inner steel.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: Melisande's plan to escape into La Serenissima in Kushiel's Chosen relied on this trope. Her looks were too striking that any body looking for her would have an easy time spotting her. She decided to walk out in the open as Prince Benedicte's new D'Angeline wife who wore a veil because of her faith in the goddess Asherat.
- High-Class Call Girl: Phèdre definitely qualifies at this through the first book and first half of the second book.
- Historical Fantasy: It's basically a Europe and the Mediterranean where the Gospel narrative was literally true but took a very different turn after the Crucifixion. Works of high magic and Physical Gods are reasonably common, but there's little small-scale magic.
- Honor Before Reason: Joscelin does this a lot, especially where his Cassiline vows are concerned—however, Phèdre knocks this out of him eventually.
- Phèdre has shades of this as well, given that she's willing to give herself up to a madman's seraglio because of an oath she gave her greatest enemy and her devotion to her gods.
- Hunting "Accident": Happens in the backstory of Kushiel's Dart, albeit not with a weapon - before a hunt, the saddle on the horse Dauphin's fiancée, Edmée de Rocaille, was to ride was tampered with, and she had a fatal fall.
- I Didn't Mean to Turn You On: Phèdre is an anguissette and cursed to feel pain and pleasure as one. Any bit of pain will register as pleasure for her. So when she had to get her marque worked on in Dart she was reduced to an orgasm laden mess. The guy doing the job even complains about how annoying it is to work on someone who is constantly writhing in ecstasy while he's trying to apply the tattoo, just like his grandfather (who did the last anguissette's marque) told him.
- This happens again in Chosen when Favrielle accidentally sticks Phèdre with a pin, causing Phèdre to have quite the reaction that actually renders Favrielle of all people speechless.
- I Gave My Word: Comes up a lot, but Melisande takes it to catchphrase levels with "I keep my promises."
- Moirin gets this a lot too, given that she's descended from The Fair Folk that killed Imriel's pregnant wife.
- I Have No Son: Two instances in Dart.
- Phèdre's mother sells her to Cereus House, and is forced to basically deny that Phèdre is her child. Liliane doesn't say these words, but she does push Phèdre at the Dowayne in a way that says she's disowning her.
- Hyacinthe finally finds his people, and meets his grandfather. However, when he speaks the dromonde which is strictly taboo for Tsingani men, his grandfather declares him and his mother dead and everyone begins to mourn with Hyacinthe still standing right there.
- IKEA Erotica: Becomes a characterization point. Imriel is not comfortable with his sexuality. Phèdre is very comfortable with hers.
- Improvised Weapon: Most notably, the hairpin that Phèdre uses to kill the Mahrkagir.
- Incest Is Relative: A mild example that's only mentioned directly once, but Sidonie is Imriel's cousin (twice removed: since his father was the Queen's great-uncle (the brother of the Queen's grandfather), then Imriel is first cousin to the dead Prince Rolande, first cousin once removed to Queen Ysandre, and first cousin twice removed to Sidonie. They are "first cousins", albeit with a couple of "removes" tossed in.) They're close in age, but his father was her mother the Queen's great-uncle who sired him to have a "pure"-blooded heir to the throne because Sidonie's father is the Cruarch of Alba, a dirty barbarian foreigner in his view, and thus made her unfit to rule. The objection to their relationship isn't based on them being related, though, but fear that Imriel will be like his parents, both duplicitous traitors.
- Indentured Servitude: The Houses in the City of Elua, and some private parties in Terre d'Ange take in children, training them and then having them serve for sex until their servitude is completed (signified by the completion of a tattoo that runs the length of their backs). Both Phèdre and Alcuin are bonded as this, and Phèdre once buys out the indenture of a girl who suffered a facial injury before she could complete her term of service and couldn't get any more customers because of the scar. Later, Phèdre goes on to fix the holes in the rules that result in situation like that.
- Inhumanly Beautiful Race: The D'Angelines, who impress every other people with their beauty. It's because they're descended from rogue angels.
- In the Blood: Imriel is the son of the biggest traitors to his country, and despite him being a goodhearted person (and raised by other goodhearted people), many people suspect that someday he might take after his mother. Later on, a group of The Fair Folk have a psychic prediction that Imriel's son would take after his mother and destroy their nation, and so they kill his pregnant wife to make sure this doesn't happen.
- Almost every character has a significant level of their personality determined by their ancestry. This is justified, though, since the progenitors of the D'Angelines were angelic embodiments of various traits. It's not as explicit with other nationalities, but by and large every deity is assumed to be (or was once) a physical presence in the world, so their people could have their traits written literally into their genome.
- Insufferable Genius: Favrielle nó Eglantine is a brilliant seamstress, but she has a caustic and impatient personality.
- Istanbul Not Constantinople: All of the country, and more than a few ethnic names are older and/or foreign words for easily recognizable places.
- In-Universe Catharsis: In Kushiel's Dart, Phèdre goes to the temple of Kushiel to atone for her role in the death of her master and the things she had to do when a captive of the Skaldi. Kushiel himself is said to be the patron of a very harsh mercy, attended by masked priests and priestesses who inflict painful rituals on those who come seeking atonement.
- It's Not You, It's Me: Imriel pulls this on Sidonie in Justice. Joscelin and Phèdre exchanged this occasionally.
- It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Sidonie and Imriel do this to each other in Justice as well. Then again, given her position, and his mother's, possibly reasonable.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Joscelin with Phèdre at points (and Phèdre right back at times). Imriel and Sidonie, as well.
- Jedi Truth: A few times, but especially with Melisande.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Joscelin and Bao both. However, once Phèdre takes the stick out of Joscelin's ass, and Moirin smoothes off Bao's rough edges, this disappears.
- Karma Houdini: Melisande Shahrizai for the most part; she's just too good at Xanatos Speed Chess for karma to catch up to her. She escapes punishment, but she doesn't get her son.
- Kissing Cousins: Sidonie and Imriel, with a good bit more than kissing going on. They're actually first cousins twice removed, though, a bit more distant. Still it's close enough that their families expected them to view each other in a more familial way and were caught off guard by what developed.
- Lady in Red: Phèdre sometimes does this on assignations to play up her unique role as an anguissette. Even when she wears other colors, at least in Dart she also wears a cloak a color D'Angelines call "sangoire" a red so deep it is almost black (indeed, the word is a portmanteau of the French words for "blood" and "black.")
- During her very first assignation with Childric d'Essoms, Phèdre dresses in a red gown.
- The Midwinter Masque in Kushiel's Chosen, which she plays up by wearing a gown that exposes her entire back, letting all the peerage of Terre d'Ange know that she is returning to Naamah's Service.
- Let's Get Dangerous!: The Cassiline Brotherhood are sworn only to get their swords out to kill (normally, they use daggers and vambraces). You'd better believe that when they do, things are going to get VERY dangerous. Especially if it's Joscelin, and doubly especially if Phèdre is in peril.
- Libation for the Dead: Traditional in Alba. Drustan does the honors most of the time.
- Like Brother and Sister:
- Anafiel Delaunay and Edmée de Rocaille, despite some people's suspicions otherwise.
- Phèdre and Hyacinthe start off like this as kids, though their feelings don't stay entirely platonic.
- Imriel and Alais: but in this case it really is like that, no romantic undertones at all. (Well, as far as this series goes, anyway.)
- Lineage Comes from the Father: Played with; Terre d'Ange's monarchy passes patrilineally, but the king only has one granddaughter, who proceeds to have two daughters of her own. Meanwhile, in Alba, inheritance passes from uncle to nephew, although this is later revealed to be motivated by the male rulers not trusting that their wives' sons are actually theirs, and preserving the lineage through their sisters. Meanwhile Imriel's significant lineage comes from both sides of his family.
- Long Hair Is Feminine: Averted. D'Angeline men typically have long hair and it isn't considered feminine. Played straight in other countries where Joscelin is considered girly for having long hair.
- Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Nearly every D'Angeline man qualifies.
- Loophole Abuse: The spirits in Naamah's Kiss do this to avoid giving usable answers to their summoners, as they really dislike being under any human's control.
- Moirin does this as well to let Jehanne know about her promise to Raphael and get help to get out of it.
- Love at First Punch: Well, she never actually hits him, but Sidonie's snarkiness is one of the first things that attracts Imriel to her.
- The verbal version of this is also a big factor in Moirin and Bao's attraction.
- Love Hurts: The later half of Scion, and most of Justice, deal with Imriel and this. Not to mention Phèdre and Joscelin's rocky start in Dart and Chosen.
- Also shows up in the Naamah series. Could be considered an underlying theme of the universe.
- Love Ruins the Realm: One of the prime arguments against Imriel and Sidonie's relationship in the second trilogy. (No one is really bothered about them being relatives: Terre d'Ange is that kind of place. They aren't that closely related, anyway... Sidonie is his first cousin once removed-it's a complicated family.)
- Comes roaring into play in the Naamah trilogy. If Daniel and Jehanne didn't love each other quite so much, Jehanne's death probably wouldn't have crushed her husband's spirit so much—which ends up causing many of the conflicts in Naamah's Blessing.
- Averted in Dart: Queen Ysandre of Terre d'Ange and Cruarch (King) Drustan of Alba fall in love. Their alliance crushes the invading Skaldi and brings peace to both countries.
- Made a Slave: Phèdre is enslaved by the Skaldi in Kushiel's Dart. Both she and Imriel are made slaves of the Marhkagir in Kushiel's Avatar.
- The Magnificent: Alais is known as Alais the Wise in the third trilogy. Many Skaldi have one after their name. There's a lampshade hanging when Phèdre wonders what Harald the Beardless would be called when he's old enough to grow a beard.
- Mama Bear: Phèdre becomes one to Imriel after she finds him, to the point that she strong-arms the queen into letting her adopt him.
- While Imriel very much has his doubts, Melisande would do anything for him.
- Man in White: Imriel, attending the Midwinter Masquerade as Baldur, the Skaldic god of light. This unfortunately makes people ask questions since it both echoes the role of the Sun Prince and because of his mother's role in the Skaldi invasion twenty years previous.
- The Masochism Tango: Phèdre and Joscelin's relationship to a T at first. However, it tones down eventually, once Joscelin loosens up, and Phèdre stops getting yanked around by Melisande every three seconds.
- Masquerade Ball: Terre d'Ange celebrates the winter solstice by having masked balls and celebrations. Typically Phèdre attends in a Pimped-Out Dress of some sort.
- Master Swordsman: Several, most notably Joscelin. It's noted in Kushiel's Chosen that he's better than even the most practiced of the Cassiline Brothers for a very good reason—he's fought for his life many more times than they have.
- May–December Romance: As above, Delaunay and Alcuin.
- Meaningful Echo: Kinda. After the second book Melisande's reply to Phèdre's accusation of treason gets said in one form or another at least once per book. It's usually mentioned that Melisande said it first.
Melisande: Elua cared naught for mortal politics, nor did Kushiel.
Sidonie: It's not that simple!
Imriel: No, it's not. Mayhap if we obeyed Blessed Elua's precept, it would be. Elua cared naught for thrones or mortal politics.
- Even Ysandre, ever Melisande's target, has to acknowledge them in Mercy, as she publicly confronts Imriel's and Sidonie's relationship
Ysandre: Blessed Elua cared naught for crowns and thrones. Those words, I am told, were spoken by Melisande Shahrizai.
- And the third trilogy continues the trend
Jehanne: Elua bids us to love as we will. And I do. Why isn't that enough? Why does it have to be so damned complicated.
Moirin: We're the ones who make it that way. Blessed Elua cared naught for crowns or thrones.
- Mentor Occupational Hazard: Damn you, Jaqueline Carey! Why does such a Magnificent Bastard like Delaunay have to die?
- Also, Lo Feng
- And Jehanne, in a way, given that she's Moirin's sexual mentor.
- Middle Child Syndrome: Joscelin admits that this is the case of noble families who end up pledging a son to the Cassilines. The eldest stay because they are the heir to the domain. The youngest stay to comfort their mothers. It's then a middle son who ends up being pledged to the order.
- Million-to-One Chance: Phèdre nó Delaunay is very frequently told (or admits herself) that her plans are madness and suicide. Yet, with the exception of a few Unwitting Pawn moments, they always work.
- Moe Couplet: Imriel and Alais.
- Mr. Fanservice: Nearly every darn male in the series.
- Multi-Melee Master: Joscelin, and by exension, all Cassilines. They dual-wield daggers when they're not trying to kill you—and a two-handed sword for when they absolutely, positively must send someone back to their maker. Preferably in pieces.
- My Greatest Failure: Backstory that transformed Delaunay from being a Crown Prince's consort to the man known as Whoremaster of Spies.
- This also applies to Lo Feng - his failure to raise his biological son right is what later allows Snow Tiger to be possessed by the celestial Dragon and the creation of Divine Thunder (cannons).
- Mysterious Protector: Canis for Imriel in Scion. Turns out Melisande sent him.
- Mysterious Veil: In Chosen, Prince Benedicte's new wife in La Serinissima takes the Veil of Asherat, the local sea-goddess, as a symbol of her finding refuge there. While true in every respect, it's really Melisande under an assumed name, which lets her pull off a Hidden in Plain Sight.
- Nature Adores a Virgin: Ysandre is rare among D'Angelines in that she was not allowed to have sex before marriage in case she married a foreigner, and pretty much all other countries around Terre d'Ange require the bride to be a virgin.
- No Accounting for Taste: This is stated to be the realm at large's opinion of Phèdre's relationship with Joscelin.
- Then, later, their reaction to Moirin and Jehanne.
- No Periods, Period: In Terre d'Ange women can only become pregnant if they pray to Eisheth, a fertility goddess to open their wombs, and then the Goddess may or may not grant this wish. So essentially no one has a menstrual cycle until then, and no one has to worry about unwanted pregnancy unless they change their mind. Be Careful What You Wish For.
- Noodle Incident: In Dart when Phèdre first meets Melisande, Delaunay keeps Melisande silent about his second pupil by reminding her "Do you want Cousin Ogier to know why his son cancelled his wedding at the last moment?" This is never spoken of again. We don't even get to find out who this Cousin Ogier is.
- Not Hyperbole: The Mahrkagir's iron rod is, in fact, just that. It's iron and spiked and covered with the dried blood of the women he's raped with it.
- "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Subverted. Several times, Phèdre has been placed in situations where she has been forced into sex with another person. She mentions the worst part of the experience is always the humiliation of enjoying it.
- Not Worth Killing: Inverted. Instead of killing Phèdre, Melisande continuously deals her more merciful punishments, like selling her to slavery, trapping her in the worst prison in the world, etc. because legend has it that a descendent of Kushiel who kills a bearer of Kushiel's Dart suffers ten-thousand years of torment in the afterlife. This is a smart decision in a world where gods and angels are proven to exist. Rather than not being worth killing, Phèdre is too valuable to kill. That, and the fact that Melisande just finds her too much fun as a sex slave.
- The Oath-Breaker:
- Joscelin, in a largely heroic example. Cassilines swear many oaths, loyalty to their order, to never abandon their charge, to never draw their sword unless they need to kill to defend their charge, to remain celibate, among others. Being sold into slavery to the Skaldi, Joscelin is forced to break most of his vows to keep Phèdre safe and get them both home, having refused to abandon her and escape himself. He is finally forced to break his last vow and abandon the Cassiline order (who wanted him in custody to atone) in order to continue protecting Phèdre, holding his oath to never abandon her above all the others. Ironically, the Cassiline's mythology of their patron angel Cassiel features a very similar choice.
- Played straight and invoked with the Unforgiven, a military squad sworn to a traitor lord that allowed the Skaldi to invade. The survivors of the attack that turned back the Skaldi are sworn to atone by forever guarding and holding the Skaldi passes, and also to follow Kushiel's Chosen on Earth, Phèdre (who is flabbergasted on hearing this). Phèdre later asks them to abandon their posts and march with Ysandre to retake the City of Elua, referencing Joscelin's choice of breaking one vow to hold a higher one.
- Omniglot: Phèdre picks up 13 languages over the first three books, most of which she learned while traveling. Imriel can speak almost that many. Justified in that once you've picked up three or four languages, the rest become somewhat easier—especially if you're dealing with "Romance languages" that have similar pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.
- Older Sidekick: Imriel seems to get a new one in every book to help him out.
- One-Hit Kill: The main power of the Aka Magi, who can kill with a glance. Because of how ridiculously powerful that is it only took a small number of them to kill Khebbel-im-Akkad's entire invading army.
- Oracular Urchin: Hyacinthe, sorta.
- Orphanage of Love: Imriel grows up in the Temple of Elua, living a very simple and happy existence.
- Our Angels Are Different: Blessed Elua and his Companions. It is outright stated that the companions were angels of God. They are treated as gods by some of the mortals of the books, though.
- Our Dragons Are Different: Naamah's Kiss has a traditional Chinese dragon.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Examples that go unnoticed in-universe -
- Melisande's escape from Troyes-le-Mont is assisted by her cousin Persia visiting her single-room cell, swapping clothes with her, and walking out. Made more plausible since the Shahrizai family all have a similarly distinctive appearance (deep black hair with bluish highlights, to start), although Melisande is supposed to stand out as a beauty even among them. This lets her roam the fortress at will arranging the rest of her escape, and her cell guards are killed before Persia is discovered.
- Imriel copies Melisande's simple trick in Avatar, swapping clothes with another kid to ditch his escort back to Terra d'Ange, which only needs to work long enough for their ship to set sail. He stows away on Phèdre's boat instead, joining their journey to Jebe-Barkal and beyond, because he's come to love and trust them, although it's noted this will definitely make people believe he's his mother's son.
- Parental Abandonment: This is particularly common in the Delaunay household. Delaunay, Alcuin, Phèdre, and Guy are all without parents.
- Ysandre's parents die when she is a child.
- Parental Favoritism: Lyonette openly and obviously prefers her son Baudoin to her daughter Bernadette.
- Parental Marriage Veto: The entire second trilogy pretty much revolves around getting over this for Sidonie and Imriel.
- Parental Substitute: Delaunay acts as a father of sorts for Phèdre and Alcuin, as well as teacher and pimp (and, for Alcuin, lover).
- A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: In Dart Melisande hires Cereus House as the setting for her lover Prince Baudoin's birthday party. Longest Night parties, for courtesans, are similar.
- Patricide: In Dart, though Drustan is the Cruarch's heir he is forced to flee when the Cruarch's son kills his father and takes his title.
- Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Ysandre and Drustan. Also Nicola and her husband.
- Pet the Dog: The Mahrkagir literally has a dog statue which he gives to Phèdre because he loves her. Also Melisande's love for Imriel.
- Pimped-Out Dress/Costume Porn: Phèdre spends a while waxing lyrical about her dress before every fete, ball, masque or other special occasion. The red dress and velvet cloak for her first assignation comes to mind. When she anounces that her return to being a servant of Naamah she wears a gown with a low back that shows her tattoo, to show she means business. Phèdre gets really dressed up on the night she plans to kill the Mahrkagir with her hair-pin.
- Other characters get to wear these as well, especially in the books that don't have Phèdre as a main character.
- Platonic Prostitution: In addition to being Servants of Namaah, the adepts of Eglatine House are cross-trained in a variety of performing arts (singing, dancing, acrobatics etc) and are frequently employed en masse for those skills alone.
- Plot Tailored to the Party: Phèdre is able to solve a lot of problems by having sex with people, but equally, if not more important, are her skills as a clever spy, linguist, and diplomat.
- Polar Opposite Twins: Eamonn and Grainne mac Conor. The brother digs in his heels and plays it safe while the sister runs headlong at challenges.
- The Power of Love:
- Might as well be a physical force equal to gravity in this series.
- It does get twisted from time to time. For example the source of the Aka Magi's powers over death comes from them sacrificing and eating the heart of a person they truly love. This is also the key to why the Mahrkagir is vulnerable to Phèdre. He loves her, and if he performs the ritual sacrifice, he will unleash the full fury of his God. The fact he wants to do this is the only thing that allows Phèdre to get him alone long enough to kill him.
- Pregnant Badass: Grainne rode into battle against the Skaldi while pregnant with her son Eamonn. Ysandre in particular finds this fascinating and horrifying.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy:
- This defines no less than three of the nations that are not Terre d'Ange: The Eiran, the Albans, and the Skaldi. After their defeat by Terre d'Ange and the Albans, the Skaldi mutate into a trade power rather like Germany did, seeking to gain through gold what they couldn't through force of arms.
- In Terre d'Ange, the Camaelines are credited with only being to think with their swords before one of their leaders turns out to be Melisande's traitor. The Skaldi, meanwhile, are never credited with thinking, swords or otherwise. Then, their leader also turns out to be working with Melisande. Hmm, notice a pattern here?
- Drustan and Eamonn fit this trope although both are very clever and thoughful men. It's more about how other people preceive them as being couth or uncultured.
- Waldemar Selig tries to avert this. He dreams of ruling over a sophisticated empire, but the Skaldi care too much for fighting and drinking to pose a threat to Terre d'Ange, until he unites them under one kingdom. But even he loses his head in the heat of battle at Troyes-le-Mont...
- Psycho Serum: Imriel gets a surprise dose of this in Kushiel's Mercy. Ironically, being flat out of his head for a month turns out to be the best thing for him, given the situation that he's in. Being mad for a month was part of his mother's plan to make him immune to the spell being cast on everyone else in the city.
- Psychological Torment Zone: Darsanga.
- Punny Name: Berlik (pronounced bear-lic) the servant of a bear-god who can turn himself into a bear.
- Purple Eyes: Ysandre, Alais and those from House L'Envers.
- Purple Prose: Justified. Phèdre's an active courtesan-spy trained to observe details and appreciate beauty, so it makes sense that her inner dialogue would contain lots of description. Fortunately, Carey's prose style, while detailed, is rarely unintelligible, and anyone who's above an 8th-grade reading level should be able to undertstand it. Imriel uses his infiltration skills less, and so his POV is less detailed. And Moirin, who spends the first 15 years of her life in the wilderness and finds the D'Angeline pre-occupation with looks silly has even less description than Imriel's.
- The Quest: Even though the first trilogy is mostly political in nature, each book centers around one or more quests that require the protagonists to travel far from home.
- Rape as Drama: As soon as Phèdre is taken out of Terre d'Ange, she goes from willing courtesan to constant rape victim. The fact that her curse forces her to enjoy it makes it even more hellish for her.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Especially when Terre d'Ange regards it as not just a crime, but heresy.
- Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Phèdre nó Delaunay and Melisande Shahrizai. Phèdre describes her skin as being "a perfectly acceptable shade of ivory" and her hair as "sable-in-shadows." Melisande is described as having alabaster skin and hair so black that it gleams blue under light. Being D'Angeline they are automatically beautiful, but even among D'Angelines Phèdre is a highly desired courtesan and Melisande is regarded as being one of the most beautiful women alive. The kind of beautiful that inspires people to write poetry about her.
- Red Light District: Night's Doorstep is where you go when you want some company but can't possibly afford the Night Court.
- Redemption Equals Death: In Kushiel's Dart, Isidore d'Aiglemort goes on a suicide mission to avoid being remembered as a traitor (and foil the plans of Chess Master, Melisande).
- Rescue Romance: Subverted. Imriel attempts to save Sidonie from a boar, but it turns out to be just a deer.
- Reversed both ways with Joscelin and Phèdre. Joscelin's one of the best fighters in the series and saves Phèdre countless times, but his Cassiline arrogance and idealism couldn't mentally prepare him for the harsh realities of Skaldic slavery. He would have starved himself out of humiliation if Phèdre hadn't snapped him out of it. And while Joscelin's not dumb, he's not Delaunay-trained either. Phèdre's observation and subterfuge skills are key to many of their plans.
- Revealing Cover Up: In Chosen, the veterans of Troyes-le-Mont in La Serenissima all declare that they saw Barquiel L'Envers together with Persia the night of the escape. Phedre knows Persia was actually Melisande, and is fully ready to accuse Barquiel of treason... until Fortun notes that every veteran said the same thing the same way, like it was rehearsed, and feigned ignorance of the only other veteran they hadn't found yet, information a less involved guard was quickly able to supply.
- River of Insanity: The journey through the Amazon in Naamah's Blessing.
- Romanticized Abuse: Melisande and Phèdre's relationship certainly qualifies. Arguably a subversion, as Melisande is a villain.
- Rope Bridge: In Kushiel's Chosen, island prison La Dolorosa is connected to the mainland only by a rope bridge, which has two guards on the island side armed with axes, who can cut the bridge long before anybody gets across. Joscelin's solution? Climb along the underside of the bridge.
- Royal Blood: Very important, to the point that those of the royal line are called Princes and Princesses of the Blood.
- Royal Brat: Mostly averted with Imriel-who was raised in an orphanage for most of his life-and played mostly straight Jehanne's daughter. In the latter case, she mostly just needs people who know how to handle her.
- Royal Inbreeding: Imriel de la Courcel falls in love with and eventually marries Princess Sidonie de la Courcel. Imriel is the son of Sidonie's great-uncle, making them first cousins once removed.
- Sacred Scripture: As the worshipers of Namaah consider sex an act of worship, the Trois Milles Joies (an in-universe version of the Kama Sutra) may be considered one.
- Sacrificial Lion: Dorelei, Alcuin, and Delaunay.
- Safe Word: Known as a signale. Not heeding it is considered heresy.
- School of Seduction: The Court of Night-Blooming Flowers.
- Screw Destiny: Phèdre's reaction to Hyacinthe's fate in the first trilogy. Succeeds, of course. Joscelin after deciding he can't live without Phèdre in Chosen.
- Scream Discretion Shot: Kushiel's Dart has a scene where Phèdre is drugged and then tortured by Melisande Shahrizai. It's described by Phèdre as not being rape because Melisande would have heeded the signale. We only hear Phèdre's very short and non-explicit summary of it, which is bad enough.
- Secret Relationship: Sidonie and Imriel are like this when they actually hook up. It doesn't last long though.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Zigzags in the case of Imriel and the Maghuin Dhonn. They foresee the possibility of a terrible future, and at first all their attempts to avert it make it more likely and worse. However, in the end, they do manage to change the course of fate... but at a terrible price.
- Semi-Divine: The D'Angeline people are like this; descended from God's grandson and his angelic companions.
- Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Patrons pay extra to take the virginity of a new courtesan. And it's typically part of an aristocrat's 16th birthday celebration for them to visit the Night Court for the first time.
- Sex God: Any of Terre d'Ange's courtesan, due to the glorification of prostitution as sacred. Special mention goes to Phèdre.
- Taken very literally in the case of Naamah, though she's more of a Sex Angel than a Sex God.
- Sex Slave: The woman of the Mahrkagir's harem, who come from a variety of nations and whom Phedre is briefly part of before they are liberated. Also the women of the Falconer's harem.
- Sexy Backless Outfit: Phèdre wears such a gown in Chosen. All courtesans from the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers must earn their marque, a tattoo covering the entire back, in order to complete their debt of servitude towards their House. It's considered unseemly for an adept to bare her back in public before her marque is complete. After the marque is completed, baring it is considered a declaration that he or she is taking offers.
- Sheltered Aristocrat: This is played with in the series. Phèdre and the aristocrats she contends with tend to be intelligent, well-educated, and extremely cunning in high society and politics. Very few people are as naive as this trope. However when faced with people who are not as well off, they genuinely don't understand what daily life is like for the masses.
- This is averted with Imriel, who grew up as a goat-herd orphan (and was then horribly abused), and thus tends to have a balanced view of upper and lower-class life, not to mention a deeper understanding than most of how dangerous the world is.
- Alban and Skaldi aristocrats also tend to avert this, due to life generally being harder and closer to the earth in these countries.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Sidonie and Alais. Sidonie resembles their D'Angeline mother, she is blonde, fair-skinned, cool to the point of being perceived as an Ice Queen. Alais resembles their Cruithne father, she is brown-skinned, dark-haired, spirited, and considered to be not as well-mannered.
- Siege Engines: The Skaldi build siege towers for use during the siege of Troyes-le-Mont.
- Most recently the 'Divine Thunder' (cannons) seen in Kiss.
- Silk Hiding Steel: This is the canon of Cereus House, pale, fragile beauty with inner steel. Phèdre notes that this also perfectly describes Ysandre de la Courcel.
- Silver Fox: Cecilie Laveau-Perrin, a former Cereus adept. She is in her fifties when Phèdre meets her, and is commonly believed to be just as lovely as she was in her youth, partly because her pale Cereus-canon hair has gone platinum.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Moirin and Bao bicker with each other right up until the point where they start having incredible sex.
- The Sleepless: Lucius when he was being possessed by Gallus. Imriel eventually challenged him to a duel just so his friend could rest for a night.
- So Happy Together: Melisande and Phèdre towards the middle of Dart.
- Someday This Will Come in Handy: Or as Delaunay and Phèdre like to say, "All knowledge is worth having."
- Someone to Remember Him By: Maslin is this to his mother, who was pregnant with him when his father Isidore d'Aiglemort died.
- Sorkin Relationship Moment: Imriel's relationship with Dorelei contains a number of these.
- Stalker with a Test Tube: Imriel gets stalked/harassed in various ways by a Maghuin Dhonn witch, who at one point thinks she can Screw Destiny by getting pregnant with Imriel's child. Boy, does he not want to.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Joscelin and Phèdre are presented as this at first, as are Sidonie and Imriel. Moirin and Bao seem to be setting up for this as well
- Anafiel Delaunay and Prince Rolande; it's the theme of the anthology where the short story was published.
- STD Immunity: No one ever gets a venereal disease, nor are any mentioned, despite having unprotected sex whenever they wish.
- Straight for the Commander: At the climax of Kushiel's Dart Isidore d'Aiglemort leads his army on a cavalry charge against the Skaldi, aiming to get to Waldemar Selig and kill him. They end up in a Mutual Kill.
- Taking You with Me: Gallus, not to another person but to a flood when he returns to the underworld after protecting Lucca.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: It's a dagger, but in Kushiel's Chosen, Joscelin makes a dagger throw that disrupts the aim of an enemy on the other end of a large temple filled with fighting men. Phèdre comments that she thought the throw was impossible.
- Time Skip: The books mainly continue where the last one left off, but there's a ten year jump between Chosen and Avatar and a hundred year jump before the third trilogy. There's also little time skips during the books when the characters are traveling or nothing important is happening.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Alais and Sidonie respectively.
- Too Kinky to Torture: Phèdre. Early on in Dart she is burned with a red hot poker. She states that "There was no pleasure in it, at least not one who was not an anguissette would understand." Of course, there are lines even for that: she derives no pleasure from being skinned, for example. Still, she says late in the first book that she cannot be forced to tell secrets through torture. This appears to be true. However, she pretty much hits her limit in Darsanga with "the rod."
- Trojan Prisoner: Phèdre and Joscelin infiltrate Darsanga this way, Joscelin giving Phèdre to the Mahrkagir's harem in exchange for sanctuary. The gambit runs longer than most examples, as it takes her a long time to get enough trust and planning to find a way to end the Mahrkagir's reign.
- Troubled, but Cute: Imriel, according to others in the book. Sometimes when reading, it's far too easy to imagine him in a James Dean type get up.
- Trust Password: Used during the siege in Scion.
- Twin Threesome Fantasy: Well, not so much a fantasy, but actually played out in Chosen with Apollonaire and Diànne.
- Though the trope is played with, worth mention in Dart. Phèdre sleeps with the twin lords of the Dalriada, but separately.
- Tyke Bomb: Joscelin and Cassiline brothers in general. Sadly for Joscelin being hyper competent at combat didn't prepare him for much of life outside of being a bodyguard.
- Unproblematic Prostitution: In Terre d'Ange, it's at least regarded as unproblematic. Since the Night Court prostitutes are raised into the lifestyle from early childhood, it's all they know, and the see their calling as noble. Some, like Alcuin, accept the life without realizing what it actually means-and Alcuin has to deal with his extreme guilt towards Naamah, when he finds out that he doesn't actually want to have sex with strangers for money. Outside Terre d'Ange, all the problems you'd expect seem to exist as prostitutes there have no special status.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Joscelin and Phèdre in Dart. (It gets resolved.)
- Unusual Euphemism: "I/you should catch a fish" between Joscelin and Phèdre.
- Vestigial Empire: Caerdicca Unitas, which contains Rome's fantasy counterpart Tiberium.
- Vow of Celibacy: Members of the Cassiline Brotherhood are required to be celibate, in deference to the example of the archangel Cassiel, the only angel to follow Elua but not lie with mortals. In Dart Phedre's first bodyguard was in training to become a Brother but was kicked out before taking the vows for having sex with a farmer's daughter. Joscelin does break his vow with Phedre during their escape from Skaldia, but Phedre convinces him to treat it as a moment of divine grace (and it's implied she's right), and only lightly referred to later, even after they more fully commit to their love and break it for good.
- Wandering the Earth: Elua and his Companions, back in the day. Even when they found Terre d'Ange, Elua insisted on wandering everywhere.
- Warrior Monk: Joscelin and the other Cassiline brothers—complete with vow of chastity. Deconstructed somewhat; the discipline is very demanding, starting at age 10, but we get several flawed examples, and the many restrictions and traditions of the order do not hold up under the strain of the extreme situations Joscelin finds himself in.
- Welcome to the Big City: Moirin has lived on the fringe of society all her life, so her introduction to the City of Elua is, in a word, rough. It starts with getting hit by a carriage.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Melisande is arguably simply following the precept of "Love as thou wilt" as concerns her passion for intrigue and backstabbery. Even Phèdre says that Melisande would doubtless be a very good Queen, as she makes a habit of doing everything to which she sets her mind, excellently.
- What Kind Of Lame Poweris Heart Anyway: The ability to speak the language of ants was originally given as a prank by an irritated spirit. In Terre d'Ange, it's this. In the Amazon Rain forest, it's a little different.
- When the Planets Align: used by the Carthaginians in Mercy to put a spell on the entire city.
- White Hair, Black Heart: Averted with Alcuin, who is one of the gentlest people in the series.
- Played straight with Isidore d'Aiglemort, also known as Kilberhaar (silver hair).
- Wife Husbandry: Inverted. Delaunay adopts Phèdre and Alcuin with the plan that he wants them to work as spies/courtesans and believes that the kids see him as a mentor/boss figure. Instead both of them fall in love with him. Alcuin waits until he's free and legal to make his move.
- Winds of Destiny, Change: How the Aka Magi explain their power to kill with a glance. Everybody is just a step a death at any moment, they could have a heart attack, they could trip and break their neck, a clot could form in their brain or any other hundreds of other accidents. All the Aka Magi do is give fate that little push.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Snow Tiger is strong enough to casually bend steel bars, but if she sees her own reflection, even in someone else's eyes, she goes on a killing spree. Though, technically, it's not her. It's the dragon bound up inside her head, which can't stand to see itself in the wrong body.
- Woman in White: Phèdre does this at least three times over the series at Midwinter Masques.
- At Cereus House's celebration when she is ten years old, she and the other Cereus fosterlings are dressed in white as part of the winter theme that Cereus House always has. Prince Baudoin singles her out as joy-bearer and kisses her for luck.
- At the masque for the peerage of Kusheth, Phèdre is dressed in nothing but white gauze and diamonds and put on a leash. It causes quite the stir at the party that she's showed up practically naked.
- One masque that she attends with Imriel has the whole Montrève household dressed in white as Skaldic gods. Because everyone else is dressed in bright colors, they definitely stand out.
- The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: Ysandre, as well as with Drustan, her husband. Both find themselves in this position during Dart and Chosen.
- Women's Mysteries: The rite of fertility that women undergo to get pregnant is closed off to men. It's actually pretty simple-they just pray for the goddess Eisheth to let them conceive while lighting a candle (though she doesn't always grant it).
- Would Hurt a Child: The Mahrkagir, full stop, which leads to some nasty nightmares for Imriel.
- Xanatos Gambit: Melisande always has backup plans, and even when she loses her bids for power she comes away with at least some degree of victory. However the game plays out, she gets something out of the results.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: Phèdre working to uncover Melisande's Evil Plans.