The Big Idea: Jacqueline Carey

Author Jacqueline Carey is no stranger to the sort of fandom that thrives on fringes, but in this Big idea for her latest novel, Cassiel’s Servant, Carey explains how that fame and fandom exists for reasons that many might not expect.


Kushiel’s Legacy is a cult fan favorite.

It must be true, because that’s what my new marketing materials say. No one asked me, but it’s not the sort of thing one can assert on one’s own. It’s like a nickname. No one gets to decide their own nickname. It just doesn’t work that way. Personal name, yes. Nickname, no. It is bestowed upon you by others, out of affection or spite. 

As cult status has been bestowed upon me. 

In some ways, it’s not a surprise. When I was young, my mother was afraid some charismatic band of sociopathic seekers would recruit me. Decades later, I asked her if she was still afraid I’d join a cult. She looked at me sidelong and said, “No, honey. I’m more afraid you’d start one now.”

I mean, it’s not like I bought a church

The truth is that it has very little to do with me, and everything to do with the world I created. One fan told me she bought Kushiel’s Dart  because she could tell from the cover that it was “the right kind of wrong.” Finding work by an artist that feels like it was made just for you is an exhilarating experience, and Kushiel’s Legacy hits a lot of beats. Kinky, but feminist! Epic fantasy, but alternate history! Tattoos! Slow burn romance! Cool fight choreography! Subversive theology! Big battle scenes! Lyrical prose for readers who love words like ‘ormulu’ and ‘incarnadine!’ It’s the right kind of wrong in all kinds of ways. A cult favorite is a secret handshake saying, “You are not alone.” It’s a doorway to a place that feels like home. 

In my formative years, midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was the cult jam for all the queer kids, the theater geeks and band nerds, the stoners, the New Wave fans trapped in the land of rock gods and hair bands. It was absurd and terrible, but it was ours. In its own way, it mainstreamed gay sex. We had never seen anything like it. It served us camp sensibility, and we ate it up.

Art critic Robert Hughes coined the phrase “the shock of the new” to describe modern art, and I think it’s an apt one for many works that develop a cult following. There’s a visceral thrill to encountering something totally new and unexpected. When that’s combined with a sense of homecoming, it’s some powerful magic. 

One might suppose the ‘shock of the new’ in this instance refers to the fact that my heroine Phèdre is a god-touched masochistic prostitute. That’s enough right there to explain the whole cult status thing. But to my mind the secret weapon in that premise is ‘god-touched.’ In Terre d’Ange, sex is a sacrament. It may be sensuous, violent, meditative, healing, but between consenting adults, it is holy.

That’s the radical part. 

I don’t know how many patrons or sexual encounters Phèdre has in Kushiel’s Dart. At least a dozen, with the implication of more. She’s betrayed into captivity and sexual slavery. Her collected experience reflects the richness and diversity of human sexuality—and it represents the disturbing underbelly, too. Her light shines in some very dark places.

In a very different way, Joscelin’s journey reflects hers.

And I know exactly how many sexual encounters Joscelin has in Cassiel’s Servant. Spoiler alert: Not many. He’s sworn to celibacy. He’s a true believer. What Phèdre endures nearly destroys him. If he’s going to break that vow, he will do it with all the reverence of a priest tearing out his own heart and laying it on the altar.  

I see two decades of love for this series in the array of fan tattoos that have crossed my path—the marque or a version of it; a reclamation of self, a declaration of emancipation. In the quotes, from the elemental simplicity of Blessed Elua’s precept of “Love As Thou Wilt” to the paean to resilience of “That which yields is not always weak.” 

I hear the stories behind the tattoos. Those I keep locked away in the safe place where artists keep special precious things. 

And I stand by this Big Idea: It wasn’t the sex that cemented Kushiel’s Legacy cult status. It was the sanctity. 

Cassiel’s Servant: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s

Author’s socials: Website|Instagram|Twitter|Facebook

13 Comments on “The Big Idea: Jacqueline Carey”

  1. A shared OMG 🤣 with everyone else who came here to react to “I mean, it’s not like I bought a church…”

  2. “I mean, it’s not like I bought a CHURCH…”

    Is that the greatest one-liner in the history of The Big Idea?!

  3. I loved this series (not enough to get a fan tattoo, I don’t think that series has been written yet) and am looking forward to reading this.

    Also appreciated the snark about buying a church! Although in fairness, if she had bought it, with the sexual content in her books I can see how it would have caused a lot more concern in a small town, vs the more wholesome death, destruction and mayhem on a galactic scale in our host’s works.

  4. It’s not like a bought a church should be the name of someone’s next album. Probably not Scalzi’s but I wouldn’t rule him out for it either lol

  5. “It’s not like I bought a church” was the secret B-side to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” g

    Speaking of sex and sanctity going together, and that’s the joy of the Kushiel’s Legacy series for me, absolutely. I’m delighted to have this new novel precisely when I came back and re-read the original trio and the other trilogies I hadn’t finished.

  6. I’m one of those folks who got a tattoo (two, in fact) because of my love of the series. I finished my marque and then filed for divorce to leave an abusive marriage. “Love as Thou Wilt” was added when the divorce was finalized and I could finally be the person I was meant to be without judgement or fear. These books, the world and people Jacqueline Carey has created, have helped to enlighten, tantalize, and heal so many… She may not have bought a physical church, but she surely created one nevertheless.

  7. I laughed at the “…bought a church…” line. I’ll admit it! I am so thrilled to have another piece of Terre d’Ange to throw myself into. I have not yet gotten a tattoo for this series, mostly out of lack of funding since I have a design ready to go.

  8. You know who introduced me to this series? My MOTHER.

    Kushiel’s Dart is my favorite poolside book, or when I just want to sit for a couple hours and read something familiar. I love Carey’s prose.

  9. I read the entire Kushiels series and its sister series as they came out, and I adored them…then I had the joy of meeting Ms Carey at a book reading/signing at the University Bookstore, and she was just as lovely and witty and insightful as her books. Her prose is gorgeous and her worlds so immersive, I can hardly wait until I get a copy of this latest book from another POV.

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