Phèdre nó Delaunay was a woman of extraordinary beauty, born with a single flaw - a speck of red in one of her eyes. At first, society shuns Phèdre for this imperfection; but a nobleman recognizes the red moat as a sign from the fallen angel Kushiel that Phèdre was born with special talents. He buys her and begins her training to put those talents to use.
It turns out that her talents are to be really good in bed and the ability to derive sexual pleasure from pain. Her training prepares her to become a high-priced prostitute to be passed around among the court nobles. It seems a harsh fate, but in the land of Terre D'Ange, where Phèdre lives, casual sex is the norm. The people of Terre D'Ange live by the motto "Love as thou wilt" and Phèdre is devoted to her master and sees her sexual romps as a tribute to her god.
Everything is great until her master is murdered and Phèdre is captured by Vikings, who carry her off and make a sex slave of her. She is still turned on by their cruelty, but at least she feels bad about that.
Jacqueline Carey's first novel Kushiel's Dart weaves a story of political intrigue and sex. Lots of sex. Mostly S&M sex.
Carey creates a world much like early Renaissance Europe and follows the upper class of a city founded by the demigod Elua and a group of fallen angels. The current residents of Terre D'Ange are the descendants of those angels.
The story doesn't get going until the murder/kidnapping and the escape and recapture and war that follow, but it takes nearly 500 pages to get that far. Until that point, it's aristocrats flirting and spying and backstabbing and having sex.
It's supposed to be a high fantasy novel but reads more like a sex fantasy novella. Even though Terre d'Ange was founded by fallen angels and demigods, we get only a couple brief encounters with supernatural beings and those don't occur until about two-thirds of the way through the novel.
I liked the interweaving political plots of Kushiel's Dart. But I grew weary of the frequent sexual exploits. It was meant to be a High Fantasy novel, but at times reads like a sex fantasy novella. In this day and age, I can get my soft-core pornography too easily to be aroused by throwing in a bondage scene every few pages of a novel.