I read this book about 19-Jan-2004. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2001. This note was last modified Saturday, 24-Jan-2004 18:36:51 PST.
This note contains spoilers for the book.
A brick by a new author (bio suggests some background in non-fiction). Another of those strange fantasy worlds that are emphasizing while concealing their relationship to the new world (as Jo Walton did in The King's Name, for example). The geography is terrestrial, but the religion is very different, a Christian spin-off based on stuff that happened just after Jesus died.
The land of Terre d'Ange, otherwise known as France, seems to be based on romantic ideals, and an obsessive devotion to appearances. How people look seems to determine everything about them. There are suggestions they've been breeding themselves for beauty for a long time. I found this a nasty substrate; but other than the original sorting of Phedre into the particular house that raised her, it never actually seems to matter to anybody, so it doesn't really mess up the book. It's more prevalent in the early few chapters, then seems to fade away. I suspect that actual people with those attitudes would be far more destructive.
They have legal (and moral; in fact divinely inspired) prostitution; the prostitutes are servants of Namaah, one of the sub-christian pantheon that they worship. It's split into 13 houses, which is probably heresy (in their own eyes). They have, they say raised desire to an art-form. The main character is raised in one of the houses, and even more unusual, she's an "anguisette", which seems to translate very roughly as "submissive" in modern BDSM terms. But it's very rare there; there haven't been any known for several generations. Despite this background, there's almost no sex on-stage, and not very much kinkiness either.
From what I've heard, this sexual background is a lot of the attraction for a lot of readers. I found it more of a distraction. It doesn't seem, to me, to really fit much with the story, and isn't given enough attention to make it a story of its own. So as a result, it's largely a distraction. I suppose my reaction is another example of Americans being insane about sex. Oh well.
There are something like 6 stories strung together to make this novel. The things that direct the characters from one to the next are fairly arbitrary usually.
The invented religious and social background is quite interesting, except that I do find it distracting that it's so connected to real history, and yet so carefully isolated. There was Rome, but only as "Tiberium". There was Jesus, and he died crucified, but the important gods were developed out of that, and only one small sect (the Yeshuites) seem to be even vaguely christian. I'd have preferred it as a created world, without the connections.