Friday, 11 September 2020

Read As Thou Wilt: Kushiel’s Dart Readalong, Part Two

Wotcha all, and welcome to part two of the readalone, covering chapters 17 to 31. The questions this week come from Nrlymrtl at Dab of Darkness and with that said, time to get on with it.

 Q1) We get a few more hints of magic or the supernatural in this section. Phedre sees Kushiel's visage after Alcuin is injured; Hyacinthe's mom & he himself both have things revealed via the dromonde; that moment of deep peace at Elua's statue. What do you think of magic in this world?

The word supernatural seems more appropriate than magic to me, that's for sure. To riff a little on what Imyril's already said, I have a personal classification on magic being an intentional act using learned skills, where as something like the dromonde is simply an extension of one's personal if unusual abilities (for all we're told that Hyacinthe's mother teaches him the dromonde). It's something like learning to play rugby or tennis vs just being extremely good at jumping, to use an awful analogy. And what's happening to Phèdre certainly feels more like divine visitations than magic - or maybe nothing at all. Indeed, while we're clearly being asked to see the supernatural as readers, everything so far could be explained rationally.

And I love it. I love this sort of could be, maybe isn't, little peek into the supernatural type of fantasy worlds. I enjoy magic to the power of fuck yeah stories, but my heart belongs first and foremost to these subtler displays of fantastic conceits. Carey handles it very well personally; she gives it the right level of skepticism, of fascination, and of awe. This is the sort of worldbuilding and supernatural that makes stories better without bogging them down.

Q2) More politics! For those new to the series, what do you make of Baudoin and his mother, the Lioness of Azzalle? For those rereading, are you noticing details you missed before?

Baudoiiiiing! No, I never actually thought of that before. But the noise seems appropriate for his role in the story. I don't really recall what I thought of him the first time I read this but this time around, his callowness and insensitivity are magnified. He's the stock image of a romantic prince that might be the hero in some Arthurian tale, but here presented from the view of one better positioned to see feet of clay than the head of gold. That Phèdre is so affected by his death is part testament to her empathy, part her weakness for magnificent and ruthless assurance (even if he wasn't so assured in the end).

As for the Lioness - it would have been fun to see more. But maybe the story is better for leaving you wanting more of her rather than showing too much.

Q3) What do you think of Alciun's final assignation? Guy's death? Would Alcuin have been happier, but perhaps less useful, as something other than Naamah's servant?

Mm... I don't think Alcuin would have been happier, because he'd have been less useful.

I think that Alcuin had a powerful need to repay Delaunay's kindnesses. I think he needed to be able to approach him as an equal - someone who had done a great thing for Delaunay rather than someone who had simply always depended on him. Being a servant of Namaah gave him a chance to do so in a way I can't imagine happening any other way - and neither, apparently, could Alcuin. I'm back to my view of love having a transactional element in this story - Alcuin loved Delaunay and needed something of value to bring to the table. This was it. Would he have been happy if he hadn't done so? Probably, because Alcuin has a gift for happiness. But I don't think more happy. And it should be noted that what makes Alcuin truly most unhappy is not what he pays to give Anafiel Delaunay, but what somebody else has to pay as well.

In any case, beyond that, I think Alcuin's final assignation shows the wisdom of Delaunay's decision on how to pursue his goals (how are the first time readers doing with that by the way?), but this is a moment of condemnation as well as vindication. Delaunay has erred a little in terms of the response he's provoked, and people he loves has paid for it. I think that hits him hard.

And from a writerly perspective, I think Carey's handling of Guy's life and death is bloody masterly. His life provided a wealth of detail, his death is the catalyst for several major plot developments, and his memory will linger and colour one of the book's most important relationships...

Q4) Phedre has a new bodyguard - a Casseline Brother, Joscelin Verreuil. What do you think his life was like before this posting? Are you surprised that Anafiel didn't dismiss him after the confrontation with Childric d'Essoms?

A lot duller.


What? I'm right, aren't I?

The exact nature of being a Casseline is mostly hinted at here; we know they're monkish bodyguard badasses and that's about it. We know Joscelin was born noble, so maybe being a monkish bodyguard badass was a bit of a culture shock for him, but it seems unlikely given how attached he is to the role. I wish we knew more about Angeline faith too here, as the Casseline disapproval of the Night Court makes me want to know about all sorts of context. 

As for not dismissing him... after all the effort he went to to get a Casseline to guard his precious proteges? Delaunay is far too wise to throw away such an asset over one failing.

Q5) We finally meet Barquiel L'Envers. How dangerous do you think this man is? What do you make of his history with Anafiel?

Put it this way - I'm not volunteering to poison his sister.

And I really enjoyed watching him spar with Anafiel. The international man of mystery gets things his own way far too often at times - watching him on the back foot, unable to guard all his secrets, is fun. 

Q6) How did you feel about Phedre granting Childric another assignation? Was she right that she owed him a debt?

By her own moral and religious standards, yes; she needed to pay for her deceit in her own mind. Since I'm not a prostitute for religious reasons, and the only person I know to have done so probably doesn't have the patience for this book, who am I to argue?

Q7) Alcuin has completed his marque and displays it to Anafiel. How do you feel about the shift in their relationship? Phedre's response to it?

I find it sweet that Alcuin finally gets what he wants. That's my main take. Early indications seem to be I'm in a minority there, and I'm idly wondering whether it's because being a bloke, imbalanced relationships are less of a thing in my head because the risk of me or one of my friends getting caught in a bad one was far far less (not to mention it strips out less rung of inequality) in my head growing up.

And Phèdre's response is very human. Poor Phèdre. It's a good job she doesn't do anything too mad as a result.

And, of course, include anything else that piqued your interest from this section.

I'm looking back at my answers above and trying to work out if it's a function of me writing one part early in the day and the other part late at night and being too lazy to edit, or a function of me finding parts of this section more interesting than the others. It's a very busy section of book; Carey's built the core parts of the conceit carefully at the start, and here bounces all over the place establishing the seeds of the plot and D'Angeline society. A result of this is that while I enjoy a lot of scenes, a lot of it conforms close enough to expectations that I don't have a lot to say - L'Envers and the Lioness for example. You could probably turn the first two segments into their own book if you so wanted.

I guess the most interesting part of this for me that hasn't been covered is the sense of Phèdre's growth. She's no longer a child or yearning teenager; she is a woman (at least in her own estimation), a little drunk on a sense of her own importance and fulfilment of destiny, finally living her best life. It's really fun to see the little flourishes of storytelling voice where we see her looking back, a little rueful at herself but also a little proud.

And other than that... who in the world is Anafiel Delaunay!


  1. lol - that's a great question - just who is Anafiel Delaunay and why is his history so dangerous?

    I enjoyed reading your answer to the question about magic. I too love that it's subtle and perhaps not magic but rather some bit of faith or supernatural flair. And the story lets me be skeptical if I want to be or lets me totally embrace these extraordinary moments.

    1. I know, I've already read, but I can't wait to see all the first timers give their opinion!

      And yes. I really like it when a story gives me a choice on skepticism vs embrace.