Thursday, 24 September 2020

Read as Thou Wilt: Kushiel's Dart Readalong, Part Four


It's that time again! We signed off last week with Phédre and Joscelin having simply the worst package tour experience ever in Skaldiland, but there's far too much book left for them to stay there. So what happens next? Let's talk about them with the help of some questions from Mayri at BookForager.

Waldemar’s old teacher Lodur calls Phedre “a weapon thrown by a D’Angeline god” and this changes how Phedre sees herself to some extent. How does this change the way you’ve thought about Phedre so far?

So... I've read the book. I've read the first two series. This is not new to me and not only has it already been shaping how I see Phédre, it's been shaping how I see those around her. Really curious as to how all the first time readers see this.

The first time I read this book, it didn't really register I have to say. I think it took until the third book to really sink in. And I'm not sure why. It's not like Phédre being a human weapon is new - it's what Delaunay has done after all. Maybe that's why?

In any case, my view of Phédre - possibly a bit spoiler-ific, although I think and hope not - is that she is indeed a weapon, a very specific and strange type of weapon. What Phédre does is invite people to take and take and break and break - her unnatural resilience and mingling of pleasure and pain means she can do that in a way almost nobody else can - and, in doing so, causes people to overreach and overtrust. That's what happened with D'Essoms but here, with Where's Waldemar, we see it made a lot more explicit.

Although not explicit enough for me to catch it the first time through.

Joscelin has broken all but one of his vows during the time he and Phedre have been in Skaldia. How do you feel about everything he has gone through? Everything Phedre has gone through? And the Prefect of the Cassiline Brotherhood’s opinion on these matters?

Honestly... feeling kinda bad for saying this... I don't really care? P&J's (I wonder if that's Carey's favourite type of sandwich) sojourn in Skaldia is my least favourite part of the book because I never really engage with their pain. I rarely do; I agree with Le Guin's quote about 
"the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain”, which seems relevant here. Intellectually, sure, what they go through is terrible - although in a lot of ways, formative and possibly full of hidden blessings. But emotionally, I just don't find constant pain interesting to read about. So... *shrugs* Bring them back to interesting things! I guess the biggest thing, and most interesting thing, is Phédre's finding of humanity everywhere, and how much it hurts to go against that with Harald the Beardless.

As for the Prefect... technically correct, if Joscelin has broken sacred oaths he needs to absolve himself and his spiritual superiors are the people to do it with, but said without heart or compassion. And not even defending him in person? Bit of a dick move that. Part of me wonders whether Joscelin was very popular in the Cassilines - getting sent to Phédre feels just the sort of dick move they'd pull with a kid they didn't have much time for. In summation, Prefect Rinaforte, you are a bit of a dick, sir.

Incidentally, if he was speaking with heart and compassion, I think he'd still urge Joscelin to come back to the order and seek spiritual healing, but maybe understand he has to see his task through.

A whimsical question: Phedre doesn’t seem to be able to lose or give away Melisande’s diamond. What do you think this stone’s eventual fate might be?

I think I remember the answer to this so I plead the fifth.

And a follow-on to that: all gifts in this story, god-given or otherwise, are double-edged swords. Discuss. 😊

Where's the double edge to the gift of shelter, trust, and love that Taavi and Danele give to P&J? A lot of what's given here comes with hidden thorns, but not everything, and I think the gift of friendship (bleurgh) is usually just full of goodness - see Alcuin, see Thelsis, see Cecile. 

What do you make of Ysandre de la Courcel now that we’ve finally met her? And what of her intention to honour her betrothal to Drustan mab Necthana?

Rather impressive. Maybe a little too impressive when we get to second thoughts but there we go, it's part fairy tale, enjoy the show. Ysandre knows what she wants, and what she believes in, and is willing to stick with it even when the tide's going the other way. I admire that. I admire her sense of even-handedness and justice. I think of all the secondary characters, I find her most impressive. 

Now that we know the whole of Delaunay’s story, has your opinion of him changed at all?

It's one hell of a thing to put so much on your own sense of personal honour, isn't it? But, in doing so, he's done an awful lot to avert a bloody civil war. 

In many ways, I said all I had to say about Delaunay last week. I still think he was a mostly good dude. And so does Phédre.

Finally, Phedre’s marque is finally complete. Do you think she is free?

Yes and no.

At this point in time, she is still restricted by Delaunay's loyalties, which she willingly carries forwards. Obviously the fulfillment of the bond is a marked improvement in her liberty, but free? How free are any of us? Loyalty - particularly loyalty born from love - is one hell of a drug.

Other Notes

Bringing far more scrutiny than necessary to the table, I've never been entirely sure at why the the Camaelines are so suspicious of P&J without a knowledge of the conspiracy that seems far too widespread to be sensible.

Not entirely sure why people brought P&J as Delaunay's murderers. Surely the whole point of the Cassilines is their loyalty is so legendary that saying one of them did it is just a laughing stock position to begin with? And in a people so in love with their own land, what riches could tempt them into exile - particularly when Phédre is likely to end up ridiculously rich anyway?

And while nitpicking, I'm not sure how the biggest Alban army you can bring across the channel is worth more than D'Aiglemort's support. I know why all of this is so - it's to make a better story - but nevertheless, nevertheless. This is the weakness of a story seeking constantly higher stakes - and also the weakness of a single PoV book, where PoVs that might make sense of this aren't used.


  1. I hadn't thought about the trip to Alba in this way ... yeah, what could they possibly bring to the party?

    1. Well, there's a question for part five! I'm sure it'll include both swords and sexiness though.

  2. I love your thoughts on Prefect Rinaforte. He's a dick and I have long wondered if Joscelin was well suited for the Casselines in the first place. In the end though, it's really between Joscelin and Cassiel. Humans can judge him all they like but Cassiel will be the one that matters to Joscelin. And he did make Cassiel's Choice, and I think that will count for something in the long run.

  3. Belated catching up and thank you for the belly laughs. Yes, Prefect Rinaforte IS a bit of a dick, but you've now planted a mental image of young Joscelin being ab-so-fucking-lutely insufferable _even by Cassiline standards_ and that may keep me giggling for the rest of the afternoon.

    I think those nits are well picked, too. Are the Albans meant to outweight d'Aiglemort's support or be the next best thing if you know you don't have his support? I've no defence for why people bought into Phèdre and Joscelin as murderers though; they seem wildly unlikely candidates although there would have been plenty of people who disliked Delaunay who might see that as a convenient way to taint his memory further (the whoremaster of spies, murdered by his own anguisette; this is what you get for being too clever for your own good m'dear) - although given the carnage at Delaunay's house you'd think they would at least have considered co-conspirators.