Sunday, 4 October 2020

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

 

Welcome to Week Five of the readalong, and this time the questions are being hosted by yours truly! I was pretty excited to get this section when the readalong was planned (as well as mildly nervous on account of having never done it before) as we're now into the beginning stages of the endgame. There's plenty of revelations and arc climaxes here as Phèdre's loyalty to Anafiel Delaunay extends past the grave, leading her to take on his service to the young queen Ysandre and going as her ambassador to Alba, there to lead the Cruithne to an alliance made of love. But how will Phèdre handle this task, so far from her experiences? And what of her companions?

We’re back on the road again with Phèdre and Joscelin, and this time they’re with Hyacinthe as he finally comes face to face with his heritage. What were your first impressions of the Tsingani? What did you make of Hyacinthe’s reaction to his reception, and Phèdre’s reaction to to that reaction? How did you feel finding out about Anasztaizia’s past? Finally - Hyacinthe’s choice. Could you have done what he did there? Give up finding you family just after finding them for your friend?

Now why did I ask myself so many blooming questions?

My first big impression of the Tsingani on this read was their double nature. Not the first impression, but the one that stuck with me. That's been seeded before of this exchange from when Phèdre and Hyacinthe were both very young:

His eyes flashed, proud and angry. 
"You speak where you have no knowledge and no right! My mother is a Princess of the Tsingani, and the gift of dromonde is mine by right of blood! What would your Delaunay's gadje scholar know of that?"
"Enough to know that Tsingani princesses do not take in washing for a living!" I shot back.
Unexpectedly, Hyacinthe laughed. "If he thinks that, then truly, he learned little of the Tsingani."

Right there you see Hyacinthe's pride in Tsingani culture, Tsingani secrets, Tsingani worth - and a second later, his cheerful acceptance that the rest of the world do not see that. Even happiness. There are two Tsinganis, that which is shown where outsiders can see, and that which is kept for themselves. It is something Phèdre notes early:

"It is a strange thing, how pride may run the strongest among a people despised, as the Tsingani had been in so many lands."  

Here we mostly see Tsingani pride after only seeing Hyacinthe's showmanship among the gadje. Here, among their own, they come across as a happy people, a compelling people, although not without their flaws. Obvious portrayals of marginalised peoples such as the Rom will always invite criticism but, here, I think Phèdre and Carey see the Tsingani with respect and try to share it. 

That said - to jump straight to Anasztaiza's past - some elements of what they are less easy to respect. To turn their back on Anasztaiza for such a "mistake" is cruel, and brings to mind Pratchett's comment that sin is when you "treat people as things". They treated Anasztaiza as a broken thing - not her fault, but still broken - and one they had no use for. The same treatment will be meted out to Hyacinthe. One can understand how a proud people, guardful of their traditions in a world unfriendly to them, can find value in their traditions over individuals... but it doesn't mean I have to agree. Although I think my main contempt here is for the D'Angelines, whose laws didn't protect Anasztaiza from what they'd regard as heresy if done to themselves. Fuck 'em. I'd forgotten this little detail from my last read and it did shock me a little, I have to say. Good on Carey (in a way) for making it very clear there are thorns on the rose.

Back to Hyacinthe and Phèdre. Incidentally, I've now misspelled Hyacinthe's name five times in the writing of this. Ahem. Anyway. There's something heartwarming and a little bittersweet about this. Hyacinthe's joy in finding - no, being found - by his own people is a good thing, made a little sad by what will be left behind in fully accepting them. Phèdre's reaction to that is a living embodiment of that and I feel a little sorry for her. At this part of the story, there's been two men who she's wanted - Anafiel and Hyacinthe - and she's had to watch both drift away from her. Not an easy thing.

But, of course, Hyacinthe can't fully give up his past. Part of me wonders how conscious it was - the dromonde does come unbidden after all, and Anasztaiza showed it to him for a reason - but it was one he'd have made anyway. He presents it as a gift of friendship to Phèdre but, while not being a lie, I don't think it's the whole of the truth. Hyacinthe is as proud as any there - acceptance of only part of what he is doesn't sit well with him, I think, even if that acceptance is as heady as any drug. I'm not sure I could have done what Hyacinthe did solely out of friendship (although maybe I could), but out of mulish pride? Yes.

Phèdre being Phèdre, she jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire - a handsome, sadistic fire. Does Phèdre’s pleasure at being able to resume her craft, even in these circumstances, and the description of that sense of release make sense to you? Did the Duc de Morbhan’s gift surprise you?

Yes, Phèdre's need for that release makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe not the extent to which she carries it, but the need to be tested and to just let yourself go, I get that. I guess the best way to put it is with a little personal history. I started playing rugby when I was eleven. I'm thirty-four now. I don't get as banged up as Phèdre when playing, but I've always played a self-sacrificial style, and one that's got harder and harder as injuries and body issues (I have a partial leg disability) have mounted up. But I didn't stop. There's been times in the off-season and in injury lay-offs where I've been in a bad, amped-up mood, wishing I could just play. And when, earlier this year, I thought I'd played my last game, I cried a little on the way home. So... yes, I get you Phèdre. And Joscelin.

Anyway. I always like this little interlude. I like the respect Phèdre gets. In many ways, this is a moment to show off how she's grown and how good she is at what she does. This is Phèdre the instrument that princes and queens will be moved to play exquisite music on, Phèdre the icon of religious awe. A weapon no longer cast at random, no longer eliciting slips at random, but a straight challenge cast in (almost) cold blood. And Phèdre plays the Duc too, a little. So the gift seems fitting. I'd note too in passing that the Duc, while clearly not a totally nice man by any stretch, nevertheless only takes what is offered. He tests Phèdre's limits but respects them. That is the difference between him and the villains of this piece. 

The Long Road keeps getting longer but Phèdre seems equal to every task and soon they are in Alba’s green and pleasant land. What were your first impressions of the Dalriada and the Cruithne, and their respective rulers? Who do you agree with on the decision to go to war - Eamonn or Grainne? And what did you make of Joscelin’s take on Phèdre’s brand of diplomacy?

I feel like we don't really get to see inside the people of Alba in the same we did with the Tsingani or Skaldi. The first thing we see are the warriors and mystics on the shore, barbarians all, and I think we never really see more than that. Here the focus is on a small handful of people rather than all the people.

On the plus side, that handful are amusing. In a lot of ways, I am on Eamonn's side here (... ish - more on that ish later), for I'm not entirely sure what difference it makes to the Dalriada. That said, if I was Dalriada, I'd follow Grainne. How could you not? In a book full of sexy people, you could make a case that the joyous intensity with which Grainne lives her life makes her the sexiest of all. The tension and bond between the twins is great fun, and personally overshadows Drustan a little.

I also very much enjoyed Joscelin's reaction and how he's grown, but not that much - disapproving, but accepting, and more kind than angry. I think you can see little hints of his attraction to Phèdre eating him up here too. The little bits of humour showing through here really do help make the book.

We’ve seen blood and death before in this book, but this is the first mass bloodletting. What was your reaction? Will any moments stick with you? Were you surprised by Phèdre and Hyacinthe’s moment together?

I'd forgotten Hyacinthe and Phèdre had that post-battle bonk. And while it makes perfect sense in a way, and is a fine example of how little goes to plan in either of their lives, I do have a slight thought at the logic of it. Imagine you're Hyacinthe, wanting something all of your life, and all of a sudden it comes after a tragedy at someone else's expense, someone you cared for, a tragedy where you're maybe wondering "why them and not me?". That could screw you up a little I guess Phèdre knows her patrons, but I can easily imagine it causing a problem in real life.

The war itself felt a little rushed but memorable thanks to its highlights. The black boar coming to take a hand - trotter - itself was a powerful moment. As was the death and resultant mourning of Moiread, and likewise the trial of Foclaidha, although that goes by a little quick. I think those moments are the closest we get to seeing something of the real heart and soul of the tribes of Alba here, in their robust and passionate approach to death. 

Were you expecting Elder Brother to take a hand again after everything - and if so, were you expecting to be this? What did you make of his history and Hyacinthe’s choice?

Ah Hyacinthe. I will cover this later.

It's well foreshadowed - with that nice last minute warning to keep us on the toes - and neatly wraps up quite a few threads. The sight of a reminder that the world has a history and lore outside of Terre D'Ange isnt a bad thing either. Although I'm not gonna lie, part of me feels a bit impatient with the delay at this point.

It’s been a hell of a ride and as we near the end, what with Hyacinthe and Phèdre saying goodbye and Hyacinthe telling her that Joscelin has feelings for her, it seems a good time to ask how you feel about Phèdre, Joscelin and Hyacinthe - have they grown in your eyes? Has your opinion changed of any of them?

I deliberately inserted this question so I could talk about how much I enjoy the characters at this stage, when every motion has the weight of a book behind it and... I've got nothing. Really struggling.

Let's start with Joscelin. When we saw him, he trying so hard to be a divine ideal. Well, he learned he wasn't Cassiel in Skaldia, and as a result has re-embraced his humanity. And human Joscelin is a blast. I'd honestly forgot what a nice character angst-free Joscelin is. He's got such a nice wry understated sense of humour. And if anything, embracing the nature of his humanity has brought him closer to Cassiel's ideals of protection and companionship in a lot of ways, for now he can embrace complete protection at all costs, rather than complete protection within the dictates of the order. 

This is Hyacinthe's hour though. With my storytelling boots on I want to mutter a few things about the arc in terms of evenness and foreshadowing and relevancy, but I guess this book has a lot to say and this is Hyacinthe's moment to show what he'll sacrifice and endure for his friends. I'm not sure this is a change in Hyacinthe, but it is a change in my perception, for we never saw this seriousness and solemnity in him back in the capital.

As for Phèdre - I think she has learned responsibility. The girl who always bucking at boundaries has seen too much pain and death to be otherwise. She's sick of it, almost so sick she'd cast it all away, but I think she's still too much Delaunay's pupil to do so. She always will be.

And finally - any other thoughts you may have about this section!

I thought I'd have so many but it feels like everything I covered, save to salute Quintillus Rousse as an example that not all D'Angelines are beautiful of face - some are beautiful in the way they lead life, in the intensity and passion of their spirit.

But, of course, I would be a poor and graceless host if I offered you only my thoughts, which is why you can find links to my fellows in this quest below (linked to be added as they go live):

Books by Proxy | Book Forager | Dab of Darkness | Dear Geek Place | Foxes and Fairytales | Fran Laniado | Green Tea Librarian | Natrosette | The Curious SFF Reader | There’s Always Room For One More | Zezee with Books

And see you next week for the climax.

6 comments:

  1. Three cheers for Quintillius Rousse, without which the D'Angeline fleet would have almost certainly failed. Huzzah!
    And I too think Josceline is so much more now that's he's not trying to be the best of the best of the Casseline Brotherhood. I feel he's grown the most and perhaps that is because he was the most sheltered.

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    1. Ooh, good point about him being sheltered. Hadn't occurred to me but you're right.

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  2. I agree with you on Phedre's need for release. It made sense to me too. I thought of it more as an artist prevented from creating for too long and needing to just dive back into their art to lose themself for a bit in something they're good at/love doing.

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    1. Agreed there's a definite artistic element to it - see how much pride Phedre has in showing off her skills before that point.

      It's surprisingly nice to see a MC with an open streak of vanity.

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  3. Hell yes, I'm here for the more human Joscelin. I had forgotten that - against the odds - he turns out to be good with kids and a good storyteller, making a surprisingly convincing Mendacant. Coming back to conversations from last week, I think there's a lot here about the Cassiline Order's notions of what it means to be a Cassiline and what Cassiel stood for vs what it really means to be a Perfect Companion - and for me, Joscelin comes far closer as he abandons all those human rules and focuses on his core oath of protecting the woman he's trying not to admit he loves ;)

    I'll admit that much as I love the Alban sojourn, this reread feels like a lot more side-adventures than I remembered - this week being three episodes for the price of one. It's all been so carefully set up and delivers on things in play since day one, but it feels so fleeting vs the long slow set-up or even the more extensive Skaldi adventure. I come back to wondering whether these days the nudge would have been to cut something or to split the narrative into multiple books so there was room to go deeper.

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    1. I now wish I could grab a few editors and sit them down with some of those 80s/90s fatbois and ask what they'd change, what wouldn't fly now... it'd be fascinating. I can definitely imagine some saying "hey, should this bit be here?"

      Human Joscelin is just such a nice boy.

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