The Poison Song Read-along: week five

Read-along banner: The Poison Song, A #WyrdAndWonder Read-along

This is it: the end of The Poison Song read-along. We have followed our heroes (and Hest) from one end of Sarn to the other. We have shared their victories and their dismays. Now it’s time to find out which will triumph: love or vengeance. I am not ready.

It doesn’t need saying, but I’m going to: spoilers, yeah?


It’s all about endings, now… First up, Tyranny and Windfall. How do you feel about the way the self-made Queens of Tygrish went out?

First up, how did I feel about their reappearance?

I was disappointed that Hest took them down so easily (yes, even as I crowed inappropriately at Hest levelling up so thoroughly; I bat for both sides, people) so I was delighted to discover Jen Williams had faked me out.

That said, I had mixed feelings about their return: on the one hand, there was a little THEY’S NOT DEAD air punch when they appeared on the horizon. On the other, I was a little bemused that they were taken in with so little fuss. Noon has been known to grind axes and Vintage is hardly quick to overlook trespasses – but it was mostly Okaar who found it hard to forgive the Queens of Tygrish their sins.

On the other hand – AT LAST! – Ebora’s wayward daughter returned home. If nothing else, her rapid acceptance by her siblings just helped underscore how strong the warbeast bond is – and how strong their connection to Ebora (<looks at Celaphon>).

I won’t go so far as to say they redeemed themselves by dying gloriously – I really don’t feel they did – but they were pretty awesome in the final battle. For the first time in her life, Tyranny was loyal to someone other than herself (dare I say loved someone other than herself? I dare), which is a major character development and made her choice at the end fitting.

Was it a bit neat and engineered? Maybe, but I’ll give Jen this one.

After all this, both of the Eboran siblings survived. Tor gets to live with his grief, but live he shall. Whereas Hestillion gets to live with her guilt. Do you think Hest’s fate was deserved? And do you think she’d ever own her mistakes, even now?

Here’s the thing: I have a vengeful streak a mild wide. I mostly keep it firmly under control, because I also have a great belief in restitution and atonement – recognising, owning and making up for your errors. And in lots of ways, I’m not sure I can think of a more fitting punishment for Hest than spending the rest of her life alone reflecting on her sins. So her ending feels more like vengeance than justice, and I have a sneaky satisfaction in it that I don’t feel too good about.

At the same time, it feels like letting her off the hook. She doesn’t have to help rebuild. She doesn’t have to confront her neck-deep racism and learn to get on with humans. She doesn’t have to look the war beasts (or her brother) in the eye, day after day, and acknowledge her errors.

And she has centuries left to her. Centuries in which she may cross paths with She Who Laughs – or cross her trail – and find the land being restored. Hest will still have been responsible for thousands of deaths, but the world will recover and in time even flourish. Her sins will be diminished.

So I don’t feel too good about that either.

Or possibly – just possibly – this is her finally punishment: if she does cling to some jaded, misplaced glorification of her victories, she will find even these are erased. But I’d like to think even Hest is better than this. That – as Vintage believes – she has learned regret, and discovering that the varnish has melted may bring her some sort of peace in the end.

Whether she deserves it or not.

I’m still mostly glad she isn’t dead though (and only partly for Tor’s sake). And I’m fiercely happy that she never even looked in the direction of redemption. You go, bad girl.

Celaphon makes a final choice in the final battle, after telling Hest that what happened to him wasn’t her fault. Do you agree with that? And what do you think of his apparent reason for his choice to turn on the Jure’lia at last?

I do not agree.

Hest had choices.

Some were made in fear. Some were made in despair. A very, very few were maybe made in some shade of hope. A lot were made in fits of self-righteous, self-interested conviction. I think some of the terrible choices she makes on Celaphon’s behalf were made with the best of intentions: to save the fragile creature that depended on her and represented her only link left to her people.

But hell yes I think that what happened to Celaphon is Hest’s fault.

No taking away her agency, Celaphon. No giving her an easy ride, either. She did what she did, and she should own it. But bless you for embracing compassion so thoroughly in this final act.

I’ve got a whole set of thoughts about Hest’s arc and about the extent to which she changes once she is connected to the Jure’lia, versus the extent to which it just makes it easier to mute her under-developed conscience, but I’ll save those for a day when I’ve had more sleep.

As for Celaphon’s choice at the end, I’m curious to read the ending in the final edition as it’s almost understated in my proof: his betrayal of the Jure’lia is preceded by a comment that shows he still considers Ebora to be home – and those are his final words (although Vintage’s observation that he’s late to battle because he’s sightseeing in the Eboran suburbs is priceless. Also accurate). The groundwork for his change of sides has been laid so thoroughly by this point that it was less a shock and more a flood of relief. After everything the Jure’lia did to him, everything Hest pushed him into, he is ultimately still Ygseril’s child and a guardian of Ebora.

My poor little battered heart.

Celaphon is a fabulously tragic character, and I am awed by the range of conflicting emotions I have felt for him over the course of the last two books.

And finally … Noon makes the ultimate sacrifice, to save Ebora, to save her family, to save the world. How many pieces did this final act break your heart into?

<gestures wildly at the mosaic of teeny tiny shards on the floor>

And just when I thought I had fought off the tears (reading grand finales on public transport on the way to work is always such a good idea), along came the epilogue. On top of all her other legacies, Noon got through to She Who Laughs and taught her empathy.

No, sorry, crying again.




This has been a brilliant emotional rollercoaster. I am exhausted. I am devastated. I am a storm of FEELINGS. I have half a dozen poorly-formed, almost certainly ill-advised opinion pieces about all the wrong characters that will likely never see the light of day. I can’t wait for a reread.

A huge thank you to Jen Williams for being uniformly awesome and storming the boundaries of fantasy to drag it into the 21st century.


I have had the best read-along mates for this epic journey. A round-up of our reactions as we travelled:

Read the book and want to share your thoughts? Jump in in the comments because oh gosh I will never tire of talking about these books.