Read-along: Kushiel’s Dart – week two

Kushiel's Dart: a #WyrdAndWonder Read-along

That which yields is not always weak. After Phèdre’s debut, offers flood in from the powerful for a night with Delaunay’s anguisette and the Spider is proven right: people let slip secrets in their passions. But it is gentle Alcuin who will take the greatest risk…

It’s time to return to Terre d’Ange for this week’s discussion of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. Our host this week is Susan of Dab of Darkness.

The full list of questions can be checked out on Goodreads – as usual, I’ve picked a subset to discuss. Beware spoilers, as week two sees the plot begin to emerge after the world-building and context of the first week’s chapters.

We get a few more hints of magic or the supernatural in this section. Phèdre 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?

Is it betraying cynicism or mysticism that my automatic reaction was ‘what magic’?

I can (and typically do) read it as presented: the demi-gods are close to their people, and as one of their chosen they are particularly close to Phèdre. It’s not magic, it’s divinity. She lives in the palm of Kushiel’s hand; she is beloved of Elua and Naamah for her service. At key moments, she is aware of and reassured by this, giving us some gorgeous moments. For me, this is the active touch of the gods on this version of the world, and I love it (see also: the Master of the Straits, about whom we’re starting to hear more this week). Objectively, yes, I guess I should consider this magic, but… apparently I don’t.

Or I can don my robe and play devil’s advocate: it’s clear that Phèdre is quietly but deeply religious (as I’m coming to recognise not all d’Angelines are). Her visions are a product of her faith, comforting her when she is in pain or distress – or, as in the Temple, meditating. Faith produces proofs for itself, forever dividing believers and cynics. This can’t really explain the Master of the Straits though, as he’s rather a lot more than just bad local weather!

The dromonde is a bit different. I grew up immersed in tales of the second sight to the extent that apparently I don’t class it as magic either. Um? It seems I have some unconscious internal classification between ‘intentionally doing magic’ and ‘spells and shit’ vs ‘supernatural stuff I can’t rationally explain’. I’m blaming my years as an archaeologist: artefact presumed to have a ritual usage, darling. Religion, not magic. I’ll see myself out.

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?

I’m mostly sad we don’t really get to see the Lioness directly. She’s all noises off, this force off-the-page who we see only at the moment of her downfall. Baudoin is an asshat – I don’t recall ever finding him particularly glamorous, but on this reread his arrogance really has me rolling my eyes. He’s so damn entitled and full of his own privilege – we don’t see him show respect for anyone else, except perhaps Melisande.

…Melisande, though. A scion of Kushiel, engaged in games as deep than Delaunay’s, but putting herself in the middle of them. Twice-widowed by nineteen (there’s a detail I’d missed), we’re assured that was to be expected, they were both much older. Uh huh. And now she has brought down a ducal House. Sure, I’m sure those husbands died entirely naturally.

What do you think of Alcuin’s final assignation? Guy’s death? Would Alcuin have been happier, but perhaps less useful, as something other than Naamah’s Servant?

I’d forgotten these details when I wrote my post last week, but I rather feel the narrative supports my discomfort both with the way Delaunay’s people worship him and the indenture arrangements.

Alcuin chooses to take a risk that Delaunay would never ask of him (and I understand why he feels so guilty about Guy) – but he also takes it because it is a way out of Naamah’s service. Yes, Alcuin would undoubtedly have been far happier as something else and I think this week makes it clear that Delaunay would have supported him in that. Whilst I’m reassured of Delaunay’s reciprocal love and loyalty to his household this week, I’m disappointed that this master of insight and manipulation misjudged Alcuin’s nature in this respect – although I do wonder whether Alcuin himself realised his distaste for Naamah’s service before his debut.

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

I will never not have a squicky reaction to a sexual relationship emerging between two people who have stood as family to one another. In this case, you get to stir in a 20 year age gap and a long-standing power imbalance. I see the romance trope, but this is why I rarely read romance. Some of the tropes do not work for me.

But, y’know, love as thou wilt and all that. I’m happy for Alcuin’s sake that he’s happy.

Phèdre’s response is entirely understandable. She has also had a crush on Delaunay forever, but the bit that really bites for her is that she isn’t free. She gets to agree to who and when, but she doesn’t get to choose for herself. Now she feels the weight of her marque – and I’m really rather uncomfortable with Delaunay’s go-to method of controlling her being “I’ll sell you”.

Phèdre 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?

I take great delight in odd couples, and pairing an anguisette with a sheltered, provincial minor noble whose order embraces celibacy is hilarious. Sure, being a Casseline Brother means Joscelin is also one of the most physically dangerous men in the kingdom, but – no, sorry, still laughing.

I’m not surprised Anafiel retained his services: I would suggest that a man who is still faithful to an oath sworn to a dead man has a deep respect for matters of honour; and that a man who sends courtesans to seduce secrets from the powerful has a very flexible idea of how a duty may be discharged. Delaunay certainly isn’t going to judge Joscelin at fault on this occasion – good luck to the lad getting in the way of her nature and her chosen service – and is likely reassured that Joscelin will turn himself inside out to protect her at times its actually required!

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

Yes, from a religious perspective, I think she does owe him a debt (arguably true of all her patrons, but that’s a question for a priest/ess of Naamah). Phèdre is subverting a sacred rite to spy for Delaunay though, and she knows it.

But I think we see her mettle here, too. She is unafraid to make amends, even when it means putting herself in the hands of people who know how she has used them. She knows what d’Essoms is capable of. Is she fearless or does she trust that her contract will protect her? Does she seek the pain to offset her emotional anguish? Perhaps a little of all these things, but I respect her courage.

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

Ruthless, this one, isn’t he? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have bothered trying to go through official channels if Anafiel hadn’t insisted, and he clearly had his assassination backstop ready to go with no delay. Someone passed comment last week that for all the romantic trappings, there are plenty of thorns amongst the roses: there’s certainly no quarter given in politics, and a culture of love doesn’t make the d’Angelines soft-hearted. I love it.

Any other thoughts?

My heart exploded at Hyacinthe’s words to Phèdre after Baudoin’s execution:

We give each other what we can spare, and what we can accept

He is such a delightful blend of charming rogue and dedicated friend, and I love their bickering. But oh ho, what’s this:

And one day, when you have made your marque, you will no longer be a vrajna servant

Putting aside the sniff of romantic aspirations simmering away – this intrigues me because I hadn’t clocked that the blocker for Hyacinthe was her status as an indentured courtesan. I had it down to her being d’Angeline or in Naamah’s service. It makes me like the Tsingani a little more, although I may be over-interpreting here – he may be assuming she’ll give up Naamah’s service, in which case he’s unexpectedly naive in addition to his other qualities.

“Protect and serve?”

Last thought for the week: Phèdre rescuing Joscelin from the teasing of the Eglantine adepts and their noble partners was pure delight.

The Salon

But wait, this is a read-along – what did everybody else have to say?

Links will be added as they go live.

Discussion Schedule

A Wyrd and Wonder read-along is a buddy read with weekly discussions via blog posts and/or chat in the comments. Read at your own pace – zoom ahead and we’ll catch you up; fall behind, and you can be sure we’ll still be happy to chat later. The full discussion schedule can be found on Goodreads.

If you fancy joining us, just drop a comment on the host’s post and/or on the Goodreads group each week if you write a blog post; jump into the comments to share your views; or tag us on Twitter @wyrdandwonder #ReadAsThouWilt

Please be mindful of our reading schedule – no spoilers for future weeks (or books!)

We’ll be back next week to discuss Chapters 32-47, hosted by Zezee with Books.