Read-along: Kushiel’s Dart – week three

Kushiel's Dart: a #WyrdAndWonder Read-along

It’s a strange way to keep someone alive, that’s all I’ll say. Just as Phèdre finally learns his secrets, Delaunay’s careful schemes come apart, plunging her into a nightmare of blood and ruin…

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 Zezee with Books. The full list of questions can be checked out on Goodreads – as usual, I’ve picked a subset to discuss. Be warned, we’re deep in spoiler territory now!

Do you think Delaunay was right to keep Phèdre unaware of his identity, motivations, and true intentions to prevent slips on her assignments?

Given that all her patrons already seem to know who he is, I think the big mystery around his identity was absurd. I am sort of assuming – because I can’t remember – that maybe he distanced himself from his family / title to protect them from his schemes. I have more sympathy for his desire to keep Phèdre ignorant of his true goals – he didn’t trust her patrons, and they literally paid to hurt her. While he may have become more confident over time that she wouldn’t betray him, everybody has limits.

Except maybe Melisande…

Do you think it’s significant that her guardian dies at the moment when Phèdre has gained enough to complete her marque and is able to gain freedom from Naamah’s service, if she wants it?

I think it’s a brilliant narrative move, at least. This week moved us decisively into the next act: new villains, a new country, and no further obligations.

It was Melisande (naturally) who called it: it would be fascinating to see what Phèdre did for herself. The irony is that she’s not now free to do so. The question for me is whether I believe Melisande when she said she had no hand in the attack. If she didn’t, I think Phèdre got lucky in spite her ill luck name, because d’Aiglemort’s men wouldn’t have hesitated to kill her too – although could Joscelin have made a difference if he had been there? I suppose it would have depended on how many men attacked the household.

…if Melisande lied, though, I think Phèdre would have been safe regardless.

Do you think Melisande is as drawn to Phèdre as Phèdre is to Melisande – or is she simply fascinated to find Phèdre’s limits as an anguisette?

Both? Both. Melisande is a proud scion of Kushiel – his blood in her veins – and I think she is drawn to Phèdre as his chosen. I think she’s almost possessive of her at times, and I think she initially sees Phèdre as a challenge. We’ve seen Melisande take pleasure in dishing out pain these first two weeks, from social cuts to sharp knives, and she was determined to get Phèdre to give her signale.

Having got what she wanted – is she still as fascinated? Hard to say. But for all her treachery, I do think she cares for Phèdre in her own way. It might be the way she cares for a favoured pet or a rare ornament – she prefers to have Phèdre in the world than not – but I don’t think she takes Kushiel’s dart lightly.

What were your initial thoughts when Phèdre and Joscelin were handed over to the Skaldi?

Not my initial thought (as a re-reader, I knew what was coming), but once they reached the steading I couldn’t help but think that only Phèdre could turn non-consensual sex into a religious experience.

It’s not quite rape if we’re splitting hairs: Phèdre doesn’t say no to Gunter, because she’s his slave and painfully pragmatic. But if she doesn’t resist, she doesn’t consent. I found her mounting self-loathing difficult this week; she isn’t willing, but her body doesn’t need her to be. I’m glad she was at least able to take comfort in seeing her situation as a parallel to Naamah’s, because this was all rather bleak.

We’ve now gotten a couple scenes that show Joscelin’s badassery as a sword-dagger-wielding Cassiline brother dude. Are you convinced of his abilities as a fighter? He’s also had to loosen his hold on some of his oaths to remain by Phèdre’s side. How do you think that will affect him?

Hell yes, I am convinced. But I’ve also enjoyed seeing him loosen up a bit: we see him vulnerable in a number of different ways this week – talking about his family, feeling utterly betrayed, clinging to the hope that Phèdre offers him – and he’s far more likeable (if less amusing) than when he’s Mr Judgy McJudgement in the corner. The contrast between his deadly skills and his humility in serving as a slave has me in awe of his self-discipline. There must be so much temptation to try and cut his way free – but he won’t abandon Phèdre. I feel he’s levelled up in many ways, and I’m enjoying his journey.

I very much like that Joscelin gets to reflect on his situation vs Cassiel’s in much the same way Phèdre considers her circumstances vs Naamah’s.

And on that note, I’m not sure he’s loosened his hold on any oaths that matter. He remains faithful to his vow to protect and serve; he has only wielded a sword with intent to kill; and Ailsa never came close to getting what she was after from him. Whether the Prefect will agree that accepting slavery was the best way to fulfil his oath is another matter, but I’m as pragmatic as Phèdre in such things. Maybe learning that sort of flexibility in interpretation will get him in trouble though…

We meet Waldemar Selig, the Skaldi who aims to unite all Skaldis and conquer Terre d’Ange. What do you think of Selig? Were you impressed?

Not so much impressed as terrified. He’s a chilling villain – more self-controlled than Joscelin, as politically aware and manipulative as many of the d’Angeline nobles we’ve met, and if we haven’t seen enough of him yet to know if he’s as ruthless as Melisande, I can see him being a match for Isidore d’Aiglemort. He’s fearsome.

Closing thoughts: this reread has been a rocky one for my views on Delaunay. I’m far less comfortable with him as a character than I’ve ever been. However, I liked the scene where Phèdre asks Delaunay to remain in his household having made her marque; it felt like a reconciliation – and I think it’s one of the few times we really see how much he genuinely cared for her.

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 48-61, hosted by Mayri at The BookForager.