Read-along: Kushiel’s Dart – week five

Kushiel's Dart: a #WyrdAndWonder Read-along

Questions are dangerous, for they have answers. Phèdre, Joscelin and Hyacinthe are despatched to find Queen Ysandre’s betrothed – but the Long Road is haunted by secrets. As the value – and the cost – of the dromonde becomes clear, they will all wrestle with the price of duty…

It’s time to return to Terre d’Ange – and Alba –  for this week’s discussion of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, hosted by Peat Long. The full list of questions can be checked out on Goodreads – as usual, I’ve picked a subset to discuss. Specifically: I’m mostly going to talk about Hyacinthe.

What were your first impressions of the Tsingani?

One of my reservations about this read-along is how thin the world-building now seems to me. There’s a whole lot of work gone into Elua’s Companions, the Night Court and the (geo)politics; the broader world is a quick gloss with a lot of fantasy stereotypes. On the one hand, this isn’t a secondary world, so it should seem familiar; on the other, the Roma are one of the most-persecuted groups of people in Europe, so I have some side eye for a fantasy make-over that makes them primarily fortune-tellers and swindlers. That said, we do get a largely sympathetic slice of life within Tsingani society to lend that balance, which I appreciate.

Still, I’m left with a lingering dissatisfaction with the world beyond the d’Angeline. Don’t get me wrong: I’m enjoying the read (a lot), but that’s because of the characters – Carey has me so wrapped up in them and their situations to distract me from tapping on the walls of the world too hard.

On that note, I appreciated the focus on Hyacinthe this week, which elevates him from rogue sidekick with a heart of gold to tragic, conflicted hero. I feel we come to understand him a little better as a result, although I also feel this whole week has enough scope to be a book in its own right!

What did you make of Hyacinthe’s reaction to his reception to the Tsingani? How did you feel finding out about Anasztaizia’s past? Finally – Hyacinthe’s choice? Could you have given up your family for your friend?

I have spent most of this week sniffling for Hyacinthe. His lifelong fairytale comes true: he is a Prince of Travellers, and Manoj is ready to welcome his longlost grandson home (although also: fuck you Manoj, and your toxic brand of patriarchal misogyny). Of course he is swept up in it. He has found a people who don’t look down on him for who he is; a place he can perhaps belong rather than have to force it to make space for him. Or so it seems, however briefly.

What was done to Anasztaizia? Illegal, immoral and heretical into the bargain – had she been d’Angeline. For all my moaning about world-building, I tip my hat here to Ms Carey and acknowledge her well-played game of bait and switch: we’ve come a long way from the idealised glamour of week one as she strips away Phèdre’s privileged illusions one horror at a time. Yes, it was all too good to be true. Phèdre – for all her sexual awareness – was socially naive.

At the same time, Anasztaizia is the first of two women brutalized in the past as a plot point in the present, because when we meet Elder Brother, the tale of his mother is just as bad – kidnapped by a fallen angel, raped and drowned.

That gust of wind is me sighing over the fantasy tradition that parents (and especially mothers) are best served dead. Sheesh.

Moving swiftly back to Hyacinthe, I’m not sure he did make his choice for Phèdre. Phèdre is the catalyst, but I think it’s more about honouring Anasztaizia (and for all my sighing, hear me ROAR with approval that Carey has him champion her in this way). Hyacinthe isn’t willing to give up the dromonde, even for his new-found family: if they can’t accept the fullness of who he is, he hasn’t found a place he belongs after all.

Were you surprised by Phèdre and Hyacinthe’s moment together?

I’d forgotten that they get a moment, but looking back across the week, there’s such an amazing arc here that takes it from being inevitable (hey, she sleeps with everybody) to being unlikely, to being almost redemptive. Young Hyacinthe passed comment that they could never be together because she was vrajna; on the Hippochamp, Phèdre came to understand just how impossible it would be. The rarest prize of d’Angeline society, gifted to princes, is untouchable to the Tsingani.

…but Hyacinthe gives up his heritage – and finds acceptance of sorts amongst the seers of the Cruithne. As the plot moves us rapidly along, it seems that it is sweeping Hyacinthe away from Phèdre towards Moiread. Pour out a glass for Hyacinthe: this week is all about holding out happiness only to destroy it when he reaches for it (should we add Moiread to the list of women fridged in service to the plot this week? …maybe).

I’m glad they got their moment – there is such compassion in it, born of friendship and love and sorrow. Hyacinthe has always been there for Phèdre; she is here for him in the way she knows best, offering Naamah’s blessing. I’m not crying (yes, I’m crying).

How do you feel about Phèdre, Joscelin and Hyacinthe – have they grown in your eyes?

We had only the briefest hint of Joscelin’s disapproval this week. How our judgemental boy has grown; and yet how steady he remains in his dedication to his oath. No harm will come to Phèdre no Delaunay (that she doesn’t invite) while he gets a say in it. He has moved from being hilariously stiff to being charmingly devoted and surprisingly versatile. Who would have thought he’d make a great storyteller, or recall that the Master of the Straits could be charmed with a song? There’s more to our fallen Cassiline than morning stretches and a big sword (ahem).

As for Hyacinthe – we’ve seen so many new sides to him this week, and it’s hard to say goodbye. I shall miss his steadfast friendship and mischievous – but never judgemental – enquiries about the success of Phèdre’s assignations.

Phèdre surprises me the least. She was always willing to put herself in danger in service to Delaunay – and now the Queen – and if she tends to solve most problems with sex, well what did you expect? She’s a Servant of Naamah.

Bringing all three together: I may be dismayed by some of the tropes in play, but I love that Carey carefully constructs what looks like a love triangle only to have it… not be. Although I’m slightly sadly that they can’t fight for Terre d’Ange and a polycule HEA.

One last thought, as my choices this week have led me to ignore Alba completely (which is probably good as I have plenty of salt for the tribal names and Phèdre’s struggle to stop calling them barbarians): let’s hear it for Grainne, the fierce but insightful warrior woman determined to find a good stud for her children (and take a few heads). Eamonn is a sweetheart, but no doubting where my heart is given between the Twins. Sorry, Eamonn love.

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

We’ve got just one more week in our epic read-along – safe to say that if you’re not already reading, you probably won’t catch up. Feel free to join us in the comments though!

We’ll be back next week to discuss the final chapters, hosted by Lisa at Dear Geek Place.