Read-along: Kushiel’s Dart – week six

Kushiel's Dart: a #WyrdAndWonder Read-along

As war sweeps across Terre d’Ange, Phèdre and Joscelin face one last challenge: to bring Ysandre enough allies to stop Waldemar Selig in his tracks. But even as bitter enemies make common cause against a greater threat, some friends prove faithless…

It’s our final week in Terre d’Ange as Kushiel’s Dart comes to its emotional climax. Our host this week is Lisa of Dear Geek Place. Excuse any blurry type, there’s been a lot of FEELINGS in this final week and my eyes have leaked everywhere. Tch.

What were your thoughts about Phèdre and Joscelin’s last confrontation with the Skaldi warlord, and what it means for their relationship?


Of course Phèdre snuck off to try and save the world on her own – and mostly succeeded – and of course she’s willing to sacrifice herself to do it. I’m not sure if she grappling with a hero complex, significant self-worth issues (“what good is an anguisette, anyway”), survivor guilt or a complex mixture of the three – but frankly, she’s exactly the sort of overcommitted heroine I adore.

…who still doesn’t quite understand Joscelin. In the midst of the horror, I had time to laugh at her for assuming that he was there to do something really stupid. Oh darling, he’s as overcommitted and heroic as you are, and you’ve forced him to get really creative in interpreting his oath.

My poor broken heart. There was sobbing, and I’ve read it before.

But let’s not lose sight of the facts at the heart of this: he’s willing to kill them both if that’s what it takes; and she hasn’t entirely grasped how he thinks yet. WHAT CAN POSSIBLY GO WRONG IN THIS RELATIONSHIP?

…we’ll come back to that.

Isidore d’Aiglemort turns out to be the hero that Terre D’Ange needs, if not the one they want. Do you think Phèdre made the right call, making him that offer? What do you think of his final act, and the reasons that drive him to it? Is he a hero, or was he ultimately still only a tool in the hands of others?

Phèdre made an inspired call here. It was a huge risk, but a calculated one, relying on Isidore being a vengeful Lawful Evil. We hadn’t really seen enough of him to know whether she was right, either. He’s been chilling, militarily devastating and unexpectedly devious, but we never really had any insight into his motivations.

My assessment – based on his final actions – is that yes, he is ultimately just a tool. His arrogance and ambition made him vulnerable to Melisande, and his honour being so intertwined with his self-worth left him open to Phèdre’s suggestion that he could redeem himself by dying gloriously. I feel his inability to counter Phèdre with a scenario in which he chooses not to die (and leads his Allies to mercenary glory on some foreign battlefield, perhaps; or hunts Melisande down to get even) suggests a lack of imagination, but then that makes him a good tool too.

While he does die awfully well, I don’t think this makes him a hero, however many songs may be sung about it. I think it makes him an honourable villain, which is an archetype I have a soft spot for.

There’s a level of romanticised fantasy warfare here – not just Isidore’s sacrifice, but the nameless Servant of Naamah who helps Phèdre sneak through camp by distracting the guard; the bold charge to rescue Phèdre; literally everything Joscelin does from start to finish – but for all the brave banners and shining eyes, there’s also a sense of the awful cost. I appreciate that Carey takes the time to focus on the aftermath and conveys the horror without dipping into grimdark. It’s a tricky balance to strike (especially when your villain starts trying to skin people), and I think she pulls it off here as she did in Alba. War is the horrific outcome of the ‘deep game’ played by Melisande: to me, she isn’t a villain for betraying her Queen, but for being more interested in winning the game than in the cost of her victory.

Melisande faces the consequences of her actions, though it seems her ‘deep game’ is not over. Do you think she was prepared for her plan to fail, or was she seizing any opportunity to save herself with that escape? What are your thoughts on her after her last conversation with Phèdre?

Melisande is such a Bond villain: beautiful, rich, superior, arrogant – and I can definitely see her stroking a cat. I don’t think she was expecting to fail, but she had done a damn fine job on keeping a low profile to orchestrate plausible deniability (so long as all her conspirators killed each other, anyway).

I think her escape was unplanned but fortuitous: I don’t think she knew she had an ally, because the rather short list of people who could have got her out of Troyes-le-Mont were all sure to die at Selig’s hands (and would be as unlikely as d’Aiglemort to let that slide, I suspect). I think she gained an ally unexpectedly and shamelessly accepted their aid to escape to conspire another day.

I’d forgotten how thoroughly book two gets set up here – I always think of Dart as a standalone, and it really isn’t in this regard.

Phèdre is richly rewarded for her deeds – in a few senses. How do you feel about her (double-edged) Happily Ever After with Joscelin? Do you think she’s doing the right thing, choosing to find the traitor who freed Melisande in her own way?

Remember that speech from Speed about how relationships based on intense experiences never work? I don’t think Phèdre and Joscelin have seen Speed. That said, they’ve spent an awful lot more time together than Sandra and Keanu, so it’s not like they have any illusions about one another (and given Phèdre’s new title and staff, she won’t even have to worry about whether he’s prone to leaving his socks on the floor).

…and I guess he’s hardly going to be surprised that she’ll choose to let people hurt her (fringe benefit) rather than stand by and let their great foe work against Terre d’Ange. He may not like it – he may even wish she’d let someone else have a go – but he can’t claim not to know what she’s like.

It’s still a lot to ask. For me, this relationship comes with a lot more strings attached for Joscelin than for Phèdre. However, having only just commented on how he’s as much of an over-committed hero as she is – and it being obvious how committed he is to her – I’m sure he’ll manage. If grumpily, at times.

Were there any particular moments that stood out for you?

Luke telling Phèdre about the songs they sing about her in hospital was priceless.

The Salon

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

Links will be added as they go live.

It’s been quite the journey – I’m so pleased to have had so many excellent companions as I revisited Terre d’Ange. Watch this space to see whether any of us decide to follow Phèdre on her next adventure some time in the new year…