Read-along: Kushiel’s Chosen – week three

Kushiel's Chosen: A Wyrd and Wonder Read-along

As Phèdre and the boys settle into La Serenissima, it becomes clear that our anguisette’s familiarity with d’Angeline politics may not have fully prepared her for the sharks of the Caerdicci city state, where family members line up to stab one another in the back. But is Melisande Shahrizai to be found within these murky waters?

It’s the third week of our Wyrd and Wonder read-along of Kushiel’s Chosen, and Phèdre has entered a world where – uh oh – sex won’t get her ahead (except with Severio Stregazza, natch). With La Serenissima far more interested in the upcoming election of a new Doge than in traitors to the d’Angeline throne, Phèdre must find more traditional ways to open doors. Our host this week is Zezee with Books, who is leading us through chapters 31-44.

Phèdre, her boys, and Joscelin arrive safely in La Serenissima. What was your impression of the city, its culture, and its ruler, the Doge?

La Serenissima feels like only the thinnest gloss on our world: rereading this now that I’ve been to Venice makes this even more obviously like Venice than say Melissa Caruso’s Raverra. The culture too feels awfully familiar (and fairly awful), except for the religious elements. I like Asherat a lot, who is a lovely mix of in-world mythology and our Mediterranean and Mesopotamian Queens of Heaven.

I also rather like Cesare Stregazza and find myself (probably inappropriately) feisty on his behalf. He’s still a formidable man, and I think he might have been a monster once, but I have a lot of time for grumpy old people who are being under-estimated by ambitious youngsters. I hope he gets to hand those conspiring against him their asses.

What do you think of Severio’s Immortali when you first met them? Do you think it a coincidence that Phèdre is finally invited to meet with Benedicte de la Courcel after turning down Severio’s proposal? Do you think Severio will make problems for Phèdre or will he get over Phèdre turning down his marriage proposal?

I don’t have a lot of time for characters like the Immortali: over-privileged boys playing games with sharp edges that mostly exact a price from other people. Their propensity for public brawling (which clearly does have collateral damage for bystanders from time to time) and the apparent lack of personal or collective responsibility sets my teeth on edge. I think they’re a sort of toxic feature of societies with entrenched class systems, so I’m not surprised to find them in La Serenissima – but I don’t like any of them, and I think less of Severio for being part of it. I don’t for a second think Phèdre would be safe from or respected by any of them if it weren’t for Severio, either. Bah humbug, ahem.

All that said: I don’t think Severio is a terrible person, although I think he’d make a terrible husband. I don’t think he would remain as solicitous or respectful once he had what he wanted (and factoring in that a woman has very few rights under Caerdicci law, I’m guessing she has no legal protections from her husband – so without a powerful family backing her, she’s in a precarious position). I don’t think he’ll make problems for Phèdre though; I don’t think he’s naive enough to have truly believed in his heart of hearts that his father would allow him to marry her.

I do think it’s a coincidence that she is invited to the Little Court after turning down his proposal. I think that had everything to do with either being seen in the gardens of the Little Court when she visited the retired lady; and/or with having tracked down Phanuel Buonard. She had got too close – Melisande had to make a move.

Josceline is teaching the Yeshuites to fight like a Cassiline. Do you think he is the Cassiline leader prophesied to help the Yeshuites? What do you think about him abandoning his post, especially considering what happens to Phèdre and her boys by the end of this week’s chapters?

While I have Opinions about Joscelin not being there when most needed, I also have a teeny bit more sympathy for him now that he has acknowledged what’s at the heart of his issues. Poor lad, he was raised to be a celibate priest and love as thou wilt was meant to be a sentiment for other people. Terre d’Ange may be very open-minded about sex and having multiple sexual partners, but he isn’t – and he really isn’t comfortable with Phèdre’s kink.

Now if only he could have been honest with himself – and her – about this rather than being judgement and resentful. However, given what a snarled up bag of conflicted repression her is, I can’t blame him for totally freaking out now that they’ve crossed the line of ‘protect and serve. No more, no less”. Besides, however much I want to cast side-eye about it taking two, he said no twice and Phèdre didn’t stop. Yes, he’s physically stronger and could easily have put a stop to it – but Phèdre crosses a line here and I hope she sees that eventually.

Melisande is unveiled! Were you expecting her to pop up as we received more hints about Benedicte’s mysterious wife and new-born D’Angeline son? We learn that in addition to Benedicte, Melisande has also roped Percy de Somerville (who already had plans for treason) into her plots, do you suspect anyone else of siding with Melisande?

Reading this with full knowledge of where Melisande was, I think Carey does an excellent job of making it perfectly obvious in hindsight. The mysterious wife who nobody has ever seen (the veil of Asherat is a brilliant choice), who has no living family to ask questions of (convenient) and who came from Camlach (well, technically, I guess she did, geographically speaking). No doubt I’ll read everyone else’s posts and be assured it was blindingly obvious, but I recall it took me by surprise the first time around.

I had forgotten Percy’s motivation for supporting her, and gosh isn’t he a disappointment?

Now that we see what happened to the missing guards from Troyes-le-Mont, do you still agree with Phèdre that the Cassiline Brotherhood, or one of their members, is guilty of being involved in sneaking Melisande out of Troyes-le-Mont?

…I’m on the fence, but on balance? No. Occam’s razor for me – if you’ve got the only witnesses in hand, there no longer needs to be a Cassiline involved; just Percy.

Phèdre is imprisoned and two-thirds of her boys are confirmed dead, what did you think of this sequence as events. Did you see it coming or were you shocked?

The dangers of doing the chapter breakdown is that even though I’d forgotten a lot of details, I got an eyeball full of spoilers. I remembered where we’d find Melisande, but I had forgotten about La Dolorosa and her ultimatum. I may have read this set of chapters to pick the most dramatic cut-off point for this week’s reading – sorry not sorry 😉

It wasn’t until I recognised all the parallels during our first week’s read that I realised we were almost certainly going to lose at least some of the Boys – but argh, my poor battered heart, that still hurt. I really love Fortun, who fills some of the gap left by Joscelin’s inconstancy (and is so apologetically disapproving of the former Cassiline); and Remy and Ti-Philippe are such sweethearts.

Final thoughts for the week: I really enjoyed this act – I may not like Serenissiman society, but I’ve had a lot of fun with the politics and theatre of it all. Also, a fond shout-out to Ricciardo, who genuinely seems the best of the Stregazza, and his lovely wife. I’m glad that Phèdre could acknowledge that she hasn’t invested in her own relationship when face with the understanding and support shared by Ricciardo and Allegra.

The Salon

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

Links will be added once they go live.

Read-along schedule

What next? Well let’s see…

  • Week Four | Chapter Forty-five – Fifty-five – hosted by Mayri @ BookForager
  • Week Five | Chapter Fifty-six – Seventy – hosted here @ There’s Always Room For One More
  • Week Six | Chapter Seventy-one through the end – hosted by Lisa @ Dear Geek Place

Prompts for future weeks will be posted on the host blog and/or to the Goodreads group each Saturday or Sunday for the following week.

Fancy joining us? Drop a comment to let us know and jump on in! Read at your own pace, but please, no spoilers for advance chapters in posts or chat comments. If you fall behind, you can be sure we’ll still be happy to chat later as you catch up – we’re all reading at our own pace.

Please remember to either post a link to your post / thread to the Goodreads group or tag me so that I can find and share your thoughts with the rest of the read-along group.