Read-along: Kushiel’s Chosen – week four

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

Phèdre’s mission hangs by a thread. With certain knowledge of treachery, Phèdre is desperate to get a warning to her Queen before Ysandre falls victim to the same trap that has closed around Phèdre herself. But where Phèdre is too desirable to kill, Ysandre will be assassinated without hesitation…

It’s the fourth week of our Wyrd and Wonder read-along of Kushiel’s Chosen, and I’m playing catch up (where did this week go, anyway?) so buckle up as we zoom through a transitional set of chapters that take us from betrayal to more betrayal, with a bit of swimming in the middle. Phèdre is in captivity, none of it – surprise! – involving Melisande’s plush home dungeon. Although she does get a nice new dress.

This week splits neatly into two acts: a harrowing escape from the hellhole of La Dolorosa followed by a more pleasant sojourn on a Mediterranean island. However, it does very little to progress the plot – this week is all about manouvering pieces into position – although it does introduce a charismatic pirate, which is all it takes to keep me happy, let’s be honest.

Our host this week is Mayri the BookForager, who is leading us through chapters 45-55.

What are your thoughts on Phèdre’s escape from La Dolorosa?

I think the thing that stands out for me most in these chapters is that – for the first time? – we see Phèdre acknowledge her limits. She’ll put herself in harm’s way, she’ll risk death, but even she can’t countenance staying on La Dolorosa forever. While she may have initially rejected Melisande’s offer, she realises in the end that she will have to accept it. I appreciate the thin excuses she gives herself: staying is the only way to be sure of protecting Joscelin and Ti-Philippe (Melisande has form for ripping secrets from her), but leaving is the only hope for Hyacinthe. If she accepts this island imprisonment, she also accepts his. It’s not her primary motivation – she’s honest enough to admit she just can’t put herself through this – but seeking ways to persuade herself that her decision is not a betrayal is very relatable. Rationalise away, honey. You’re not wrong (and I don’t think it was the wrong call; you can’t play the game if you take yourself off the board).

Tito is a little ray of light in an awfully dark place (although he’s also a cliché – it was wildly unlikely he’d survive his kindness); but even though I knew he was coming, Phèdre’s realisation that Joscelin had come for her made me a bit damp around the eyes. It’s a Moment. If this is Joscelin’s penance for abandoning his final vow (and it clearly is; don’t give me that guff about his sword being too heavy to bring along, he doesn’t need it to preform the terminus), then my only dissatisfaction this week is that for all the time Phèdre gets to reflect and wallow in guilt, she never once pauses to feel bad about her sin against him last week (I’m not letting that go, folks).

Pirates! A dragon! A secret island! Woo! What do you make of pirate captain Kazan Atrabiades? And how do you feel about his ‘relationship’ with Phèdre?

Let’s face it, epic fantasy can always make room for another flamboyant pirate. Kazan Atrabiades comes with a tragic past and a blood-curse to boot, staking a claim on the title of most over the top supporting character (in this book, at least).

Kazan feels straight out of a Sunday afternoon matinee, and it’s not just the facial hair. The honourable warrior turned to piracy as a means of resisting the colonial oppressor; the fatal error that really wasn’t his fault; the almost-military precision with which he leads his fleet; the combination of rough respect and simmering attraction when it comes to Phèdre. The lusty dinner scene is strictly after the watershed fare, but if you strip out the sex he (like Tito) is a bit of a cliché. But hey, it’s one I enjoy – and I appreciate that he seeks her consent. Sure, he makes it hard to refuse, but he does ask – and Phèdre is a Servant of Naamah, after all and I was glad she grasped the parallel. The only difference to the deal she struck with the Duc de Morhban in Kushiel’s Dart is that Kazan proposes it rather than Phèdre (and I suppose his tastes are pretty tame compared to the Kushelines); but perhaps that makes this a truer service in Naamah’s name.

Yet more of the map has been filled in this week. Do you have any thoughts to share about what Phèdre and we have learnt of Illyria and its relationship with Terre d’Ange and La Serenissima?

While I have sympathy for any culture conquered by the Serenissimans (let’s face it, they’d be the worst kind of colonial oppressors), I’m not sure why Terre d’Ange would have supported the Illyrians. I don’t know what Illyria had to offer in terms of trade, but it seems a little too rustic for d’Angeline sensibilities – of course they sided with the rich Caerdicci instead. Being less snarky and more analytical, it feels like it would have been borrowing trouble a long way from home, when Ganelon was far more focused on what was happening on his doorstep. So while I understand Kazan’s bitterness, I don’t particularly judge Terre d’Ange for deciding this wasn’t their fight.

Finally, a broader question: what are your thoughts on the various gods and religions we’ve seen? Do you think all gods are real in this world? And if they are, what are your thoughts on some of the things being done in the name of these gods and goddesses?

I like that different cultures have different beliefs, but that many are intertwined and that you can see the influences – that feels both organic and familiar. I also like that their reality is a question of faith: Phèdre believes absolutely (and I love that her faith has space to accommodate the beliefs of others), but the narrative mostly leaves room for alternate interpretations if the reader wants to bring them along (d’Angelines just have great-looking genes; Phèdre is young and can afford great healthcare so heals well; black boars sometimes wander out of forests; deep sea currents do sweep down coastlines). I also love that this story resonates more deeply when you do look for the religious parallels and motifs – Phèdre and Joscelin make more sense and have more pathos through the lens of Naamah and Cassiel.

All that said, I think the supernatural is real in this world and I’m mostly happy to take all the mythos at face value. Carey leaves very little room for scepticism with the Master of the Straits (who has command of magic – even if you wanted to take the line that the rest is an actively-constructed myth by a Dread Pirate Roberts type character) and once you accept him, why not the rest? I like that the world-building has space for these towering divinities, but that it keeps them hands-off so that the active forces are mortals making decisions – some of them bad, self-interested or actively sacrilegious. People, eh?

…which I guess begs the question of whether I believe in curses. Do I believe Kushiel would doom Melisande for killing Phèdre? Like Glaukos, I believe that Melisande believes it (and she is one of our most sceptical characters; she’s not sure she believes it, but there are some risks she won’t take). Do I believe Kazan is haunted by a vengeful dragon? Yes, I never question that, but that’s on his Mum. Thanks Ma.

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 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.