Read-along: Kushiel’s Chosen – week six

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

Time for the final showdown: reunited at last, Phèdre and Joscelin and their unlikely allies must find a way to warn Ysandre, avenge Asherat and thwart Melisande’s deep-laid plans for a coup in Terre d’Ange.

If this final week is a little convenient in places and idealised in others, I really don’t care because it’s brave heroes, icy villains and well-laid plot points coming back to deliver moments of glorious feelings. Let’s talk the final week of our read-along of Kushiel’s Chosen, with questions set by Lisa of Dear Geek Place.

What did you make of Phèdre’s plan for stopping Melisande’s plot against the Crown, and Marco Stregazza’s power grab? And what did you think of how smoothly (or not) it went? 

I started giggling when Sarae’s incredibly relevant snippet of history started out by sounding like an inappropriately-timed family reminiscence, then proceeded to laugh like a drain when Joscelin’s instinctive reaction was “No. Oh no.” You don’t need Carey to describe his expression. I was also amused by his entirely accurate appraisal of Kazan liking the idea of many dead Serenissimans. Was this scene meant to be this funny?

Although I never did figure out how this plan was like the watchtower…

However, creeping in a hidden door and turning religious devices against the people who usually wield them is always a solid strategy (especially when you’re outnumbered and have the goddess’s blessing). I wasn’t clear whether the people in St Mark’s Square ahem outside the Temple could hear Phèdre’s voice though, so I had a few questions about the finer details of who exactly she was speaking to and what she was hoping to achieve.

Phèdre is counting on most people in the room not being in on Marco and Melisande’s plan and – crucially – the Serenissiman nobility and guardsmen not supporting it once the truth was known. She’s also assuming that David de la Rocaille is the only bad egg amongst the Cassilines. It’s a calculated risk, and it pays off – largely because Marco isn’t afraid to stab his ally in the back.

It’s also damn fine theatre, and I enjoyed every minute.

Melisande faces the consequences of her actions… only, she doesn’t. What were your thoughts on her confrontations with Phèdre and Ysandre, and her seemingly ultimate fate?

Colour me entirely unsurprised that Melisande gets away with everything, effectively. I don’t for a moment think the Temple can hold her forever and wherever Imriel may be, her ambitions for him are awfully clear. Also: she clearly thinks they can still be achieved.

Perhaps I’m unfair: perhaps there’s also a maternal horror at having her child raised to disdain her, and she’d rather see him live safely in quiet but no doubt awfully comfortable obscurity than potentially inherit a throne if this is the price. Unlike Phèdre, I struggle to see Melisande in this light. So I just see a clever, patient plotter who is willing to bide their time and would rather Ysandre didn’t have control of her son in the meantime. Besides, if she did give him up, he’s effectively a hostage against her good behaviour – not that I think Ysandre would use a child like that, but I don’t doubt that Melisande would – so she would expect him to be used against her.

No, far better to keep him hidden and have an unfettered chance to escape and put him on his throne with her at his back.

Ysandre is entirely too honourable a person to deal with the likes of Melisande.

It’s also no surprise – or well, only a very small one – that Phèdre would offer to sacrifice herself to get Ysandre what she wants. Poor Joscelin: every time he thinks he knows what he’s let himself in for… (not to mention that moment when he stands up to Melisande and she simply points out how Phèdre would react to him killing her. Oh, Joscelin)

The dust settles, and it seems our Cassiline hero has learned an important lesson or two. How pleased were you by the progress Joscelin has made in accepting both Phèdre’s and his own true nature/desires?

Ah, Joscelin. Yes, I believe that the reality of losing Phèdre would bring him round (and summon him to La Dolorosa); and that getting her back after being certain he had contributed to her death would pretty much have him vow to put all his baggage aside. He’s a very black and white kinda guy and he adores her, however much it hurts. There’s probably a bundle to unpack about how their relationship is going to be him accepting a bunch of pain when she’s the one that enjoys that sort of thing, but we’ll leave that to one side for now.

Do I think his on the spot transformation into a wry, self-deprecating hero who gives her all the room she needs is entirely credible? Maybe, maybe not. I’d expect the occasional backtracking from time to time – change is hard! – but I can’t say I don’t prefer this new side of Joscelin. And his not-a-proposal is just perfect.

Do I think Phèdre deserves it? Hmm, I think she has a heap of apologising and making good to do too – but I’m glad she’s going to get the chance.

Any other thoughts/feelings regarding other characters not mentioned here, or scenes you want to highlight?

I never can be quite sure what will set off my waterworks when I’m reading – especially on a reread (except the end of Lost Child of Lychford; every damn time) – and rather to my surprise in Kushiel’s Chosen it’s the Unforgiven and I’m not even sure why.

If I was critical of Isidore being recast as a hero for his sacrifice, I have no such qualms about the redemption offered to his men – who followed him for love and loyalty, and who dedicate themselves to making up for that mistake. There’s something about that combination of fate and duty and loyalty and expiation of sin; plus the perfect fantasy art visual of them sinking to their knees every time they see a small anguisette and the light flashing from her Companion’s vambraces. When we first met them I was mildly cautious about Phèdre having access to a private army; when she suggested Ysandre and her entourage return home via Camlach my heart just exploded. Deeply satisfying, well played.

However, I have an issue with the stirring scene at the walls of the City of Elua. Specifically, I’m not sure how enough of the Royal Army can see Ysandre – or hear Percy – in order for the coins / her face and his verbal admission she is the Queen to have such an immediate effect. It’s all a bit too neat – a romantic ideal of how to end a war rather than one I necessarily believe in. But hey, I grew up reading idealised heroic fantasy; I still have a soft spot for it. It’s like a super sexy Sunday matinee – all emotional rollercoaster and heroic feats and noble pirates and excellent costumes with the occasional timeout for kinky sex. And that’s fine by me.

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

Like Phèdre, our journey is done – although unlike the Comtesse, we likely won’t wait ten years before setting out for more kinky adventures with a read-along of Kushiel’s Avatar.