Read-along: Kushiel’s Avatar – week two

Kushiel’s Avatar: a Wyrd and Wonder read-along

I’ve fallen behind in our epic read-along (yes, already) and am chasing Phèdre’s tail (not like that) to catch up so expect a lot of d’Angeline musings this coming week. In our second week, Phèdre and Joscelin hit the road in search of Imriel de la Courcel – only to discover forces beyond even their abilities may be at work…

Welcome back to the Wyrd and Wonder read-along of Kushiel’s Legacy as I read week two in week three and listen to my reading buddies screaming in an indeterminate future (okay, I’ve read this before. I can guess exactly what’s causing the screaming). This is a discussion post, not a review, so beware spoilers from the start! If you’ve read Kushiel’s Avatar, feel free to chip in in the comments, but please avoid spoilers for future weeks. Peat Long took charge of our discussion topics for week two:

1) We have a twist in the plot! Imriel’s disappearance is less about Imriel and more random cruelty… and Kushiel. What was your reaction to this?

It’s fair to say that I remember 3 things about this book – what is going to happen next week, and the two key outcomes. The journey along the way is delightfully shrouded in mystery and so while I know where Imriel is, I couldn’t recall exactly how and why he got there… which is to say I have had my face screwed up in horror every time I’ve thought about this because heavens above, Kushiel, how the fuck do you reconcile Elua’s philosophy of love with visiting the sins of a parent on their children?

Yes, I was that child in the Religious Education class who asked the teacher to explain how we were meant to balance the Bible teaching us about the endless wrath of God, the endless love of Jesus and the bare threats in Revelations until she told me to shut up (in her defence, she didn’t threaten to throw me out of class because I was in the Catholic stream rather than the extremely short-tempered and Puritanical Protestant class, because my mother had a fairly good idea of how long I’d last in there). So here I am, 30 years later, glaring at a fictional angel. Fuck you, Kushiel. FUCK YOU.

I, uhh, don’t think I’m meant to have such a visceral reaction to this turn of events – there’s room to mull over how clever this is as a punishment for Melisande, how it echoes and reflects her past deeds to really bring home the pain, but I’m stressed, not sleeping and not minded to cut fictional angels any slack. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great bit of writing and I love the way this book is exploring Phèdre’s changed relationship with Kushiel – but the punisher can go sit in the corner and think about what he’s done until Elua gets home.

2) Last week we saw Phèdre get uncomfortable over the human cost involved in her tale. This week, she gets very close to it. Do these events and her reactions tell us more about Phèdre?

I am very much enjoying older, wiser, reflective Phèdre. The one thing that hasn’t changed is her determination – she will still do what it takes to get the job in hand done – but she is now aware of the cost. Two things leapt out at me this week, both of which I suspect will come back to haunt us: Phèdre’s reflection that there was a big difference between torturing a man for information and the pain she enjoys in the bedroom; and Joscelin’s struggle to keep a grip on his self-control as he blazes with rage. We’ve seen his temper before; this week we get a glimpse of his fear that he’s so angry he’ll do unforgivable things to terrible people. Where’s Amos “I am that guy” Burton when you need him? But I love Joscelin precisely for his desire not to succumb to it. And yes, I think this is foreshadowing of what they will endure in the coming weeks – Carey has been doing a lot of unsubtle hinting that the path ahead is dark and full of terrors, so here we get moments that show us who our hero(in)es are before they enter that shadow. Who will they be when they emerge?

3) Phèdre’s decision to give Melisande the news in the most compassionate of fashions possible causes a bit of friction with Joscelin. Would you have done the same thing? And what do you make of Melisande’s response and revelations?

I can be a cold-hearted bitch, but I’ve got a soft heart so this rests on the edge of a coin (all things being equal, would I just send her a letter?). But with crucial information at stake needed to pursue Hyacinthe’s redemption, I would make the journey to La Serenissima – and having made it, I would ask Joscelin to give me the room. Because this is a terrible conversation to have, and he is Mr Judgey McJudgement. Kushiel’s bringing indefensible pain already; I don’t think I’d add to that.

I can’t have made much of Melisande’s revelations – I don’t actually recall anything startling, beyond perhaps the open acknowledgement between the pair of them that if she leaves the Temple then Phèdre will come for her – and her acceptance that she should stay in her cage. I’m not going to pour one out for the most manipulative woman in the continent discovering there’s a situation she doesn’t have control of (and I note she immediately pivots to eliciting a vow from Phèdre’s to rescue her son), but it was good to see that she genuinely cares about him as more than just a political tool.

4) One thing that’s noticeable is just how many characters we meet in this section as Phèdre travels back and forth across Europe. Any standouts? Any you wish we’d seen more, or even less of? What do you think of our introduction to Iskandria and Menekhet?

This week certainly racks up the miles – the travel fantasy quotient is high, and it reminds me that this aspect is what eventually tired me with these books (by the Naamah trilogy it felt like each book was just an excuse to go to a new continent and say “and this is what this culture looks like in my world”). Yes, as a resident world-building geek, I do think there’s such a thing as too much world-building!

Still, I am rather enjoying the sojourn in Iskandria (of course Phèdre can’t help but see Hyacinthe everywhere) and if Amilcar didn’t stand out, it is always lovely to visit with Nicola L’Envers y Aragon – she is one of my favourite characters, and I love that she and Phèdre have an enduring bond. We’ve seen Phèdre allow herself to be hurt For Reasons by a lot of people with questionable character traits; Nicola shows us that no, actually, there’s no intrinsic harm in BDSM – it can just be fun for all involved.

Off topic, but I also think it’s notable that the only sex scene so far has been Phèdre and Joscelin (…have we actually seen something this lingering and explicit between them before?) – if the big themes here are justice and compassion, it’s good to see their journey start in tenderness.

6) Some groups of people are overlooked and traduced – the Menekhetans, the Tsingani – which leads to a number of conversations. Anything in particular jump out at you?

For me this plays back to the central theme of compassion, but I guess my main two thoughts are firstly that I appreciate that Carey challenges the inequities in her world-building – they’re not here as “well that’s what history was like” they’re here as “this sucks, people, do better”; and secondly, that of course Phèdre is a champion to the oppressed – her childhood was one of being told she was less than everyone around her for no particularly good reason. Her allegiances were given to Hyacinthe long before she gave them to Delaunay, laying the groundwork for a lifetime of not leaping to conclusions about people / cultures. Phèdre doesn’t bring judgement when it comes to the powerless (and she has learned during her travels not to judge other cultures for not being d’Angeline).

On a related theme, I loved the byplay at Metriche’s inn in Iskandria where Phèdre scares the pants off the d’Angeline courtiers just to check whether the serving staff are secret spies. She sees people – regardless of race or rank – and she rarely underestimates them.

7) We appear to be on the verge of some big revelations. Any guesses at what they’ll be? Rereaders – can you remember much about what’s going to happen next?

I know where we’re heading next and I’m not looking forward to it. There’s a reason I’ve only read this book one before, where I’ve revisited the first two many times. However, I’m a very different reader now, and I have no doubt that Carey will provide interesting food for thought as we forge ahead…

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 One | Beginning through end 16 – hosted here at There’s Always Room for One More
  • Week Two | Chapter 17 – 34 – hosted here at Peat Long’s Blog
  • Week Three| Chapter 35 – 51 – hosted by Lisa @ Dear Geek Place
  • Week Four | Chapter 52 – Fifty-five – hosted by Mayri @ BookForager
  • Week Five | Chapter Fifty-six – Seventy – host TBD
  • Week Six | Chapter Seventy-one through the end – host TBD

Fancy joining us? You are very welcome – drop me a comment to let us know to expect you and if you would like to join our Discord channel. 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 when you catch up.

Want to host a week? The last two weeks are up for grabs; they’re yours if you wish to set the prompts (and rescue me, heh). Prompts for future weeks will be posted in the Discord.