Read-along: Kushiel’s Avatar – week four

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

It’s week four of the Wyrd and Wonder read-along of Kushiel’s Avatar, which – ignoring the necessarily violent start – is a balm after last week, full of travel and intrigue rather than cruel horrors, along with more than its fair share of moments that made me feel I had something in my eye…

Be aware that this is a detailed discussion of plots and themes, not a review, so this post is packed with spoilers and speculation! If you’ve read Kushiel’s Avatar, feel free to chip in in the comments, but please avoid spoilers for future weeks.

And they heard me, îshta, your gods heard me and knew fear.
We’ve speculated about Kushiel’s involvement already I know, but have your theories developed or feelings changed at all in light of this week’s chapters?

The only thought that popped into my head this week (as far as Kushiel is concerned) was the acknowledgement that I shouldn’t assume the gods know everything about everything happening everywhere in the world. While I am still willing to consider the possibility that Imriel was snatched and taken to Daršanga as part of a Grand Plan Of Many-layered Punishment, I’m also willing to entertain the chance that the Mahrkagir is onto something. Not about the fear – I won’t flatter him like that – but the notion that (if we’re assuming divine intent in any capacity) the only reason the d’Angeline gods had cause to notice what was going on in Drujan was because he had captured and abused a d’Angeline child. After which, they dispatched the Punisher’s chosen…

I’m equally will to embrace the entirely atheist assumption that human beings can be terrible, and just because Phèdre believes in the gods and uses them to motivate herself doesn’t actually mean they exist or are getting involved. As Mayri commented in the chat, our narrative is shaped entirely by Phèdre’s point of view. Which makes me all the more curious about Cassiel’s Servant

The death of the Mahrkagir and the subsequent escape from Daršanga is a terrifying and bloody end to Phèdre’s Drujan ordeal. How’s everyone doing now?

That whole night is pretty harrowing. Poor Phèdre, forced to wait and wait and wait for the right moment to act – knowing that it is costing innocent lives – and then unleashing a tidal wave of rage. And still, in the end, having to kill someone she loves (after a fashion, and in spite of everything). One of her gifts has always been that she loves her patrons; while it makes my skin crawl, I weirdly appreciate that Carey sees that through to its awful conclusion here. Yes, even the Mahrkagir – whose greatest expression of his reciprocal love is his triumphant joy at the thought of eating her heart. There is no bottom to the horror; and I admire that Carey doesn’t shy away from the various different shades of her self-loathing after. Which leads neatly to…

“Some things, once broken, can never be made whole again.” Thoughts? Feelings?


I have a heap of thoughts about forgiving oneself for what you have done and for who you are and for what that does to people around you and your relationships with them, but I’m mostly grateful that given all that in spite of that there’s no denying the depth of love that remains between our central couple. I don’t doubt that they will heal given time and space – making peace with themselves and with each other – and I appreciate that there is a little of that towards the end of this week after all the violence and politics and skulduggery. And I think having Imriel with them can only help.

“The boy could be dangerous. Or he could be something else.” Imriel has a hard road ahead of him. How do you feel about him and his situation?

I have so much compassion for Imriel. He has so much to unpack – the terrible experiences that he has survived, the unexpected truths about his heritage, the quiet hatred of those sent to rescue him, briefly the seeming betrayal by the only people he has learned to trust. I think the narrative does a good job of not over-emphasising what all this could do to the lad psychologically, but it doesn’t need to work too hard on the worst case scenario – we’ve just buried the Mahrkagir, after all. And yet Joscelin is worried that he’s too like his mother because he deployed the staggeringly obvious disguise of a cloak.

I do love that the parallel is drawn with such conviction that it sticks – yes, see how like his mother he is, he is crafty and playing her exact tricks! – but when I paused for just a moment to think about it, I had to giggle. How else do you disguise someone as you when you are in a country where you stand out for being pale and blue-eyed? On the flip side, if Joscelin has leapt to the connection, you can be sure others will, and they won’t have any of his affection for Imriel. So for his sake as well as theirs, I’m very glad they’ve kept Imriel with them.

Valère L’Envers again. Anything you want to share on this particular character?

I delight in Valère L’Envers. I love that she is true to herself and her family and her duty as she sees it – ruthless, clever, charming, and absolutely not to be trifled with. She reminds me a lot of her father Barquiel, who I also like, for being an antagonist without being a villain (and I enjoy that we get both in this series). Over here, we have Melisande, who does terrible things knowing they are terrible to see if she can get away with them; and here, House L’Envers, whose children do terrible things for what they genuinely believe are Good Reasons.

Valère has been clear all along that she thought saving Melisande’s son was a bad idea and House L’Envers aren’t wrong about Imriel being a powerful political tool in the wrong hands. I don’t endorse murdering children for the sins of their parents, but I do rather enjoy Valère as a character. I like the notion that she likes Phèdre more when she doesn’t expect her to live (perhaps because that’s the only time she can allow herself to like Phèdre, rather than viewing her as a complication she may have to deal with). I also like that (narratively speaking) she’s allowed to just get on with her objectively terrible deeds without any consequences in the sense that Carey doesn’t feel the need to punish her for doing what she does (again: antagonist, not villain). Phèdre and Joscelin thwart her, and she’s a worry for as long as they’re in her reach, but I don’t think any of this will come back to haunt her – she’s taken her shot and missed. Once outside Khebbel-im-Akkad, they’re not Valère’s problem.

But I’ve always had a taste for this sort of pointy intrigue; it’s a throwback to Dart and Orthe (and reminds me we talked about reading Daughter of the Empire at some stage too).

It doesn’t look like our little d’Angeline family will be heading home any time soon. Care to share your thoughts on what kind of welcome they might get when they do finally make it home?

I was all busy being concerned about Imriel and how hard it will be for him, when I realised that if one of the reasons Melisande stayed in the temple was the knowledge that Phèdre would hunt her down, well… Phèdre’s been gone a long time already and has many miles left to travel. Do we think Melisande will have stayed put?

And anything else you want to talk about, of course

I am going to make A Confession: this week dragged a bit for me by the time they reached Jebe-Barkal. There’s a lot of travelling and new names thrown around and I found myself not even trying to register them because they can’t all be important and we’ve got so far still to go. I am glad that we saw the survivors of the zenana find a future, and I enjoyed the byplay with Valère (Phèdre’s many tactical letters of insurance!) and Kaneka and her grandma are utterly fabulous, but the court of Jebe-Barkal felt cursory at best. You can’t make an epic quest for the Name of God too linear of course, but… there are two more weeks to go. I may have a teensy bit of fantasy travel fatigue. Let’s get to Saba.

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 at Peat Long’s Blog
  • Week Three| Chapter 35 – 51 – hosted by Lisa @ Dear Geek Place
  • Week Four | Chapter 52 – 68 – hosted by Mayri @ BookForager
  • Week Five | Chapter 69 – 85 – hosted at Peat Long’s Blog
  • Week Six | Chapter 86 through the end – hosted by Mayri @ BookForager (thanks Mayri!)

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.