Read-along: Kushiel’s Avatar – week five

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

Phèdre comes face to face with a mystery too deep to encompass and does an awful lot of travelling this week. No really, an awful lot of travelling.

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.

Another week, another country. Tell us all what you make of isolated Saba – and since this is the last new land we travel to in the trilogy, what was your favourite?

For me, Avatar (indeed, the whole trilogy) spends a lot of time travelling to very little purpose. Yes, I’m being provocative – obviously there’s plot purpose, but it doesn’t do justice to most of the countries it visits so the gadding about feels more like whistle stop fantasy tourism than world-building. And I know, I know, we’re here for the plot not the world-building, but you know I’m geeky and particular about worlds – I want them to feel like more than a series of (royal court) sets dressed for important conversations to take place. I feel like I know more about Phèdre’s wardrobe than some of the places she visits, and that makes me sad (pour one out for the ruined dresses on the long trip home).

So my favourite in this book is probably Menekhet, which has enough shaded in to suggest interesting political and social dynamics. Across the trilogy? I don’t love any of them. Outside of Terre d’Ange itself, there’s a lot more world than world-building. It doesn’t matter – this trilogy is carried effortlessly by characters and plot – but I don’t come back to it because I long to spend more time in any of its locations (except possibly the City of Elua in Dart).

So Phèdre is now on first name terms with God. Cool huh? What were you thinking as it happened?

I’m glad it wasn’t the horror of Daršanga that hollowed her out to make space for God – and love being the power that can help us put aside ourselves and leave room for someone else makes me ring like a bell (I’m not crying, you are) – but I admit to a little eyebrow twitch at Phèdre’s assertion that she couldn’t have done what was needful if not for Imriel. I’d like to translate that as in that moment – was she thinking of herself when she tried to get between Joscelin and rhinoceros? – but she makes it sound like at all. However, I like – enormously – that what she gets as her reward is a box full of broken stones and jumbled letters and a storm of syllables she cannot comprehend. I love Phèdre, but it’s refreshing to find her limits; and while I appreciate that it’s all just dialling up the drama to eleven, I also rather like that after centuries of fear and hiding, the tongueless priest can find himself and his line forgiven after all. Which leads us neatly to…

“As often as not, we forge our own chains. And from those, not even Adonai Himself can free us. We must do it ourselves.”

Truth. This is another idea that resonates deeply, and echoes back through the trilogy. Delaunay and his feud with House L’Envers. The one vow Joscelin will not break. Phèdre’s dedication to her gods (arguably not of her forging, but only she can change it). The entirety of Saba, hiding from God and the world. It’s a strong, positive, uplifting theme; our freedom is in our own hands – if we have the courage and the stubbornness and determination to reach past our fears.

…and then I remembered that Hyacinthe chose his fate, forging the chains that Phèdre is hoping the name of God will dissolve. And I try not to read too much into it.

It looks like Phèdre and Joscelin are firmly back together and all it took was a big… fish. And they also appear to have acquired a foster son. Tell us your thoughts on how this all went down!

I am endlessly delighted by the joy Imriel takes in matchmaking his adoptive parents as well as happy that our star-crossed lovers are back where they belong, in each other’s arms. I also love that they get teased about it the entire way to Saba and back again. Their companions are a hoot.

More seriously though, while all the travelling has me weary, I appreciate that by emphasising that the world is a big place that takes a long time to travel across, Carey creates time and space for the trio’s damaged souls to heal. Nothing feels rushed because everything is taking so damn long. The chains being forged here are of love, and surely strong enough to withstand whatever Melisande or Ysandre has to throw at them. Although honestly? For all Phèdre’s catastrophising, I don’t for a second think that Ysandre is going to throw anything at them. She may be irritated and disapproving, but if she gets them back whole and they offer to ensure Melisande’s son is safely raised in a way that means he isn’t a threat to her daughters’ throne? I think she’ll come round. Or Drustan will say something sensible and she’ll get over her temper.

We finish the section with La Serenissima on the horizon. Any thoughts and expectations on what happens next (or what we recall from our first time read for those rereading)?

I remember very little between Daršanga and the outcomes, and rereading I can see why. The Mahrkagir steals God’s thunder. No threat can match what Phèdre has already overcome; and while the stakes are high – Hyacinthe’s soul – they’re not as high (sorry Hyacinthe). They’re just awfully protracted (are we nearly there yet?)

…I say this, with full certainty that there will be one last gambit from Melisande. I can’t remember what it is, but would it even be a Phèdre novel without Melisande making a play? Perhaps at the end it will be kidnapping Imriel to reclaim her son, rather than trying to bring down Ysandre one last time – a personal rather than political conflict for Phèdre – but if there was ever a character who would refuse to diminish and go into the West, it’s Melisande Shahrizai.

As ever, tell us everything else that excited, delighted, frighted and incited you this week!

If I’m honest, very little stood out for me this week. This is a book that I think would benefit from a ruthless edit – while I can make arguments for why the miles matter, I’ve almost resented having to read through them. It’s a well-polished trilogy, but this last book goes on and on and on and on and it’s probably just as well Tor weren’t paying by the word.

Okay, that’s not quite true – I delighted in the fact that Phèdre is now known across Iskandria as Nesmut’s friend (and I want stories about his future, which I bet is fascinating) and the final appearance of Ptolemy Dikhaios, who is a personal favourite. He’s just so crafty and clever and sardonic and smug. I’d happily read more about him, too.

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

Enjoyed our meanderings? Watch out for our next read-along – there are two planned in May for Wyrd & Wonder (and at least one more that isn’t planned but looks like it’s happening; yes, we’re keen to ready witchy books!) and Peat, Mayri and I are all looking sideways at a STACK of other backlist fantasies we’re excited to buddy read…