Read-along: Kushiel’s Avatar – week six

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

Sometimes getting home isn’t the end of the adventure. Phèdre has promises to keep and souls to save. She may have faced down horror and the divine to gain the opportunity to do just that, but that doesn’t mean there are no further obstacles to overcome…

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 the Imriel trilogy.

Let’s talk about that final meeting with Melisande. What were your feelings about Imriel’s meeting with his mother? How did you feel Phèdre handled herself? And any opinions on those rumours about a cult?

Unexpectedly, I find I’m left with very little impression / memory of this scene – which has a lot to do with my struggle to engage with reading in general at the moment, and especially with maintaining engagement over nearly 1000 pages. At best, I’d say it’s pleasant (if surprising) to discover that Melisande has a weak spot; and well done Phèdre for being able to achieve what she wanted to here. I have every faith (sorry not sorry) that she would have taken full advantage of becoming central to a cult.

To say Ysandre is miffed upon Phèdre’s return would be an understatement. Let’s talk about that courtly face-off and our Comtesse’s punishment.

I have two equal and opposite reactions here.


The second: Well done for coming back to the inconvenient political truth that Ysandre’s throne has never been entirely stable, with more danger in being seen to accept disobedience even from your most trusted confidante. There’s a bundle to unpack here around justice and favouritism and giving your enemies no ground; and a safety net, because Phèdre is the one ally Ysandre can punish almost entirely without fear.

…but honestly? This whole subplot mostly irritates me. Did Phèdre really need consequences for pursuing the course of action she was quite clear she was off to pursue from the very beginning? I accept that Ysandre may never be entirely rational about Melisande’s son, but her turnaround at the end of six months makes it crystal clear this is all about political pageantry and optics; and we don’t see enough of d’Angeline politics in this installment to know who it was aimed at so it’s just procrastination. At the end of a very, very long book. Eh.

Showdown with the angel Rahab! We want all your reactions – go!

Well this is all suitably dramatic, isn’t it?The thing that frustrates me about this book is that there is a massive freight of feelings to be unloaded at this point, but I’m so exhausted by the time we reach the Three Sisters that they pass me straight by. Hyacinthe’s fears, Phèdre’s determination to sacrifice herself, the threat to Imriel and Joscelin and the crew, the Yeshuite scholar getting to hear the name of God, even the consideration of what this enormous change will mean for the islanders – there’s so much to love – and… I just want to jump to the confrontation with Rahab (which is awesome) and get to the end. I have no reactions left at this point in the read, I am reacted out.

Thoughts on Phèdre’s feelings for Hyacinthe at the last? And while we’re on the subject of Hyacinthe – let’s discuss how he has been changed by his time on the Three Sisters and maybe speculate a little on his future.

I do very much like that Hyacinthe has been changed by his experience – and how. He is a very different character than when we last spent time with him, and my heart aches for him. I could handle an OT3 where he and Phèdre and Joscelin spend the rest of their life together, studying obscure texts and sharing love. Instead, we get Hyacinthe!Sibeal, which I don’t hate but I don’t love; it’s a good pairing, but I dislike “she pined for the man who loved her sister for ten years and he decided to try and make a go of it with her rather than disrupt his first love’s relationship”, which is the vibe I get from the whole thing.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I ever got (or wanted) romantic vibes from Phèdre!Hyacinthe – they were friends and allies in Dart, and I didn’t need or want romance mixed in with that. In my heart of hearts, I would be a happier reader if Avatar were unequivocally about the lengths to which Phèdre will go for platonic love. Let her face down an angel for the love of her dearest friend, not her maybe other boyfriend. Besides, I didn’t believe she would leave Joscelin for Hyacinthe on my first reading and on my second it feels like unnecessary melodrama. Of course, I don’t get a lot out of romance tropes, so hardly surprising I find the love triangle rather forced.

Finally, a party to end all parties. Has everything been wrapped up to your satisfaction?

…it has, in spades. Although I’m a happier reader when Melisande is out in the world as a threat – or at least a dangerous influence to be navigated – so I’m going to stick to my head canon where – Aes Sedai-like – the promise you heard her say may not have been the promise she was actually making.

I’m conscious I’ve done a lot of critical whinging, so I just want to reiterate: I love these books and these characters; this may be my least favourite, but I appreciate it even if I struggle to actually read it. I think I’d enjoy it more if it were two books, so that the quest for the Name of God weren’t so overshadowed; but then I’m getting less patient as I get older, so maybe I should just know better than to read 1000 page books.

And of course, anything else you want to squeal or scream about…

Right, remember back in Daršanga when I said I had Thoughts that were too spoilery to talk about?

So we’re on a quest to learn the Name of God to free Hyacinthe from ageing without dying because a fallen angel has no more forgiveness than he has any concept of consent. However, the trip to visit Hyacinthe makes it clear that anyone can take his place if they know the basis of the curse.

Say… Joscelin. In the depths of Daršanga, where there was much discussion of sacrifices, I became very conscious that freeing Hyacinthe did not require the Name of God. It required a willing sacrifice – one that Joscelin would never permit Phèdre to make if he could protect and serve to save her from it. This never occurs to Phèdre and as we’re trapped in her point of view we can’t know if it occurs to Joscelin. But I wonder whether our most faithful Companion realised he held a key to Hyacinthe’s freedom and whether he entertained the notion of taking Hyacinthe’s place.

Coming back to that love triangle? Well, I may not believe Phèdre would leave Joscelin at the end of the Lungo Drom, but damn right I believe Joscelin would sacrifice himself for her sake. While I was pretty certain he never got a chance to, when we tripped over that line last week about even Adonai not having the power to break the chains we put on ourselves (and I noted that Hyacinthe chose his fate), I did get back to wondering whether this was a subplot that ended up on the cutting room floor. Perhaps it was a melodrama too far – I certainly don’t regret it’s absence, but I’ve enjoyed the speculation.

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

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…