Kushiel’s Chosen Readthrough: Week One

Ey up all. It’s readalong time again, back to Terre D’Ange and Phedre finding news way to be sexily smart and stupid by turns. I would say come join us but being as I’m two weeks behind – well, you’re still welcome, but not everyone loves playing catch up!

I have to admit, part of the reason I am so late is my memories of this book are a little lackluster. I wasn’t sure I wanted in. Posts by others on Twitter made me decide I did want in, but how much I’ll enjoy this book… well, we’ll see. In any case, week one has questions covering One to Seventeen set by Imyril at Always Room for One More, and here’s my answers

What is your position on Phedre’s decision to return to Court as a Servant of Naamah – and Joscelin’s reaction to it? Do you have more sympathy with one or the other?

Let’s start with another admission. I don’t read much Romance and my position with the genre’s reputation is ambiguous. I believe a lot of the reputation is unfair and sexist, but I look at some of the stereotypes about the tropes and want nothing to do with them – never entirely sure whether I’m being fair or not. One of those tropes that I believe to be commonplace there that I want little to do with? Couple miscommunication as a primary form of drama.

Therefore, if you think I was dreading this part, you are quite correct.

It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. Their decisions are completely part of who they are and, to my eyes at least, fair. Phedre has a calling – a dual calling really, as Kushiel’s Chosen and Anafiel’s heir – and only knows of one way of fulfilling it. Joscelin has deep beliefs concerning morality and has bent them as far as they’ll go right now. Asking them to deny that part of them would be unfair. And to their credit, neither does. They recognise what is fair to ask and mostly live with the answer they’re given.

I say mostly because they snipe at each other pretty regularly. I think Joscelin starts more of it, but it feels self-perpetuating after a bit. It doesn’t move beyond a label where I can’t live with it. And they never let go of a thread of honesty and openness. There are many worse couples at communicating than these two, even in pain and a bit of shock. So I guess I’ve got sympathy and understanding for both fairly evenly.

Phedre is quite certain that the sangoire cloak is a challenge – and a promise that she can unlock Melisande’s secrets if she applies her arts. Why do you think Melisande sent her the cloak?

I’ve been watching a fair bit of Criminal Minds recently, and something it dwells on regularly is how many types of criminal try to insert themselves into investigations or will contact the police to ensure they get recognition. They want the credit, need an audience, have to see just how their genius is appreciated. I don’t know how accurate it is, or the names for these sort of behaviours in psychology is if accurate, but this is the exact same sort of behaviour as Melisande is displaying. It isn’t enough for her to thrive. She has an itch to do the audacious and seemingly impossible, and she needs someone else to know what she is doing.

We get to know a plethora of characters this week: Favrielle no Eglantine, Remy, Fortun and Ti-Phillipe, Nahum ben Isaac, Marmion Shahrizai, Severio Stregazza – any new favourites so far? Any thoughts on how Favrielle and Nahum flesh out aspects of the world-building?

No particular favourites, although I guess I’d enjoy the chevaliers’ place in the narrative most, and appreciate the depth of all of them. Nahun’s probably my least favourite, largely because he’s giving a large amount of exposition about things I already mostly know.

Favrielle does a decent job of hinting at the wider world of the Night Court, both its pettiness and logistics. I’m always a little shruggy at Phedre’s decision to champion her; if Phedre wanted to do something good with her money, there were things that could have done a lot more good than elevate one woman who’ll have a physically comfortable if emotionally not-so-comfortable life. But then I’m not a huge fan of rudeness, even if coming from justifiable bitterness, unless played for the laughs. Possibly not fair of me, but that’s my bias.

Phedre comments on the Midwinter Masque as a recurring motif in her life, but it’s far from the only echo of earlier events. What do you make of the way this first act mirrors events of Kushiel’s Dart?

Honestly, I hadn’t until you asked about this. I do see some plotting similarities – the slow info-laden beginnings; the positioning of the same sex scene, the centrality of learning and mystery – but the tone feels very different to me. Phedre is a grown woman now. She’s the boss in this. She has no close emotional confidants as she did with Alcuin. When I look at the stories side by side, the progression strikes me more than the continuity.

(First time readers) Care to place your bets on who helped Melisande Shahrizai to escape Troyes-les-Mont?

Do I even remember? I think I do. Maybe. I will keep my thoughts to myself anyway.

…and anything else you’d like to share your musings on!

It’s interesting to see Carey sort of address the complexity of one ethnicity of humans being more or less objectively better than others in Phedre and Severio, but I’m not sure she says as much as she means to. Or maybe she meant to say less than I thought. I’m not sure how much people will agree with the seeming underlying message of “When in Rome” either, given where much of the genre seems to be going. Come to think of it, the echo – a very pale one, but an echo nevertheless – of arsehole creator in Favrielle maybe doesn’t look the same today as it did then. Every story ages as social assumptions move on but something about the belief in beauty and genius above all looks particularly off. Yes, the work is something of a power fantasy and as such is unapologetically about celebrating the good so this is the expected territory, and I daresay there’s plenty sillier ones getting produced today. And yes, this is maybe me being more hyper-sensitive to some things right now than Carey’s actual writing. Still. They’re there in my head.

One thing I do like about this beginning though – suddenly just occurred to me – is how there’s a bit more of Phedre socialising and relying on women. Kushiel’s Dart spent long periods with Phedre anchored in the masculine worlds of Anafiel’s household and the Skaldi camp. The journey to Alba was more balanced but even then, the closest actors to her – Joscelin, Hyacinthe, Quintillus – were male. There’s still plenty of Phedre in a man’s world here but the scenes with Favrielle, with Thelsis, with Cecille, they all add up to a counter-balance.

Finally – it’s a bit of a slow start here, or at least I think so. The mystery is fairly small and contained and the scenes are almost all centered around dialogue and thought, with the sex scene almost the only piece of doing. I think Carey is relying heavily on her audience being deeply curious about where in the world is Melisande Shahrizai rather than hooking them anew. I’m not entirely sure it works for me. It’s pleasant reading, fun to spend time with certain characters again, but there’s not much riveting my attention; at least, not on the re-read.

12 thoughts on “Kushiel’s Chosen Readthrough: Week One

  1. Kushiel’s Chosen is my least favorite book in the trilogy because of the miscommunication. I also don’t read a lot of romance and this trope always gets on my nerve quickly. I understand why Phèdre and Joscelin are acting the way they are but it’s still frustrating to read about! 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m surprised I didn’t feel more grumpy at them tbh! But, as I’m pretty sure things get worse before they get better, I’m likely to get grumpy in the week 2 catch up.


  2. I think you’ve been far more understanding and forgiving of Phedre and Joscelin’s sniping at one another than I have been so far – I salute you for that. You’ve made me rethink my position.
    And I love everything you said about (a) Melisande’s intentions with the sangoire cloak – referencing Criminal Minds (perfect!); and (b) Phedre’s relationships with more women in this book. I wonder how much of that is down to her increased status/power? She can choose now, in a way she couldn’t in book one, who she associates with. And I do love that her female relationships are mostly the nourishing kind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m still slightly surprised I wrote that on them tbh! I totally get everyone who’s irritated and am wondering where I’ll be by part two.

      Re Phedre and more women… honestly, I think this is Carey’s choice more than Phedre’s choice. Tielhard the tattoo guy last book could have been female. Favrielle could be male. Gaspar could be more important than Thelsis. There’s just a difference in a way she’s seeded the world. But, I guess there is also something in the people Phedre goes to for comfort and advice now that Delaunay isn’t around, and that this is a mark of her being her own boss.

      Also yay other Criminal Minds fans!

      Liked by 1 person

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