Kushiel’s Chosen Readthrough: Week Four

We’re past the halfway mark now and settling in for the long run home for the unluckily named Phèdre and even more unlucky people around her. Asking the questions this week is Bookforager and answering them are the various folk found here. Here’s mine.

What are your thoughts/feelings on Phèdre’s escape from La Dolorosa? Specifically, how do you feel about her rejection of Melisande’s offer, Tito and Joscelin’s roles in her escape, and the vow she made to Asherat? (Along with anything else you want to add).

(And would you rather Phèdre had accepted Melisande’s offer of a more *ahem* personal imprisonment?)

I liked Tito. I liked that there was a good guy on shitehawk island and that he stayed good even under pressure. I don’t know whether he would have done what he did if he’d twigged just how much danger he was in with everyone gunning for him but I like to believe so.

Joscelin of course did understand all the likely consequences and went ahead and attacked a fortress anyway, like the manly man he is. I’m looking forwards to seeing all the reactions from everyone else who’ve been grinding their teeth at Joscelin’s sheer pigheaded stubborness without knowing this was coming, and how much they find him redeemed by this moment. Or not. It was one hell of a moment anyway.

As for Phèdre myself… it shows a lot of guts to take a risky chance like that rather than talking herself into believing she had more chance of stopping Melisande from her lair. Phèdre doesn’t even really seem to bother to weigh the possibilities her. Which personally suggests there’s something terrifying about that prospect to her. Maybe a belief that ultimately Melisande understands her too well, and likes her too well, and that Phèdre is attracted to her too much, to ever truly break free in such a situation?

In any case – now you mention it, maybe yes I would have preferred it. I’ve never really got as much Melisande time as I’ve wanted from these books as she’s just a fabulous villain, and her and Phèdre are a really well matched pair. However, I am wondering slightly if what makes Melisande so great is her sparing use, and whether a lot of time with her would have worked. But I’ve have been intrigued.

Pirates! A dragon! A secret island! Woo! What do you make of pirate captain Kazan Atrabiades? And how do you feel about his ‘relationship’ with Phèdre?

Kazan’s kind of just there for me – at the man he’s a ruggedly handsome lamp for Phèdre to do Phèdre things around – but the relationship is interesting and I think the most interesting part comes when they’re ironing out their deal. I like how Kazan’s clearly angling for Phèdre to make the offer of sex for help; Phèdre accuses him of wanting “to put a good face on rape” and Kazan retorts (more or less) that if he wanted to rape her he could; he is asking, he is making a deal. It’s a fascinating little piece on the dynamics of consent and self-image. Kazan is fine with using duress to get her to agree to sex (from his perspective), but not forcing her; from his perspective, he may be a ruthless businessman, but he’s not a monster. For Phèdre, she feels like she is in no position to say no, and therefore can’t truly give consent, and her only power lies in in refusing to muddy the situation. But Kazan does believe she can say no; he would respect that. He just simply wouldn’t help her. I feel like that exchange says a lot about who they are, and shapes their relationship. Kazan wants to believe they are more or less equals, making an equal bargain; to Phèdre, this is laughable, but the fact Kazan does want to believe that and act like that makes some difference to her. I think a mark of that comes in these two thought sentences:

“‘Twas nonetheless true that he had forced me into this bargain, and that I did not forgive. Still, I had made it, and so doing, given consent.”

There can’t be the relationship she could have with the twins, or Nicola. But there can be more relationship than with Gunter or Valdemar. Phèdre’s ambivalence gives what interest there is here.

Yet more of the map has been filled in this week. Do you have any thoughts to share about what Phèdre and we have learnt of Illyria and its relationship with Terre d’Ange and La Serenissima?

I think Phèdre’s reaction to finding herself in a country on the wrong end of Terre d’Ange’s policies is a bit too muted for me to get much. Not that I blame her that much – she’s been through a hell of a lot, her more looming in front of her, and being on the wrong end of their resentments isn’t going to help her empathy that much. But whatever her reasons, she treats it like background noise.

Finally, a broader question: what are your thoughts on the various gods and religions we’ve seen? Do you think all gods are real in this world? And if they are, what are your thoughts on some of the things being done in the name of these gods and goddesses?

Ooh, I like this question. I think they are real. The Black Boar in Kushiel’s Dart is the most obvious display of divine intervention and so difficult to rationalise as otherwise, and if that one’s real, why disbelieve the others? However, while they are real, there are clear limits to their power and as such, a clear limit to how explicit they can make their message. I think a lot of the things done in their names are things they disapprove of – and so do I. I do find it mildly ironic that Melisande ‘Elua cared not for mortal thrones’ Shahrizai has made common cause with the racism for Elua’s line crowd; quite the 180 from going after Mr Selig! What Phèdre and some of her fellow followers of Namaah needs to be mentioned in balance though.

Then again, maybe Elua and the rest really do care nothing for mortal thrones – or happiness…

3 thoughts on “Kushiel’s Chosen Readthrough: Week Four

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