Kushiel’s Chosen Readthrough: Week Five

It is now the penultimate stretch of this journey with fantasy’s most cunning courtesan countess, and that means more questions. This week they’re coming from Imyril at One More and as ever they’re being answered by this band of bookbrains here.

Here are my thoughts and answers

What did you make of Phèdre’s interventions to save Kazan – first from the kríavbhog and then from the thetalos? Do you think he deserved it?

Ah yes, easing us in with a nice easy one I see Imyril. Indeed, I think I might need some outside help on this one.

But to try and answer it in my own words – let’s twist the question. Does Phèdre deserve to be able to save a man from death rather than see him go to the grave or madness at her behest? To avoid that extra scar that goes across the soul rather than her swift healing flesh? It is an undoubted yes here. We see in the thetalos just how much blood is on Phèdre’s hands, and I think we could see before that how it weighed on her. She says it is not given to us to know who lived because of us who might have otherwise died, but in this case she does, and saving Kazan is as much an act of expiation and redemption as anything else. For her to doom him would have been to doom herself, physically in terms of lost aid and spiritually.

To return to the original question in light of that – does Kazan not deserve her aid? He is a killer and has walked – I think strayed across – the bounds of sexual consent, but that is not all he is. He is not a wanton killer. He has stuck loyally to his bargain with Phèdre, rescued her from the sea where other might not have, served his people well. And he has been prepared to offer his life to do so. I do not think he is a man who deserves to be shunned, or to be sent to his death when he might be sent to his life. So yes, he deserves saving, as most of us do.

The shadow of the supernatural lies heavy across the narrative. How / does this affect your understanding of Melisande, Marco Stregazza and their ambitions?

Hmm. Well here’s an interesting one.

Marco Stregazza is – assuming he knows fully of his wife’s meddling with the temple of Asherat and that she would never relinquish a Doge, which I’m not entirely sure he does – going against the rules of the gods as well as that of men. He is, like many a fantasy tyrant before him, seeking to disturb the natural order. Assuming he knows. I think he does? But not entirely sure. I think he knows of the meddling, but maybe not the truth of the marriage between Doge and Asherat. The uncertainty however doesn’t entirely change my response. There’s no sign that Marco particularly acknowledges or thinks of his actions against the divine. He does not see them as relevant to his ambitions. He is divorced from that aspect of life.

Where as Melisande clearly has considered how her ambitions fits into the divine order, and believes they do not challenge them at all. She is cautious when she thinks they might, as shown by keeping Phèdre alive. She is a different kettle of fish. Is she right about them not challenging the gods’ will? I think, given Pasiphae’s words in the thetalos, that she might not be. Kushiel doesn’t make people super-masochist for shigs and gittles; he casts his dart with reason, and he is a punisher, and right now that dart looks aimed right at Melisande. Maybe Melisande has considered this before but if she has, she’s just rationalised right to what she wants to hear.

In any case, this deeper level of thought and understanding is part of what makes Melisande such an interesting villain.

Phèdre describes La Serenissima and Kriti as ‘civilised’; she does not grant it to Illyria. Any thoughts on d’Angeline perceptions / expectations of ‘civilisation’?

For me, when Phèdre talks of civilisation, she mainly means the benefits and amenities that come from having such a big grouping of people and therefore allowing people to specialise. The arts. Good massages. A wide array of goods to purchase or peruse. People who can make a good living out of offering some sort of pleasure. A culture that’s grown up around these things.

And by that measure, she’s not wrong.

However, there’s a part of her outlook that does mirror the idea that civilised = good, and that makes not being civilised a pejorative. A part that gives a little moral judgment in favour of those that share Terre D’Ange’s – or perhaps, more accurately, the city of Elua’s – outlook and approach. A bit of snobbishness. Knowing the tribes of Alba and seeing the traitors among her own people has, I think, erased a lot of that outlook she may have once had, but it’s not entirely gone. And probably never will.

But given how she trusts her life to the people of Illyria, and gives her admiration, I think she’s more open than shut there.

Reunited! Do you think this separation will be enough to bind Joscelin and Phèdre together in future – if they survive?

I think the fanbase would have done something dark and terrible to Carey if they hadn’t, and I’ve read books of hers set after this, so…

Smartarsery aside, yes. Or, perhaps, the separation will be enough to make Joscelin and Phèdre see they are irrevocably bound by what they feel for each other and what they have gone through, and that whatever hurts they might suffer in each other’s company are nothing compared to being apart. A combination of space and shock will do what no amount of conversation will have done.

Any predictions for the finale? Care to guess who will live, who will die and who will flee to fight another day?

I remember how this ends far too well to answer this question. I don’t remember it perfectly, but I remember enough.

So instead I’ll talk about how this has been my favourite section of the book. It has some of the best writing, and a lot of heavy emotional scenes that offer food for thought. The Kritians are charming; my favourite set of characters Phèdre has visited so far. And my how Kazan grows here. There’s something compelling about his mix of still hale male pride and newer, humbler self, that I wish would be explained more. I like how we see how Kazan and Phèdre have come to a measure of love – part platonic, part sexual, not quite romantic – and while the journey to it is nothing to be wished on anyone, the end harbour is good for them both and they’re wise enough to recognise that. Indeed, this is arguably the theme of the book for me; Phèdre understanding how she may not control her life, but she can control what she takes from it, and growing as a result.

Hell, I might get stuck into part six now.

2 thoughts on “Kushiel’s Chosen Readthrough: Week Five

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