Read As Thou Wilt: Kushiel’s Avatar Readalong Part Three

Welcome to week three of the readalong. Last week, Phèdre was wondering how to diplomatically ask an absolute monarch “‘ere, do you buy young boys for your harem?”

This week, we discover the answer, and whether Phèdre’s life gets any easier.

Spoiler alert – it does not.

In fact, this week is the section of the book where, in the parlance of the youth, Jacqueline Carey woke up and chose violence. Then after sleeping on it, she decided it wasn’t violent enough and edited more in.

For more details, here are my answers, with questions courtesy of Lisa at Dear Geek Place

1. We meet the Mahrkagir, learn his story, and … witness what Phedre has gotten herself into. First of all, because I need to ask: are you all right? Second: do you feel like there’s any sympathy to be had for the villain of this piece?

Well… sympathy is what you give to people who aren’t enjoying themselves, right?

That, deeply unfortunately, is not the Mahrkagir. The Mahrkagir is having the time of his life being a gigantic turd. There are no regrets, no hesitations, and no compassion. Yes, he is the product of grotesque, traumatic events that he didn’t even remotely hold any responsibility for. I don’t see any evidence that the man in front of us on the pages is suffering for that. All the suffering has been displaced to other people.

So sympathy seems very out of place.

As for the former question… Imyril seems to have a real knack for suggesting books with really depraved scenes of cruelty for our readalongs. If she picks Mary Gentle’s Ash for the Wyrd & Wonder readalong I’m gonna have some questions. That said, while it was frequently uncomfortable reading, it’s pretty much all sloughed off by now.

2. As this came up in chats after last week: It’s becoming apparent that maybe this story is even less about Melisande, and possibly even Imriel, than we thought… Do you still think Kushiel’s justice is intended for her, given what we’ve learned and what the Mahrkagir intends to do?

There’s been a bit of back and forth about this in the Discord and, well, it has only reinforced my position.

My position is I don’t really have a position.

I don’t have a great read on how the gods of the Kushielverse work because it doesn’t feel like the people of Terre d’Ange have a great read. Phèdre seems convinced she can feel the intent of Kushiel… can she? The gods are real and doing something but the fine details are hazy.

That said, the idea that the Mahrkagir is the biggest target for Phèdre’s payload seems quite unarguable at this point. Biggest target isn’t only target though. Could Kushiel be running a buy one, get one free? Is this scenario even of his devising? If he can inspire Carthaginian slavers to kidnap a single child some, what, ten years after the Mahrkagir takes power, couldn’t he have done something prior?

The more I prod at the scenario the more I feel that the worldbuilding doesn’t stand up, so I’ll simply leave it at this: the Mahrkagir is a threat best dealt with by an anguisette, and Kushiel seems quite determined that Phèdre should go and do something about it.

3. We finally meet Imriel, as well. What role, if any, do you think he’s going to play going forward?

Well, he does get his own trilogy, so…

I’m going to duck this question beyond that for fear of spoilers.

4. Speaking of roles to be played, we should spare a thought for Joscelin this week. Do you think he’ll come through this any more whole than Phedre seems likely to?

Again, picking my phrasing to try and avoid spoilers, but…

I would say this scenario is worse for Joscelin than it is for Phèdre. He has less control and knowledge of the situation, is going against his nature and upbringing more, and is probably more brittle than her in the first place. Yes, part of what makes Phèdre so unhappy here is how much her nature and upbringing fit in here – in some ways, the Mahrkagir is a very dark mirror for her – but I think it’s easier to despise yourself for what you put yourself through than it is to despise yourself for what you are letting someone else do to themselves.

5. Space here for any other thoughts/feelings!

I like the social make up of the zennana. The web of relationships and tension makes for very interesting reading, and I think Carey does some of her best character work here.

I also liked meeting the latest l’Envers. Her latent bitterness at having given so much for Terre d’Ange and being expected to give more was interesting.

Finally, it’s always fun to see another tendril of Melisande’s endless plotting around the world. I’d clean forgot that was the case there.


6 thoughts on “Read As Thou Wilt: Kushiel’s Avatar Readalong Part Three

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