Kushiel’s Avatar Readalong Part Six

And then it was done.

This is it. The final segment. All things to be made good, or ungood.

1. Our starter for ten: 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?

I loved this scene. I loved the mix of calm and despair that exists in Melisande in this moment, the way she accepts so much of it and yet her face hardens when she makes sure those who harmed her son are dead. I have to admit, I find that the end of this, I like Melisande. Oh, she is a damaged thing, and dangerous and borderline monstrous in it; she is not wrong that Phèdre has killed, but the motivations have been very different. The mere fact the universe hasn’t centered itself around Phèdre isn’t provocation in and of itself to her. Yet Melisande has grace, wit, self-awareness and integrity. She’s been a wonderful villain and I am unabashedly glad she hasn’t lost totally here.

Yet I love that Carey doesn’t love herself in love for her villain and warp Imri’s natural anger.

Phèdre gets what she comes for, but judging from Melisande’s final words, she had it when she walked through the door. Would she have vowed not to harm Ysandre and her daughters without Phèdre driving a bargain? Probably not, but I think Melisandre had probably already worked out the cost of that one in her mind. Notice how when Phèdre makes two demands, Melisandre says she’ll only grant one and leaves it to Phèdre. I think Melisande’s personal freedom matters far more to her than making another attempt at the throne; she got what she wanted by letting Phèdre make the choice, and I think she knew it. Could a harder bargainer have got Melisande to grant both? I don’t think so. I think Melisande wouldn’t have trusted that person, and offered neither.

As for the cult… well, think back to Hugues at the start of the book, and people’s tendency to get googly eyed about painful things from a distance. Smells really likely, doesn’t it?

2. 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.

Brace yourselves, because I don’t think anything in the whole trilogy enraged me like Ysandre’s reaction.

Before I get into that, I think it’s only fair to talk about the narrative framework here. We have had two colossal, draining, life-changing climaxes for Phèdre already. Regardless of what makes sense or not, I am all drama’ed out. Phèdre has suffered enough. I don’t need the author throwing more obstacles at the situation, I need Carey to do the big showdown with that salty angel Rahab and tie things up prettily. This could be the most sensible story development possible and I’d still side-eye it like I’m m’sieu Creosete and it doesn’t look all that wafer thin at all.

However, I don’t think it makes sense. Or if it does, it raises oodles of questions about whether it was really worth all that to see Ysandre on the throne after all as she comes across as the most petty, hypocritical, ungrateful, snobby *bleep* in the whole thing. If this is who Ysandre really is, then I wish Melisande had won.

And I get it, I get it, she’s been scared and thwarted and she has regal authority to maintain but… she’s had months to get over being scared and thwarted. She can absolutely retain her regal authority by allowing that the foremost heroine of the realm is permitted a little indulgence in how she saves a royal prince from a living hell.

I’m trying to think which line annoys me most. Is it the one about how what honour is there for House de la Arsehole in letting Imriel be fostered by Phèdre and Joscelin? You pursued your love match, Ysandre, but you’ll deny other people who they want to be with? Or how she must maintain royal authority when she shakes in her boots every time Barquiel quietly challenges it? That half-witted line about Phèdre not being able to protect Imri when she’s the only reason he’s alive and Ysandre’s contribution, bar supporting Phèdre, has been as useful as sending a crate of whisky to Alcoholics Anonymous?

That line about how Hyacinthe did it for Phèdre, not the crown? Who cares? Who do you think Phèdre was doing it for? Who benefitted, Ysandre? Other than you, you, and, oh yes, you? Does it still lessen your colossal debt to him? You owe him your crown, husband, and life, things he has given to you at immense personal cost, and yet you think that a display of regal pique is more important than acknowledging that? I wish Hyacinthe had told Ysandre she can kiss his boot in public or the channel is shut forever more. I just want someone to shove Ysandre’s pettiness down her throat. Everyone else in this trilogy has suffered hard for every rash thing and moment of temper, and she just gets a pass? That doesn’t sit right.

There’s been a lot of nasty things done in this trilogy. There’s been a lot of people with brutal dark sides. In terms of darkness and nastiness, this really doesn’t move the dial at at all. But I don’t think any of them has turned on their own, on the people who’ve made gigantic sacrifices that have been hugely beneficial to them, even if the manner of it is trivial, like Ysandre.

And I really struggle to exc… no, wait, rephrase. I have no interest in excusing that. You wanna go after your enemies? Go for it. You wanna go after your friends? Go away.

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

This didn’t quite fizzle as I wanted it to. But then I’ve got a fair old dose of fatigue at this point and knew the beats ahead of time. It wasn’t bad, I just don’t think it came alive. Part of it was Carey trying to amp up the drama again.

The whole thing about everyone hearing the word love was… corny.

4. 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.

It just feels satisfyingly right. There’s nobody she has more history with. There’ll always be that sense of “it should have been us”… but it wasn’t. It wasn’t, and they have found things they wouldn’t dream of shattering in the paths they took instead, and I love the maturity with which they view that. No denials, no bitterness. A fitting end to a dynamic that has been a series highlight.

As for how he’s changed… like Phèdre, he started the trilogy wanting everything, and through suffering has come to simply want happiness.

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


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

Some say becoming a writer ruins reading for you. That isn’t true, but nevertheless, there are some books that grab the writer in you by the tail and slaps them into consciousness. This is one of them. The decision to stick in the mother of all obstacles and triumphs at the halfway point, and then continue the book like the rest of it matters is not one I see every day. It’s like a restaurant greeting you with three portions of a deeply decadent dessert, then bringing in the main course, then somehow expecting you to still want a starter at the end.

I would give a lot to know whether Carey and her editors had any doubts about this course. For my money, they should have. Lots of them.

I am very, very fond of this series. Maybe even love. But I can’t help but find some of Carey’s choices baffling and this book really brought them home to me. Why globetrot and show off every corner of your world if it’s just a smorgasbord of history with a few additions, and you rarely get a full taste of any culture? We visit, what, six countries in this book? That’s too much. It doesn’t help that Carey just presents us all these cultures with no reason why. Por example:

I forget the exact details, if they are known, but it’s something like, what, the Britons/Cruithne cause the fall of the Roman/Tiberian Empire. That just takes out the whole shebang but without the Germanic/Skaldi migrations happening (although the naming conventions of several countries are firmly Germanic), but even more thoroughly as the Byzantine Empire doesn’t exist in any form, and then everything stays in stasis for, oh, I don’t know, maybe six hundred plus years with no other event in European history happening. The Huns? The Vikings? The Arabs and the spread of Islam? The Turks? Why do none of these things happen?

I feel a mean ol’ hypocrite for focusing on these things, because I usually advocate being forgiving of worldbuilding that isn’t that bothered by nuts and bolts, but when it’s loadbearing, nuts and bolts must exist. When a book visits six different countries, it is loadbearing and at the author’s choice. It doesn’t have to be but that’s the choice Carey made and what is an interesting talking point at the end of the first two has got right under my skin here.

I also think the standard deserves to be a little higher when you can exactly whose country is being talked about.

Since I am kvetching about things that bug me, I must also say Carey’s decision to take the most dramatic possible resolutions to problems has also worn at me.

It is only fair, and slightly more pleasing, to talk about the things this series, this book, have done really well.

It is refreshing to see a series where the women matter so much, in the big roles and in the small, and where the reasons for them mattering are wide and varied. If there was ever to be a history of fantasy tracing protagonists who thanks to exemplifying traditionally feminine traits and virtues, Phèdre would get a chapter to herself. The broadness of sexuality shown is pleasing too.

The way Carey has tackled the themes introduced by who Phèdre is – submission, endurance, id vs super-ego, beauty, ego – is splendid. She has not been afraid to let the characters’ actions speak for themselves for the most part, nor to let them say it all out loud when needed once in a while. She has put the story above the themes without sacrificing them, and interwound the two so tightly that for those who wish to see it every action speaks of the themes, yet so subtly that it can be just a story for those so minded.

Once, in a deeply foolish mood, I recommended Kushiel’s Dart to my mum. Thankfully she didn’t get that far into it because she didn’t get on with Phèdre, who was too impressed with her self for mother. At the time I didn’t see it. I do now. Young Phèdre is, well, young. She is full of enthusiasm and puffs herself up in response to a deeply challenging childhood, drawing on her pride in what she can be proud of – her beauty, her country, her trade, her master. I find that version of Phèdre endearing.

The version who emerges from three books of hardship and joy is the sort of person I find most admirable. She is seemingly unfailingly compassionate and courageous, deeply loyal, incredibly well-educated, witty and gracious. She seeks no dominion over others yet, even under the utmost duress, she will resist attempts to hurt those around her with everything she has.

Watching her grow is the main attraction of the series, and well worth the irritants. The characters with her have been wonderful too. Joscelin has turned from someone who wanted to be more legend than man, to a man who bears being a legend with wry humour. Melisande, as noted above, has been a wonderful villain. I wish we’d seen a bit more of the rogues; I wish Hyacinthe hadn’t spent so much time on an island, that Anafiel and most of Phèdre’s boys hadn’t died. We have been well served for rogues though.

It has been huge fun revisiting all these books with everyone, and I’ve no doubt this isn’t the last time I’ll read about Phèdre.


7 thoughts on “Kushiel’s Avatar Readalong Part Six

  1. I think you’ve neatly summed up how I feel here – especially about the world-building, which… well, I went back to one of my early posts as we read Dart and I was complaining then that I didn’t feel any of the cultures were well-served outside Terre d’Ange, and I stand by that. We get a lot of whistle stop tourism and rather less consideration than I’d like; when we get to the point that some countries are fully fictional and others have cities where the names aren’t even changed it starts to bother me a lot.

    But I love the series for the characters and their growth (and Melisande remains one of my all-time favourite villains) and the handling of the themes, all of which is far better (and far more considered) than I remembered. As you say, everything is so very careful interwoven and if the melodrama is off the charts, at least I broadly knew that coming in and was braced for it. This is not a subtle series 🙂

    Thank you for reading along; I have – as always – enjoyed your insights at every step of the way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The pleasure has been equally mine, and therefore so too is the thanks!

      Which countries would you consider fully fictional? I think all of them belong to some period of history, although the Akkadian Arabs might be stretching it.

      Otherwise, yes. The characters and themes are top tier.


      1. Ah sorry, that should have been fictionalised (nothing is fully fictional) in the sense of given a secondary gloss. I find it weird to get to Khebbel-im-Akkad and just go ‘eh, Nineveh and Tyre, guess we’re all out of names at the world building store today’. The wholesale historical pick&mix is fun while I’m in it, but bothers me when I let my brain kick in 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. For me, Ysandre’s reaction is very much for show. I don’t get the impression that she truly wanted Phèdre to suffer or that she would deny them the right to foster Imriel. She plays favorites like every other ruler ever but just pardoning Phèdre and giving her everything she wanted after traipsing about with a Prince of the Blood in foreign climes for a year who pulled a similar move to his traitorous mom is not going to be excepted by her court. We know everything that went down and experienced it alongside Phèdre but Ysandre’s court is not sympathetic in general and Ysandre has to deal with their issues with Imriel’s mom. Also, Phèdre chose to see Melisande rather than going straight home. That looks bad even if she does get a deal out of her that is worth it. Plus preparations had to be made to go to the Three Sisters. Winter is not the best time for sea travel. And after punishing Phèdre, Ysandre gets to give Phèdre exactly what she wanted and they all have to accept it. I agree with you, I love how women are depicted throughout the series. They are all so different and interesting. I love Phèdre the most.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah you are far kinder to her than to me. I find her reaction makes more sense as genuine, and think that if Ysandre wanted to put on a show, she’d have talked to Phedre in private first.

      I agree that this series is outstanding for its female characters though.

      Liked by 1 person

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