Love as thou wilt: The Kushiel’s Avatar Read-along, Week 1

Hello all! Today marks the beginning of the (final!) end of a series read-along that began … ahem, years ago now, as myself and several lovely fellow book nerds pick up the final book of Jacqueline Carey’s first Kushiel trilogy. Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève is undertaking her final perilous adventure, and we’re about to embark upon it with her…

NOTE: Spoilers will likely be a feature of these posts! If you haven’t read the book and want to avoid this, look away now!

For those who are still here, hooray! Before we get to the questions and discussions, here’s our reading/hosting schedule as it stands right now:

  • Week One: Beginning through the end of Chapter 16, hosted by imyril
  • Week Two: Chapter 17 through 34, hosted by Peat Long
  • Week Three: Chapter 35 through 51, hosted by me
  • Week Four: Chapter 52 through 68, hosted by Bookforager
  • Week Five: Chapter 69 through 85, host TBD
  • Week Six: Chapter 86 through End, host TBD

We’ll be organising this one via Discord, so if you’re on there (or you’re willing to join, it’s pretty neat!) and you’d like an invite for read-along purposes, you can let @imyril or myself (@deargeekplace) know via DM on Twitter and we’ll hook you up!

Right. With that out of the way, let’s discuss Kushiel’s Avatar



The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassed beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good… and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a woman pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one. Her path has been strange and dangerous, and through it all the devoted swordsman Joscelin has been at her side. Her very nature is a torturous thing for them both, but he is sworn to her, and he has never violated his vow: to protect and serve. But Phèdre’s plans put Joscelin’s pledge to the test, for she has never forgotten her childhood friend Hyacinthe. She has spent ten long years searching for the key to free him from his eternal indenture, a bargain he struck with the gods to take Phèdre’s place as a sacrifice and save a nation. Phèdre cannot forgive – herself or the gods. She is determined to seize one last hope to redeem her friend, even if it means her death.

The search will take Phèdre and Joscelin across the world, to distant courts where madness reigns and souls are currency, and down a fabled river to a land forgotten by most of the world.

And to a power so mighty that none dare speak its name.


The world has changed since we first joined Phèdre in the City of Elua. Any thoughts on the evolutions within the society and politics of nations, Terre d’Ange or the Night Court?

I can always appreciate it when an epic fantasy (or SF, or whatever) expands the story to allow for growth and change in the world it’s set in, as well as in the lives of its characters. Carey does both, and in particular I appreciate seeing the ways in which Phèdre has used her status, and therefore her power beyond that of just being Kushiel’s Chosen, to affect change in her society as well as in the world at large. It reminds us that there is a bigger world, and a bigger story, going on here and sets us up nicely for future stories without ever taking the focus away from the one Carey is currently telling.

Over a decade in, Phèdre and Joscelin’s relationship is strong and healthy and complicated – not least by Hyacinthe. Were you surprised by Joscelin’s offer after their visit to the Three Sisters? What did you make of their conversation before and after arrival at La Serenissima?

Oh, Joscelin.

The difference in him now compared to the younger man we met in the beginning is vast, isn’t it? And yet after all they’ve been through and survived together, he still has insecurities. Though maybe those are inevitable – don’t we all have them?

Joscelin’s offer, and his conversations with Phèdre regarding Melisande, definitely make his insecurities known, though: he makes the offer out of love, and to spare Phèdre yet another dangerous, painful journey, perhaps, but at the same time it’s telling on his fear that he’s not enough for her, that she’ll miss him less than she does Hyacinthe. That she loves him less. His point about Melisande (“she doesn’t need her freedom to make claims on you … and you don’t need to offer”) isn’t entirely a wrong one, either, and boy did that one hit me in the feelings. I suppose it’s rather ironically reassuring to see that some things may never change, and I will always want to give our awkward Cassiline a hug and some tea and protect him.

Do you believe Melisande? (evergreen question)

Evergreen, indeed. Oh boy.

I suppose the simple answer is … yes? Big old question mark there, though, and that too is evergreen. Even Joscelin admits that Melisande didn’t lie, but that’s always been part of her game, hasn’t it? She doesn’t need to lie to manipulate people – Phèdre least of all, though that’s always a complicated thing to discuss, because of course it’s a complicated relationship.

But, the question. Hmmm. I don’t trust Melisande, of course. But no, I don’t think she’s playing Phèdre false here – and that just reinforces what I’ve felt since we first met her, which is that she is one of the most fascinating and compelling villains I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Here, we may finally be seeing the weakest point in her armour (her consideration, if not her love, for her son) and yet somehow I still suspect we aren’t seeing the full picture, either of who she is or of what she wants. Even in her moment of greatest vulnerability, we can’t be certain of her motivations, and I love it and hate it in equal measure! Well played, Ms Carey. Well played.

What was your reaction to Phèdre’s confession at the shrine of Kushiel?

Ooooooh. I want to talk about this, but because I remember pretty clearly something that happens later in the book, I feel like I want to save most of my thoughts on it for that point… But for now I’ll say that these characters and their vulnerabilities are definitely going to make this one damned fascinating story, aren’t they?

How do you feel about Brother Selbert and his assessment of Melisande?

… I think the fact that he apparently doesn’t see different forms, or expressions, of love as being equally valid is a shortsighted failing that he needs to sit down and examine instead of putting it out there as his reason for siding with someone like Melisande. He clearly thinks his reasoning justifies what he did; to me, it makes it painfully obvious that he has no real idea who he’s actually been dealing with. There was a great deal of sighing and eye-rolling during that scene, let me tell you. I’ll leave it at that because otherwise I will start to rant, but. Argh.

And finally…

…how do you pronounce Cruithne?

Ha! I love (and hate) questions like these, heehee! But it’ll be interesting to see who else answers it, and how, so:

Being Scottish, and knowing that Drustan and his people are of these isles (or at least this fictional version of them?) I can’t help “hearing” this as a Gaelic word. So, “CROO-thna”, where the ‘a’ is very soft compared to the rolled R and the emphasis on the first syllable. But I should add that my understanding of Gaelic is basic at best and maybe someone else will surprise me here? COME AT ME, LANGUAGE NERDS*.

*Sincere invitation, please do!

And on that note, heh, that’s it from me for this round! See you next time…






1 comments On Love as thou wilt: The Kushiel’s Avatar Read-along, Week 1

  • I think the only place where my reading differed from yours is that I think Selbert does know who he’s dealing with…

    Which probably just makes it worse

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