It’s the second week of this read along, and things are starting to get more interesting – and more dangerous, as tragedy strikes the Delaunay household…
Spoilers will follow for chapters 17 through 31.
We get a few more hints of magic or the supernatural in this section. Phedre sees Kushiel’s visage after Alcuin is injured; Hyacinthe’s mom & he himself both have things revealed via the dromonde; that moment of deep peace at Elua’s statue. What do you think of magic in this world?
This low-fantasy approach to worldbuilding, where magic comes in fleeting glimpses of ‘something otherworldly’ or in moments of deeply personal reflection or intimate knowledge, feels very fitting for the kind of story we’re being told. This is Phèdre’s story, told by Phèdre herself, so for her understanding of magic or magical experiences to be so deeply personal makes perfect sense.
As for magic in the wider world, beyond Phèdre’s experience, I get the sense that with a culture founded on mythical beings like angels comes an arguably unavoidable shroud of mystery around them. Phèdre only gets the barest glimpses, and those in intimate moments, because their goals and concerns are not generally for mortals to know – and that also makes sense to me. I want to know more, naturally, but at the same time I feel satisfied by this approach.
More politics! For those new to the series, what do you make of Baudoin and his mother, the Lioness of Azzalle? For those rereading, are you noticing details you missed before?
As I’ve noted in some comments from last week, picking apart the threads of politics and keeping track of political players is not the thing I tend to focus hardest on, except where these things impact the relationships between characters. I’m more keenly interested in Delaunay’s endgame and his motives than in the political power struggles of the wider world, at this stage, because there is clearly some personal motivation behind what Delaunay does – not to mention two of this story’s foremost characters at this point are closely involved with him. So I had a little trouble, not necessarily keeping track of what was happening but with finding as much interest in it? I get that what happens here is important, and I know it will matter further down the line, but … I know what’s coming. We will get to that. I’m a little busy sighing over Delaunay right now, heh!
What do you think of Alcuin’s final assignation? Guy’s death? Would Alcuin have been happier, but perhaps less useful, as something other than Naamah’s servant?
I’ll talk about Guy first, because I have … some slightly cynical feelings about him. For all that I’m deeply invested in the relationships within the Delaunay household, I admit I was waiting from the first page for Joscelin Verreuil to show up – in fact, I had more or less forgotten that he had a predecessor in the first place. Sorry, Guy, I’m sure you were lovely! But the story had to move forward. Signed, a Joscelin Fan Girl.
Anyway: Alcuin. This question’s a tricky one to answer without touching on spoilery things, but I will say that the reminder of how little love Alcuin had for the kind of work that Phèdre throws herself into, hit me all the harder in this reread. It feels like a rather deliberate demonstration of the ways this world that these young people are growing up in is not as loving and pure as it might seem upon first impressions, and given the legitimate criticisms some of us shared on the subject of that part of the worldbuilding last week, I feel like this is a pretty clear indication that Carey never intended her world to be perceived as flawless. It’s obviously not. Alcuin made a clear statement, to those who were paying attention (yes I’m looking at you, Delaunay), that he wanted to get himself out of this life as quickly and cleanly as possible, and the most immediate response was a violent one that resulted in an unfortunate death that could have been his own, had he not been so lucky. Granted, there was more to it than just the hurt feelings of a ‘rejected’ patron, but … it says a lot, doesn’t it?
Wow, I went off on a bit of a tangent here, but the feelings are what the feelings are. To properly answer the last question … it’s difficult to say? Alcuin may have come to realise he hated the life he was sold into, but on the other hand he’s living that life under a roof with two people he clearly cares a lot about. There’s a lot of emotional conflict to be read here, but at the end of the day I’m not sure what kind of life would make Alcuin happier. Yes, he’d be emotionally better off out of the life of a courtesan/spy. But would he be better off without the people he’s sharing that life with? Maybe. But maybe not.
Phedre has a new bodyguard – a Casseline Brother, Joscelin Verreuil. What do you think his life was like before this posting? Are you surprised that Anafiel didn’t dismiss him after the confrontation with Childric d’Essoms?
What do I think his life was like before now: Much, much quieter. And probably less interesting. Sorry, but we know it’s true.
Am I surprised that Anafiel didn’t dismiss him? Not even a little bit. Anafiel Delaunay is a calculating man who considers just about everything in terms of cost and effect, but he is not cold-hearted, and I suspect Joscelin’s immediate offer to resign was never going to get any other kind of response. Bless them both.
We finally meet Barquiel L’Envers. How dangerous do you think this man is? What do you make of his history with Anafiel?
He is very dangerous, because he is every bit as calculating as Delaunay – and then some, in my opinion. As with Delaunay, I don’t think he’s heartless, but I feel like that can make some men, these two definitely included, a great deal more dangerous. It’s easy to be ruthless when you don’t care about anyone or anything but yourself. These two clearly do care about something more than that, and that passion – paired with a sharp intelligence – is the sort that can bring down governments, for example.
I was already eating up their scenes together, and then we had to go and get the allusions to their personal history and I need a bigger bowl here. Possibly a napkin.
How did you feel about Phedre granting Childric another assignation? Was she right that she owed him a debt?
I said last time that I would have more to say about Childric, and do I ever.
I’ll start by saying I am deeply grateful that Childric is the kind of man he is, and by that I mean he is not portrayed as a monster simply because he likes inflicting pain on Phèdre.
The relationship between a dominant and a submissive is one that demands careful understanding on a writer’s part before it can be written in a way that does it justice. I think Carey does it justice here. There’s very little in the way of softness between Childric and Phèdre; he’s given some legitimate reasons to be angry with her, and Phèdre approaches him outside the bounds of a formal assignation because she’s seeking something she knows he can readily provide for her. This is too personal to be merely a transactional arrangement. But the most important part is that we’re not given a sense – or at least I don’t get the sense – that she goes to him fearing that he can’t be trusted to provide what she’s looking for.
She calls it owing him a debt, but she’s there to get something from him all the same. And what saves the scene between them from being too uncomfortable to handle is the fact that, for all that he vents his anger upon her, Childric maintains enough control to keep from going too far – call that a lesson learned, but it’s still to his credit – and he takes the time to take care of Phèdre afterward. That was the key to it all, for me. Had he not made sure she was looked after, I would feel very, very differently about him.
(Also, somebody has to take the time to look after Phèdre because she clearly forgets about that part sometimes. But that might be another subject, for another time.)
Alcuin has completed his marque and displays it to Anafiel. How do you feel about the shift in their relationship? Phedre’s response to it?
Oh boy. It’s really difficult to answer this without letting spoilers colour my judgement, but … this feels, to me, like a pivotal moment not because it’s romantic – it’s not, when you think about it – but because it signals that a lot of things are about to change. I got that sense when Alcuin bargained so heavily to pay his way out of his contract – that there would be a bigger price to pay. My memory of what follows is still unclear, but I do not have a good feeling about this. And that’s where I’ll leave it for this week, I think…