The situation gets dire in this week’s chapters, and no one is out of the woods yet…
Let’s discuss Kushiel’s Dart.
Spoilers follow for chapters 32 through 47.
Phédre slipped during her assignment with Melisande and mentioned that Delaunay is “waiting for word from Quintilius Rousse.” She believed this slip contributed to Delaunay’s murder, but Melisande assured Phédre that she’d already known that information. Do you think Delaunay was right to keep Phédre unaware of his identity, motivations, and true intentions to prevent such slips on her assignments?
That’s a hell of a question, though it’s a good one! Where politics, power and Melisande are concerned, there is so much nuance that it’s tricky to answer this without giving too much away – or, in my case especially, remembering all the little details. But as for Delaunay, I do believe he had weaknesses and blind spots, and I think both Phèdre and Melisande represent the biggest ones, in a personal and a political context respectively. I wonder if Delaunay was so aware of what Melisande was capable of, and felt he knew her so well, that he honestly didn’t see how dangerous she was to him because they were too close? Or was Melisande telling Phèdre the truth when she said her orders hadn’t been to kill him?
I don’t remember if we ever find that out for sure, but I have my doubts. I do think Melisande lies like she breathes, or at least plays so cleverly with words that extracting the spirit of her truths is incredibly difficult. But that’s getting into a subject for later reveals, I think.
Delaunay trained Phèdre well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he prepared her well enough for the game she would be playing or the people she’d be playing against. She was definitely not ready for Melisande, and whatever the cause of them is or was, her personal feelings were a weakness, and Melisande used that against her. I believe he cared about Phèdre a great deal, but Delaunay should have known better.
Is it just me, or are you also curious about this strong, compulsive attraction Phédre has to Melisande to the point where she can’t even think straight sometimes? What are your thoughts on this? Do you think Melisande is as drawn to Phédre, or is she simply fascinated by Phédre being an anguissette and what Phédre’s limits are?
I think the simplest answer regarding Melisande is “both”, to be honest. I do think there is some sort of magnetic attraction between them, whether the source is mystical or not (and I’m not entirely certain it’s not). What I think is more important, though, is the fact that none of that stops Melisande from doing what she does. It doesn’t stop her pushing Phèdre to her breaking point, and I think it’s not a coincidence that she did this while making her move on Delaunay, whether his murder was her intention or not. There are shades here of what she did to Baudoin, presenting Phèdre as a gift – or in this case, as a prize. Either way, Phèdre is used to make a statement, and both times Melisande’s true intentions are not honourable.
If actions speak louder than words, then it ultimately doesn’t matter if Melisande genuinely cares for her or not; those feelings are not enough to turn her from whatever her true course is.
(In case you can’t tell, I have a lot of fascination but very little sympathy for Melisande!)
We get to meet the Skaldi! What were your initial thoughts when Phédre and Joscelin were handed over to them?
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but I think it’s very interesting to see how they each react to what happens here. I mean, they’re both acting not on natural impulse, so much as according to what they’ve been taught. Phèdre’s ‘instincts’, then, are to assess facts and gather intelligence first, and decide the best course of action second; Joscelin’s training is as a warrior, and so he does the only thing he truly understands how to do – he fights. It takes Phèdre’s persistence with him to convince him to trust her methods instead, and this is where their relationship starts to get really interesting.
But the rest of that is for later…
We meet Waldemar Selig, the Skaldi who aims to unite all Skaldis and conquer Terre d’Ange. How did the way he was introduced in the story affect your impression of him when he does show up?
I think Selig is an interesting character, not so much in terms of the man himself but more in terms of how the people who follow him see him. I feel like there is a disconnect between how the Skaldi behave as a community, and how they reconcile themselves with Selig’s goals and throw their support behind him. I suspect that Selig is playing the part of a politician a little too well for his own good at this point; he tells his people what they want to hear, in a way that impresses them, but I don’t think they fully grasp how selfish his goals are. I think he sees himself as better than his own people, certainly too good for their old ways, and he’s dressing this up as something that can benefit them all if they just fall in line with him.
It’s definitely interesting that Phèdre sees through him nearly immediately, and I have to wonder if this is what Melisande was counting on – but that’s another question for later! (Damn my patchy memory!)
That’s it for my thinky thoughts this week (sorry they came so late!), but you can keep up with what the rest of the group thinks over on the Goodreads page for the readalong!
See you next time…
5 comments On Read as Thou Wilt: The Kushiel’s Dart Readalong, Part 3
Poor Joscelin. He really is forced out of his comfort zone among the Skaldi, which might seem counterintuitive. After all, they are a warrior culture. Yet Joscelin has to put his trust in Phedre and for the most part, keep his weapons sheathed.
Mmmm, tasty tasty character-building irony. 😀
Am having ALL THE THOUGHTS about Selig now! What he wants is so installing- can’t believe I didn’t see that before you mentioned it!
I was half-thinking to myself about how how unSkaldi Selig feels and we’ll see how this goes.
The Delaunay-Melisande thing is something I wish we’d seen more of, both in terms of just enjoying their interactions, and in terms of “why did he underestimate her”. I think I believe Melisande that she didn’t order Anafiel’s death but in a way, it doesn’t really matter – his death came because he didn’t think Melisande was in some conspiracy against him, and that was just horribly wrong.
Commenting incautiously (as I have read the first couple of chapters for week four) – your comments on Selig really pushing my ‘oooh let’s discuss’ buttons. It is clear from the end of week three how much stock he places in the prestige badges of non-Skaldi societies; it’s clear from the beginning of week four how much he envies / covets aspects of non-Skaldi cultures – and is willing to see it destroyed if he can’t possess it. I can’t like him or sympathise with him – but he strikes me as a character who could have travelled a very different road if a couple of key things in his life had gone differently. He’s definitely interesting!
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