Retracing steps: Kushiel’s Chosen Read-along, Part 1

The Wyrd and Wonder Read-along of the Kushiel novels by Jacqueline Carey returns! We are picking up Kushiel’s Chosen for a group read and some juicy Q&A action. This is a reread for me, but it’s been a while so a lot of my memories of this book are spotty at best. This will be interesting.

 

 

In the second book of Phèdre’s trilogy, life has quieted for our heroine after her role in the fateful events of Kushiel’s Dart. But that quiet doesn’t last: a gauntlet, seemingly thrown down by her enemy and former lover Melisande Shahrizai, draws her back into the seductive and dangerous life she once lived, in a bid to discover the traitor still lurking at the heart of the capital and, hopefully, to bring Melisande to the justice she escaped at Troyes-le-Mont…

 

What is your position on Phedre’s decision to return to Court as a Servant of Naamah – and Joscelin’s reaction to it? Do you have more sympathy with one or the other?

*Deep breath*

On Joscelin’s reaction – and on Phèdre’s decision, for that matter: these two have clearly not spent enough time in the practice of talking to each other. Seriously. This is a much-needed, sit-down-and-express-your-feelings conversation that they are so far refusing to actually have and I’m just sighing over the whole thing. Joscelin is clearly not dealing with any feelings beyond his own repression of them (except moral outrage, that always gets a say), and as for Phèdre, I suspect she could benefit from letting go of a little bit of her pride? Just a little bit. Enough to ACTUALLY TALK TO THE MAN SHE LOVES.

As for my sympathy: that’s an interesting question. I can respect Phèdre’s readiness to make a firm decision and stick to it, and she is (at least on the surface) doing this for some noble reasons. (There is waaaay more to it than that, but again – that’s what A Conversation needs to be for.) And I can absolutely understand Joscelin’s reluctance to give up their quiet, romantic life and go back to the troubling – and troublesome – society in which they first met. But they both need to recognise and admit that their own feelings don’t matter more than the other’s, here. Phèdre is perhaps the only person truly equipped – and prepared? – to bring the matter of Melisande to any sort of satisfactory close, and is willing to do it despite her own deeply personal, conflicted feelings regarding the woman in question. If Joscelin can’t accept that, maybe he should have stayed in Montreve.

On the other hand, Joscelin’s misgivings are not invalid. What Phèdre is doing will be dangerous, and I suspect Joscelin knows perfectly well that her motivations go beyond just delivering justice. But if he took the time to properly examine and discuss his feelings with her, instead of just hiding behind the sort of wounded pride front that’s honestly just making me roll my eyes at him, they might get a lot further.

So I guess I’m saying my position is TALK TO EACH OTHER YOU FOOLS.

 

Phedre is quite certain that the sangoire cloak is a challenge – and a promise that she can unlock Melisande’s secrets if she applies her arts. Why do you think Melisande sent her the cloak?

Because she can’t help herself. I think Melisande enjoys playing with fire, and is very possibly telling herself that she’s doing this to see if Phèdre can beat her at her own game twice. (Twisted teacher/pupil relationship, anyone?)

But really? I think this is a deeply twisted expression of boredom, and an urge to cause trouble and/or attempt to keep Phèdre’s attention and energy focused on her. It is ego of enormous proportions, and the worst/most interesting part is that Melisande’s ego is not entirely unjustified. She is considered extremely dangerous for some very valid reasons, and she knows it. So I think this is part peacock-strutting, and part “yes, I got bored with the quiet life as well, let’s make it interesting again”.

 

We get to know a plethora of characters this week: Favrielle no Eglantine, Remy, Fortun and Ti-Phillipe, Nahum ben Isaac, Marmion Shahrizai, Severio Stregazza – any new favourites so far? Any thoughts on how Favrielle and Nahum flesh out aspects of the world-building?

My thoughts on the new faces so far:

I honestly can’t decide if Marmion is a very clever, very twitchy victim of Melisande’s plot who is just trying to keep his head on his shoulders in the ways he understands best, or if he’s actually a threat to be watched at the palace. And I don’t remember enough from my first read-through to make a guess, so I suppose time will tell!

Nahum: I love a cranky teacher, so of course I love him, and I’m definitely interested in the Yeshuite side of the world-building here.

Severio: Young men, indeed. Bless him, I think he’s adorable.

Favrielle: I feel like her importance had more to do with reflecting Phèdre’s deeper feelings about the way they were raised. It’s not hard to see that Favrielle represents what life could have been like for Phèdre, had her own life gone a little differently (ie. without Delaunay to take her in). I doubt there was ever going to be any grand or emotional displays of gratitude or heart-to-heart conversations (Favrielle is another cranky character I can’t help loving) but there’s a connection there, if not necessarily a kinship. Phèdre can frame it as a savvy business decision all she wants but I think she made herself another friend here.

 

That’s it for my thoughts this week, but you can follow our schedule over at the Goodreads group page for this read-along, and join us next week for our thoughts on part two!

 

 

 

4 comments On Retracing steps: Kushiel’s Chosen Read-along, Part 1

  • Like the observation on Phedre seeing a possible path for her younger self in Favrielle, and that influencing her actions. Hadn’t really thought about that.

  • EVERYTHING you said in response to the first question is spot on!
    And I hadn’t even considered Melisande’s ego when thinking about her motivation *smacks head with hand* such a good observation.
    I also hadn’t thought of Favrielle’s life as a reflection of what could have happened to Phedre ( am feeling marvellously stupid now!). When Phedre paid for Favrielle’s marque I should have thought harder on why she did it. Especially as she doesn’t like the cranky seamstress overly much at first. 😃

  • Ahhhhh Melisande’s ego – that’s a really good point, especially given how her arrogance contributed to her downfall at Troyes-les-Mont. It must have stung that her former pet and plaything beat her at the game when the stakes were so high (and after such an unpromising start): of course she wants to have another go.

  • Like you I have read this book years ago and I don’t remember much about it!
    I agree with everything you said, Joscelin and Phèdre are very frustrating in this book, if they could just talk with each other, it would do them both a lot of good.
    I also don’t remember a lot about Marmion and his role in this book but I don’t want to underestimate him because, he’s still a Shahrizai and they are a clever lot…
    And Melisande is definitely bored and in need of a challenge! 😉

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