KUSHIEL’S DART by Jacqueline Carey has been on my radar for a while now. It’s got an average Goodreads rating of over 4 stars and I’ve never seen it mentioned with anything other than good words. However, it’s a beast, clocking in at over 900 pages and that’s always intimidated me.
When Wyrd & Wonder (on Goodreads) announced it as their September 2020 group read, I decied this was just the push I needed. I really enjoyed their readalong of THE GOBLIN EMPEROR earlier in the year.
I’ve been slow to start the book, so I’ll be combining the six sets of discussion questions into three posts and sharing one a week.
Week One | Beginning through end Chapter Sixteen
Phèdre, they called me, neither one knowing that it is a Hellene name, and cursed.
I started out with the audiobook and, while there was nothing wrong with the narrator, I struggled to get into it. I think there were maybe too many names and worldbuilding tangents for me to keep in my head. I gave up an hour in and started from scratch with the ebook. That went much better for me, and rereading the first eight or ten chapters helped me get a much better handle on things.
When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity upon me.
You know it’s an epic fantasy when it starts with not only a map but a list of Dramatis Personae. How do you feel about this approach to beginning a new story? Do you read the character list or use it for reference along the way?
I like maps and the character list is nice to have, I guess, but it’s not something I really looked at. I might use the list as the book goes along if it gets too confusing, but in general, I expect the author to make the story without forcing me to rely on that. Plus, it’s a lot of hassle to flip back and forth on a Kindle.
What are your first impressions of Elua and his Companions, and of D’Angeline culture? Are you comfortable with the way in which Jacqueline Carey has reimagined the world?
I’m really impressed with the level of worldbuilding in the history, although it’s a little overwhelming so I’m just running with it even when I forget things.
Guy, Alcuin and Phèdre are all devoted to the mysterious Anafiel Delaunay. Do you think he deserves their love?
I think I’m struggling to take out ‘our world’ values from their relationships. I feel like he’s using Alcuin and Phèdre, even if he is fond of them, but I suppose they do both want to serve Naamah anyway so… I’m conflicted.
Weirdly, to me, Delaunay feels a bit like the middle-class cishet white “nice guy”. He’s getting a lot of kudos and adoration for doing the bare minimum. That’s not necessarily his fault, or a fault at all, but I’m not sure he’s done enough to merit the pedestal he’s on. Whether it’s the author or Phèdre that’s created that pedestal remains to be seen and might affect how I see him.
What do you make of Phèdre’s choice of signale?
I wished we’d seen more of Hyacinth to make this feel more meaningful? We’re told that he’s so special to her – and I see why – but as readers, we’ve only seen a few interactions between them, so it feels a tad hollow?
Last but not least, the big week one check-in: now that you have seen a Showing and witnessed Phèdre’s first assignation, are you still in?
I actually thought the Showing and assignation were pretty tame when you consider the world and the nature of the story. What can I say? I grew up on fanfiction as a teen, it takes a lot to shock me. I had no idea this book was so sex-focused when I started (I know, I know. How the hell did I manage to miss that?) so most of my surprise was spent on just that. I was far more uncomfortable with the earlier chapters where Phèdre and other characters talked about a 10-year-olds lust. That part did make me uncomfortable but I think as the characters get a bit older it’s less… icky.
Week Two | Chapter Seventeen – Thirty-one
We get a few more hints of magic or the supernatural in this section. Phèdre 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?
I honestly didn’t really think of it as magic until now *face palm*
I like that it’s subtle and feels woven into the religious aspects that are so much a part of the story. I’d nice that you can almost write it off as devotion and over-zealousness, it adds a layer to the religious angle without feeling separate or out of place. Having her see visions of angels and the like gives you a sense of scale, how small Phèdre is and how big the world and the other players are compared to her.
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?
Offt! I didn’t like the guy massively, but I felt that he got a real raw deal here. Melisande, geez. She’s brutal.
I feel like the details of the politics are slipping past me somewhat, what I think I’m keeping up with the important parts. It might have been interesting to see more of the Lioness and her family though. The husband and daughter are so briefly mentioned, but there must have been a lot of internal conflict in that household. It was interesting to see the justice system play out a little.
What do you think of Alciun’s final assignation? Guy’s death? Would Alcuin have been happier, but perhaps less useful, as something other than Naamah’s servant?
Poor Guy! His death took me rather by surprise but, at the same time, I don’t think I knew him well enough to really mourn his passing.
I liked that in Alcuin we get to see someone not as… shall we say ‘called to service’, as Phèdre is. It gives little nuance to their roles as spies and sex workers, and to the way that others might feel within the Night Court. Not everyone can be as suited and enamored with their profession as Phèdre. I think Alcuin could have been happier as something else, so long as he got to stay with Delaunay, but I’m not sure what. Perhaps some kind of scholar or politician? He seems to have a better handle on that side of their assignments than Phèdre.
Phèdre 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?
Honestly, I think that Delaunay knows what Phèdre’s like by now. I think the situation could have gone a lot worse and he probably knows that too. To be honest, if he dismissed her guard every time she got herself into danger then he’d probably go through them a pretty terrifying rate. I think she’s old enough now that in some ways he has to trust her judgment and she seems to think Jocelin did okay. Who wouldn’t need a bit of time to adjust to working with this little misfit family?
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?
While it’s clearly been what Alcuin wanted for a while, I sort of surprised Delaunay lets their relationship shift with so little resistance. He (and I) have seen him as a guardian/ father figure to both the kids. That said, despite what Phèdre says about her own feelings for Delaunay, I don’t really ‘feel’ her passion for him either.
I feel bad for Phèdre — she clearly heart broken — but I really repect the way she handles it. It shows a lot of inner strenght that she clearly wants them to be happy, even if it closes paths she might have wanted for herself. (Both leaving them to it here, and by telling Delaunay about Alcuin’s feelings earlier). I thought her reaction was well-written. She’s right, her own relationship with Delaunay is different and wouldn’t work out the same way that one with Alcuin might.
Any other thoughts?
I loved that we got to see more of Hyacinthe. I’m getting more of a feel of the friendship that I felt lacking in the previous chapters. I’m enjoying seeing him work his way up in the world. That we see it in snatches, only when Phèdre visits him, is a nice touch for showing how, while her world is wrapped up in these politics and assignations, the world is still moving on around them.
I also loved Phèdre’s deadpan saving of Jocelin from his little public humiliation. I think the personality dynamic between these two is going to be entertaining. His little comment when she’s hurt too…. He clearly has feelings for her. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s protectiveness or romance.