Kushiel’s Reread

That Which Yields is Not Always Weak: Kushiel’s Dart, Part 2

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Welcome back to Kushiel’s Reread! This week, we wrap up Part 2 of Kushiel’s Dart, in which Phèdre nó Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil survive slavery in Skaldia, join a diplomatic delegation to the far shores of Alba, and bring Queen Ysandre’s betrothed to Terre d’Ange so he can help kick the Skaldi out.

In rereading Kushiel’s Legacy, we’re breaking each book into two parts; turns out there’s a very natural delineation between Part 1 and Part 2 of each of Phèdre’s adventures (hint: it involves her getting imprisoned and/or enslaved). Each reread will include a brief summary, some plot highlights, and our commentary. We’re going to get spoilery—because it turns out there is a ton of foreshadowing for later books and trilogies—so feel free to do the same in the comments.

As Shemhazai said, all knowledge is worth having. And as he might have said… Reread as thou wilt!

 

Summary: Part 2 (Chapters 40-96)

When last we saw Phèdre and Joscelin, they had just been sold into slavery in Skaldia by Melisande Shahrizai and Isidore d’Aiglemort, working to overthrow the throne of Terre d’Ange. The latter half of the book sets up the kind of pattern we see in the rest of the series: long journeys, new allies, and a big showdown that will likely determine who gets the throne. Like so:

  • In Skaldia, Phèdre becomes the unwilling bedmate of both ambitious steading leader Gunter Arnlaugson and the canny would-be king and conquerer Waldemar Selig, while Joscelin must pledge his loyalty to both men
  • Upon escaping and fleeing back to Terre d’Ange, they discover that they’ve been accused in absentia of murdering Delaunay and Alcuin
  • But Ysandre believes them and has them sail to Alba to bring back her betrothed, Drustan mab Necthana
  • En route, Hyacinthe is reunited with his Tsingano family and turns out to be an actual prince—but gives it all up when he uses the dromonde to save Phèdre from returning to Melisande
  • Then he gets imprisoned on the Master of the Straits’ isle
  • Phèdre convinces not only Drustan, but also the Lords of the Dalriada and Isidore d’Aiglemort to fight Waldemar Selig
  • D’Aiglemort dies a warrior’s death bringing down Selig and is redeemed
  • Melisande Shahrizai is sentenced to death but escapes at the last minute
  • Phèdre inherits Montreve from Delaunay and becomes a peer of the realm
  • She spends a year settling in to Montreve and starting to learn Yeshuite, but everything is turned upside-down when Melisande delivers Phèdre’s sangoire cloak and a clue to chase her to La Serenissima…

Even though Melisande’s diamond is gone, Phèdre is still on her leash.

 

Kushiel's Dart Reread Tor.com Jacqueline Carey book coverDivine Inspiration: Joscelin really comes into his own in Part 2, where he is forced to break almost all of his Cassiline vows. Yet it is still difficult for him to understand why Phèdre still follows her calling. “You made Cassiel’s Choice,” she tells him. “You can’t keep me from making Naamah’s.”

The Master of the Straits makes his first onscreen appearance in the latter half of Dart, in a sequence worthy of the best Gore Verbinski pirate movie. (Why haven’t we seen a cable series of these novels yet?) Freeing Hyacinthe will become Phèdre’s raison d’etre for the rest of the trilogy.

Diplomatic Relations: Basically, if they pass through a territory, Phèdre sleeps with someone to keep pushing Ysandre’s mission forward. The swath she cuts includes…

  • Quincel de Morhban—for passage through Kusheth
  • Grainne mac Connor, Lord of the Dalriada—for fun and to provoke Eamonn
  • Eamonn mac Connor, Lord of the Dalriada—for war assets

Xenophobic Much? Of course a prisoner like Phèdre will have a highly biased view of her captors in Skaldia—these are the barbarians invading her beloved homeland. Yet, for someone who has never left the City of Elua before, Phèdre is humbled by recognizing that the Skaldi’s reverence for hearth and home isn’t so foreign, and that their women are much better equipped to manage the harsh realities of a Skaldi steading than she. She’s still not a fan of the beards, though.

It’s also funny that Phèdre admits her own discomfort at the thought of half-Pictish heirs to the throne of Terre d’Ange. That’s a big part of the Imriel trilogy, in which the kingdom is openly mistrusting and disrespectful of Sidonie and Alais.

Happily Ever After: After all of that treachery, war, and attempted flaying, we need to celebrate those who survived the novel. In fact, every book in Kushiel’s Legacy ends with a fête of some kind. Here, we’re invited to Ysandre’s and Drustan’s wedding, finally watching them dance the gavotte in a garden under twinkly lights. Aw, young royal love.

 

Natalie’s Commentary

When I was describing Kushiel’s Dart to people last year, I didn’t even touch on Part 1 (despite all that happens in it). I would basically jump right into this half, which I called “The Adventures of Phèdre and Her Magical Vagina.” Seriously—if there’s an obstacle in their way, Phèdre can basically sex it away. It’s one thing for her to sway Quincel de Morhban with his one chance of bedding an anguissette, but when Phèdre is oblivious to her charms it gets irritating. The whole sequence with the Dalriada, where she’s puzzling over “well what do they mean ‘get between the Twins’?” I wanted to shake her. Though in rereading, I do recognize more occasions in which Phèdre’s skills as a Servant of Naamah seal certain characters’ fates in unpleasant and often fatal ways. Magical doesn’t always equal good.

This section of Dart was the beginning of Joscelin starting to relax by accepting that while he is not a perfect Cassiline, he is still the Perfect Companion. One of my favorite parts was Joscelin playing the Mendacant, after his brief turn pretending to be a Skaldic thane. He’s actually pretty convincing at role-playing (as we’ll see in Kushiel’s Avatar especially), and I would not be surprised if that’s something he and Phèdre incorporate into the bedroom.

I will say that things got a bit ponderous in Part 2. Taken separately, each of Phèdre’s mini voyages was thrilling—but especially when rereading, when you know that you have to get through the Tsingano kumpania, to defeating Maelcon the Usurper, to dealing with the Master of the Straits, and only then do they actually face the Skaldi… It’s a lot to take in! It reinforces the notion of the Lungo Drom, but it’s also exhausting just to read about.

Hyacinthe’s sacrifice really bugged me, both times. It’s one thing for him to throw away any chance of a life among the Tsingano; he had had only a few days to adjust to his dream, so he could at least go back to before. But then he uses the dromonde again to beat Phèdre at her own memory game and take on the mantle of the Master of the Straits! And what can she give him in response, but one night of bittersweet sex? It’s just so anathema to his persona as the Prince of Travellers, for him to be chained to a rock, but I guess that’s the point.

I at least appreciated on the reread how it was made clear that Hyacinthe’s mother had an idea of her son and Phèdre’s future when she taught him the dromonde. It was one orphan helping another, two women of ill repute reaching out to each other over time. That I can more easily accept than Hyacinthe throwing away his life twice out of unrequited love.

Speaking of women looking ahead… I kind of loved how the book didn’t just end with Phèdre playing house at Montreve, but clearly set up the plot of Kushiel’s Chosen. You can see how Phèdre is hungering to return to her courtesan/spy ways, though this time she’s got the added benefit of being a peer of the realm. You would think that Melisande had learned her lesson—that which yields is not always weak—but clearly she thrives on having an equal and an audience to her schemes.

 

Theresa’s Commentary

If Part 1 was Phèdre seducing me with her voice, her enslavement in Skaldia and subsequent harrowing escape made me fall in love with her as a character. All those lessons she learned in the Night Court, all of the skills Delaunay instilled in her, all of those precepts and platitudes she absorbed from Elua and his Companions, were put to the test in Skaldia.

What really made my heart break for her was her perseverance in the face of every affront to her training as a Servant of Naamah. It’s easy to say one understands Naamah’s decision to prostitute herself for love of Elua in the relative comfort of a D’Angeline temple. But few D’Angelines likely had to suffer the ultimate blasphemy of continued rape at the hands of captors in order to survive. Phèdre’s humiliation was made more cruel because she is an anguissette and felt betrayed even by her own body every time. It’s impossibly tough to read. Yet Phèdre’s quick thinking and her surprising empathy for the Skaldi kept the book from becoming too grimdark.

As bad as Waldemar Selig is—and he is hugely dangerous—he’s neither a noble savage nor a hot-headed, cartoon bad guy. He’s got responsibilities to his own people, to which he remains true, which is more than can be said for Melisande or d’Aiglemort. Escaping Skaldia would almost feel like a heroic ending, if there wasn’t still so much left to tear through.

Joscelin really comes into his own in these chapters, too. A bit of a cliché when he was first introduced (and a lot of a stubborn bore), he has to survive at Phèdre’s urgings, which she does even when he spits in her face for her “dishonorable” refusal to just lay down and die—or, more accurately, to let Joscelin perform the Cassiline terminus and end them both. Looking at his constant impatience to escape against Phèdre’s long game made me like him even less, until they actually ran from Selig’s steading and crossed into the mountains. That Camaeline mountain trek will become a benchmark against which Phèdre measures her need for strength. If she can overcome Melisande’s treachery and the Skaldi warlords, and survive those mountains with no food or sensible shelter, Phèdre can endure anything.

Especially with love on her side. There was so much love in the second half of Dart.

The growing romance between Phèdre and Joscelin felt inevitable, but so earned when they finally did make love for the first time. Joscelin took vows that meant everything to him, just as Phèdre did to Naamah, but he broke his for love of her. It didn’t feel flippant and that decision does gnaw at him: “I will make that choice again and again,” he says. But it really did open him up as a person, most especially and adorably when he has to adopt a Mendacant’s disguise on the road to Quintilius Rousse and be completely out of his element.

I got a lump in my throat when Ysandre secreted the marquist to the palace so he could finally finish Phèdre’s marque, which had been interrupted at the end of Part 1. She could finally be recognized as a free D’Angeline—and her status means even more to her, having almost lost her freedom forever in Skaldia.

Also, how cool is it that her journey to Alba was as much part of a storybook romance between a graceful queen and a Pictish king as it was about diplomacy? Drustan is one of my favorite characters in the series, and this introduction is about as close as we get to ever really knowing him as a person, with a family and traditions and troubles of his own.

After all of the cold and horror of Waldemar Selig’s camp, it was a relief to get someplace fun with Eire and Alba—and hot. You know Phèdre’s going to seduce both Grainne and Eammon, but it was so audacious that her magical courtesan powers worked in getting the Dalriada to join the fight, you had to smile. “And this is what happens when you send a Servant of Naamah to do a diplomat’s job, and ply her with strong drink” is probably one of Phèdre’s best lines.

And how can anyone not love Grainne? A thousand times yes to badass Celt warrior-queens riding into battle with a mohawk—and pregnant, no less. I definitely ’shipped her and Rousse.

The only thing that didn’t quite work for me was Phèdre’s tryst with Hyacinthe in Alba. Her vagina is far too magical. It brokers peace, heals grief, spurs men to war, and books passage through Kusheth. Come on, sex complicates friendships. Unless your friend is literally going to get left on a desert island for all eternity. That private night was a small comfort after Hyacinthe chose a life of loneliness and celibacy on Phèdre’s behalf.

The coincidence of running into d’Aiglemort and getting him to redeem himself was a nice touch. It was really heroic and the final quarter of the book reminded me less of Dangerous Liasions and more of Braveheart. We saw just enough of the battles: They didn’t feel glossed over like certain chapters in Game of Thrones, but they weren’t lingered over either, at the sacrifice of more plot and suspense. When Phèdre sneaks away to warn the city watch of D’Aiglemort’s attack on the Skaldi, I couldn’t put the book down, as much as I wanted to when Selig began to flay her.

What’s the difference between a fool and a hero? Success, I guess. Phèdre’s decision to sneak away to warn her people was mad. But when she had come that far, how could she not try? Seriously, the grit of this character. And I’m very glad that the earlier torture scene with Melisande that ends Part 1 was less explicit than it could have been—it made Selig’s use of a blade carry that much more weight.

What started out as a tale of cruelty and slavery, tempered with sex, also became a story of extreme bravery, cunning, and love in many forms. And it would’ve been a totally happy ending too, were it not for the sacrifice of Hyacinthe to a fate worse than death—immortality—and that wily Melisande sneaking away. Phèdre’s sangoire cloak returned, this symbol of her nature as an anguissette is as important to her legend as her marque. She is the weapon of a god of justice and tough love. The final thrill is knowing that the hunt for her greatest enemy and her most complicated desire awaits in the next book.


Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com, covering book reviews, gaming news and TV, including Game of Thrones. She’s also covered entertainment news on Boing Boing. A student of the 2008 Clarion West Writers’ workshop, her short fiction has appeared in ChiZine. Follow her on Twitter @tdelucci.

Natalie Zutter is now tempted to make a list of heroines with magical vaginas. You can read more of her work on Twitter and elsewhere.

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