This month (and part of next) I’ll be taking part in a six week readalong of Kushiel’s Dart organized by the wonderful imyril (you might know them as a co-host of Wyrd and Wonder). This is a first-time read for me, and I’m very excited to see what the hype’s all about! If you’re interested in joining in, stop by the Goodreads group to find the schedule and weekly discussion prompts. This post contains spoilers for chapters 1-16.
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 love the inclusion of maps and Dramatis Personae in a book, even if I often forget to make use of them. When I start reading, I’ll usually take a quick glimpse at the map but probably skip the list of characters since there’s no way the names will actually stick in my brain without context. That’s exactly what I did this time as well. Later on, I did come back to the map when the various provinces were being explained. I have yet to revisit the Dramatis Personae, but I daresay it’s about time I do so. Maybe with its help I’ll be slightly more confident about what’s going on with all the various politics.
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 found the story of Elua and his Companions interesting. I was expecting each of the thirteen Houses to follow a different one of the Companions, but instead they correlate to the provinces and each house has followers of Naamah, whereas the rest of the Companions seem to have very few or no dedicated followers. D’Angeline culture is, of course, largely based on being the descendants of angels, which leads to obsession over beauty and looking down on anyone else as savages.
Thus, there’s a number of things to be uncomfortable with in Terre d’Ange. The people have a superiority complex, there seems to be a sort of soft-eugenics going on with the way that people are valued for their beauty, and the commonality of indentured servitude isn’t ideal. But, as a fantasy world, I’m enjoying it, and I think there’s a lot of depth left to be explored, particularly what things might be like further away from the Palace and the Night Court. I also have to say that I’ve been impressed so far with the apparent gender equality and how well Phèdre has been treated after being sold off as a child. Obviously her life hasn’t all been peaches and cream, but it has been pretty comfortable.
Phèdre’s story begins in the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers. What are your thoughts on the Court, its adepts, the service of Naamah and the earning of marques?
As I mentioned above, I’m rather surprised by how happy a place the Court seems to be, even for the adepts. Of course, we only got to see things through the skewed view of a child. So far as the service of Naamah, I’m not sure I understand exactly how this works within the Court. In Phèdre’s case, she got to make her own voluntary decision about whether or not she wanted to enter the service of Naamah (though arguably she wasn’t presented with many other viable choices). But within the Houses, it seems to be expected of all adepts. If this is the case, then, well, we’re no longer talking about voluntary sex work, but rather sex slavery.
Sure, the D’Angeline like to think that they are much too civilized to have slaves. Instead, the have indentured servants who earn their freedom through the earning of marques. (And there’s some distinction that they’re servants of Naamah rather than of their human masters, but in reality I don’t see this making much of a difference.) The problem (apart from children being sold into this servitude through not fault of their own) is that there’s no guarantee of how quickly you’ll earn your marque because its based entirely on tips. And what if you consent to be a servant of Naamah at first (likely due to the positive light the Court puts on it) but then later retract that consent before you’ve earned your marque? Is there another way to win your freedom? No matter which way you slice it, the Court is getting the much better deal and taking advantage of children with poor parents.
Finally, both within and outside the Houses, I’m not convinced that there’s enough oversight to keep these “servants” from being regularly taken advantage of/abused to an even greater extent. Phèdre admitted that she got lucky with having Delaunay as her master, and even then there was a good deal of grossness with grown men and women ogling her and Alcuin while they were still kids.
Guy, Alcuin and Phèdre are all devoted to the mysterious Anafiel Delaunay. Do you think he deserves their love? For first time readers, what are your theories about his past – and what do you think he is trying to achieve?
Intellectually, I know Delaunay is a man with questionable motives doing questionable things. He obtained two kids to train to be sexy spies and, though he does seem to care for them greatly, in the end he’s only doing things for his benefit. Phèdre’s statement that he likes to have people in his debt isn’t so far off. So no, he doesn’t necessarily deserve their love, but I can’t blame them for giving it to him because I can’t keep myself from liking him either. I have a feeling that’s going to leave me feeling very betrayed at some point.
So far as his past and his motives, I’ll be honest, the intricacies of the politics are still going over me head a little to much for me to be able to come up with a comprehensive theory. What Hyacinthe said makes sense, but obviously that can’t be the whole story. The only other thing I noticed is that, as Phèdre said, the King has some idea of what Delaunay is truly up to, which leads me to believe Delaunay has some sort of past experience with the King and a closer relationship to him than we might think.
What do you make of Phèdre’s choice of signale?
It makes sense. As Phèdre mentioned, Hyacinthe is her only true friend and the person she feels safest with. I want to say that she loves him like a brother, but I’m scared that might come back to haunt me.
…plus of course any other thoughts you’d like to share.
I really like a lot of the women we’ve meant so far. Particularly, I’m interested in Melisande, Ysandre, and Thelesis. I suppose this seems unusual to me because the only other older epic fantasy I’ve read is Wheel of Time, which doesn’t always do so great in this department.
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?