Kushiel’s Dart Readalong, Week 5 (late-ish)


Protect and Serve. by Lady-Ike on DeviantArt

Hi everyone!  Here’s the next installment of the Kushiel’s Dart readalong.  This week’s questions were written by Brittany from Igret’s Corner.  The discussion will contain spoilers through chapter 45, so if you haven’t read that far, jump back to some earlier posts from the readalong instead.

In this section we see Melisande betraying Delaunay and Phedre. Did you see this coming? Why or why not? Also, what do you think Melisande’s highest loyalty is to?

Melisande is loyal to herself and anything that will give her power.  I agree with Phedre that I don’t think she intended for Delanay and Alcuin to die, but rather, I think that Melisande was playing a dangerous game and underestimated the power of her own actions.  I did see *something* coming, but the first time I read the book, but it certainly wasn’t that.  And although Melisande is clearly the antagonist of the trilogy, I’m never sure whether I think of her as entirely evil so much as self-absorbed.  She does some pretty heinous things, but she always retains her humanity.

We see Phedre sold into slavery by Melisande and D’Anglemort. How is slavery different than being a bond servant, how is it the same?

It all comes down to consent.  When Phedre was in Terre d’Ange, even when she was indentured, she still always retained a matter of choice surrounding her own destiny.  As a slave, she doesn’t have that option, and has to do what the Skaldi tell her to.  At the same time, the slaves among the Skaldi aren’t treated that differently from everybody else, and the opportunity (for some at least) to rise through the ranks.  There’s also a lot less ceremony in Terre d’Ange, which is obvious from how out-of-place it seems when Phedre tries to bow.  And I’m sure part of that is her own exaggeration–after all, she’s Kushiel’s chosen–but even so, I think that with the Skaldi it’s a harsh life in general, no matter who you are.  So perhaps it’s not so much a difference between being a slave and a bond servant so much as a big cultural difference between ethnic groups, one of which lives in relative peace, and one of which lives in a warlike raiding culture where any power you get is earned by your own sword, rather than through politics and backstabbing.  And with the Skaldi, what’s going to happen is very straightforward.  There aren’t really any big surprises.

Hedwig’s treatment of Phedre is not what Phedre expected. What does her behavior tell us about Skaldi women?

This is tied to my last question.  Phedre grew up in Terre d’Ange, so I think she internalized some stereotypes about the Skaldi.  They’re not evil people, and Hedwig is a great example of that.  But, as I said before, their ways are a lot different, and their lifestyle seems harsh because they need to work a great deal in order to survive in their climate.  Outside of raiding, that is.  If you’re on the wrong side of one of their raids, you’re fucked.

Joscelin initially hates Phedre for not attempting to run, yet ultimately chooses to stay with her. What does this say about Joscelin and his views of Cassiel?

Joscelin is young, and his views are still theoretical.  He’s got these really strong beliefs, but he doesn’t understand how the world works, and his sense of honor is almost his undoing.  But Phedre convinces him to be pragmatic and adapt, because it’s what’s keeping them alive.  But of course, he doesn’t do it until Phedre spins it so that his staying is the right thing to do in accordance with his vows.

Phedre says that Guntersville raid reminded her that she was with the enemy. Do you think that prior to the raid she had developed stalkholm syndrom? What about life in the steadiness made her complacent?

I think she got used to living with the Skaldi, because even though it wasn’t *good*, things could be a lot worse.  My suspicion is that Phedre is an optimistic person who tries to make the best of things, and she’s smart enough to know that there’s no way she could have survived an attempted escape.  She grew up in a city and has pretty much zero skills that would equip her for keeping herself alive in an unfamiliar and frozen wilderness.  It’s not like she knows how to hunt, keep warm, navigate, etc.  She’s got people skills, and so her best bet is to stay with the people.

Joscelin  breaks his vows during the holmgang.  Do you think he should have or not? What do you think the repercussions will be?

I like Jos, and am in favor of him keeping himself alive.  If he’s going to stay that way, he’s going to have to make some tough choices.

We see Waldemar Selig’s steading for the first time, what are your impressions of it?

From the songs we’ve heard about him and the way that the group is theatrically greeted, it’s pretty clear that Selig is trying to make a lasting impression.  He’s not just another tribal warlord, and he’s going to make sure that people know it and take him seriously.  This could mean trouble for our heroes, who are drawn to it like moths to a flame.

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2 comments

  1. I totally agree with you about Melisande. She retains her humanity but is very self-absorbed, and a bit arrogant.

    I think Phedre, and Joscelin to some extent, fall back on ceremony (the bowing, etc.) as a kind of shield. It puts a social boundary between them and the Skaldi and in a way acts as a cue to the Skaldi on how to treat them.

    Joscelin is definitely having some real world shock as he puts all these vows and ideas of good & bad to the test. Those high ideals don’t often spin out in the real world.

    1. Joscelin has been raised to think of right and wrong as black and white, and real life isn’t like that. It’s a big change for him, and unfortunately, putting pride before pragmatism keeps putting him in unpleasant situations.

      Melisande is the perfect villain because she can be cruel, conniving, and human at the same time. You can simultaneously hate her, pity her, and admire her nerve, all while her actions are sending chills down your spine.