Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe

Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
Published: Timescape Books, 1983
Series: Book 4 of the Book of the New Sun
Awards Nominated: BSFA, Locus Fantasy, and Nebula Awards
Awards Won: John W. Campbell Memorial Award

The below may contain spoilers for the series.

The Book:

“Severian continues his journey, and now it leads him into war.  He still searches for the Pellerines, in order to return the sacred artifact called the Claw of the Conciliator.  Severian will have to face who he is and who he must become, if there is to be any hope for the future of Urth and its dying star.” ~Alli

This is another audiobook that I listened to during my commute. Reviews of the previous three books in the series can be found here, here, and here.

My Thoughts:

The Citadel of the Autarch seems pretty much the same as the previous three volumes, with Severian wandering around, having experiences, and listening to stories.  This time he comes into an area at war, which is somewhat less exciting to me than when he was traveling in Nessus or in the mountains. One of the highlights of this section for me was a storytelling competition that he oversees among fellow patients in a sickroom. The competition provided an interesting chance to see the values of a variety of different cultures on the planet, including the Ascians, who can only speak in discrete set phrases (perhaps a pun on ASCII). As the series comes to a close, many of the mysteries from throughout the story are cleared up, and there are some interesting thoughts on identity and time travel.

I’d been delaying writing this review for a while now, both because I’ve been very busy and because the overall completed series has left me unenthused.  I can tell that this is a very carefully constructed tetraology, and I can understand how many people have probably had a lot of fun analyzing it. The world is also complex, and I have enjoyed uncovering different aspects of it slowly through Severian’s experiences.  Ultimately, though, there are no characters that I particularly care about, and I didn’t find the plot particularly engaging.  Severian wanders from encounter to encounter, and he is surprisingly passive through it all.  I was hoping there would be something more to his being made into the autarch than fate, but that doesn't seem to be the case. The series has certainly had its moments, but in the end I think I have to admit that it just doesn’t speak to me.

My Rating: 2.5 / 5

I had a hard time getting into this classic series, and ultimately I think it is just not for me.  I think the first novel is a pretty good indicator for whether or not you will enjoy the series as a whole, since it continues in much the same manner.  This last installment was less interesting for me, since it largely featured a war I never managed to care about, and since I was underwhelmed by the conclusion of Severian’s personal story.  I have never been especially engaged by the characters or the plot, and my main joy from these novels has been from reading experiences of Severian’s that are either creepily atmospheric, point out creative aspects of the world of Urth, or both. I know a lot of people love these books, and I gave it my best shot.  In the end,  I probably should have accepted earlier that this just wasn’t going to be my kind of series.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Chosen, Part 4

It’s time for week four of the read-along of Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey!  This week’s questions are from Lisa of Over the Effing Rainbow, and they cover chapters 37-49.  Quite a lot happened this week, after last week’s politicking, so I think we’ll have a lot to discuss!  

Also, if you’re wondering, life has been extremely and unexpectedly busy these past few weeks, which is why there haven’t been any new book reviews lately.  It’s been pretty much all I could handle to keep up with the read-along.  I’ve just about finished writing the next one, though, so there will be more book reviews coming along very soon!

1. Last week we talked a bit about who might succeed Cesare Stregazza as Doge. This week we learn that he might not be out of the game just yet, after all. What are your thoughts on his discussion and agreement with Phédre?

I suspected he was not as out of the game as his relatives assumed.  I’m afraid a lot of his discussion with Phedre was nullified by things we learn later, but I hope she can honor her agreement with him before his death.  I was surprised that he had such a low opinion of Ricciardo.  The guy seemed nicer than Marco to me.  Perhaps he is just the better actor of the two.  

Suborning the priestess of Asherat-at-the-sea seems like a very awkward way to try to force Cesare out of his seat.  If it was done by the d’Angelines, maybe it makes more sense, because they might not have much of an understanding of the religion of the area.  Regardless, it seems like it would have made more sense for his enemies to just poison him at the opportune moment. He’s in poor health, so his death would probably not be questioned.  Perhaps the prophecy was arranged by his kinsmen, knowing that he would interpret it correctly as a corruption of their religion and a death threat.  In that case, they are requesting he step down (perhaps because they don’t want to murder a kinsman) or face assassination.

2. Melisande resurfaces - and right where I did NOT expect to find her! What about you? And what do you think of her latest ambitious designs? When she and Phédre speak again after her capture, Phédre calls her mad; Melisande hints at "playing a god's game". Is this ambition or is it in fact madness?

I did not expect that at all!  Benedicte’s wife is supposedly Etaine de Tourai.  She must have existed, or it would have drawn suspicion.  She’s explained as:

“Etaine de Tourais, she is called; a noble-born D’Angeline refugee from the Camaeline hills.  Husband, father, even her brother, all killed in the first wave of Selig’s invasion.  Her family had a quit-claim on House Courcel.  Somewhat to do with her father taking arms at Benedicte’s side in some ancient battle against the Skaldi” (p. 115-116)

I suspect that Etaine was killed in the invasion along with her family, and Benedicte helped Melisande impersonate her in letters and rumors.  

As for her ambitions, I suppose she’s hedging her bets with Imriel, but I didn’t really think she was the sort who would be satisfied by having a baby well-placed in succession.  I’m guessing that’s just her ‘if all else fails’ plan.  I think her need for support outside her homeland is a bit of a weakness.  In the first book, she needed the Skaldi, and in this book, she needs La Serenissima (though arguably her allies in La Serenissima are D’Angeline).  She does not seem to me to have the understanding of non-D’Angeline cultures that would help her succeed in these multi-nation schemes.

I don’t think she’s insane.  I think at least some of her references to “playing a god’s game” are her flirting with blasphemy in her treatment of Phedre, who is Kushiel’s chosen.  Otherwise, she’s probably talking about violating the precepts of Elua in other ways.

3. Things fall apart for Phédre and Joscelin after so much pent-up angst - but our Cassiline isn't done with her yet, thank goodness! Phédre's escape from La Dolorosa, and Joscelin's attempted rescue, is some of the most nail-biting drama we've seen yet in this story. Do you think Joscelin will manage to find her, or will he play it smarter and go to Ysandre instead?

I suppose he left because he did not feel needed, and also because he felt violated after Phedre pressured him into sex against his will.  The first part was proved wrong almost immediately, and I’m glad he came to rescue her!  As for the second part, I think that will be a difficult thing for them to overcome, especially since I don’t get the sense Phedre has really accepted that she is in the wrong. I would hope Joscelin would go to Ysandre.  However, I suspect that his Cassiline nature will prevail, and he will keep trying to find Phedre.

4. New character alert! What are your initial impressions of Kazan and Glaukos? How much trouble is Phédre in this time?

They don’t seem like horrible people so far.  They took her in and are helping heal her.  I think that she just doesn’t understand that there are a lot of constraints on what a pirate ship can and can’t do on a moment’s notice.  For instance, they can’t just drop what they’re doing and sail to Marsilikos or La Serenissima.  They need provisions, not all ports are safe for them, etc.  Once they get to the right place, Phedre can ransom herself.  She can always make more money later.

Other things:

--La Dolorosa was actually more terrifying after we knew more about it.  I was actually glad that Phedre was planning to accept Melisande’s deal.  I did not want to read about Phedre enduring what would have come in that place.

--I hope Ti-Philippe is okay! It seems that he was not with Joscelin, so I wonder what else he could be doing.

--It has been so long since a major character died, I had been lulled into a false sense of security.  Rest in peace, Remy and Fortun :’(.

--I feel that Melisande is underestimating Phedre.  From their conversations, it seems like Melisande still sees her as that (relatively) innocent, inexperienced teenage girl who was working for Delaunay.  Phedre may have changed her view a little through their conversations, but I’m hoping she still underestimates her enough for Phedre to be able to take advantage of it.

--I did not guess that Percy was being blackmailed.  He did not seem disloyal to Ysandre in the last part of the previous book or in the first of this one.  If it came out that he was involved in Lyonette’s treason, though, Ysandre would probably execute him.  I can see that he really has no choice if he wants to preserve his own life.   

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Chosen, Part 3

It’s time for week three of the read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Chosen, and this time I provided the discussion questions!  They cover chapters 27-36, so beware spoilers through this point in the series.  This was a very politics-laden section, mostly involving Phèdre getting settled in La Serenissima and trying to find a lead on Melisande’s whereabouts.  

1. Do you think Joscelin might have really considered using the “terminus” in the fight between the Unforgiven and the Yeshuites? How deep do you think his loyalty to the Yeshuite people goes, and why do you think he feels so driven to arm, train and protect them?

I think he was telling the truth, and he would have simply thrown.  I think it would have hurt him deeply to have to do it, but I don’t think he would have used the terminus for anything short of having to kill his companion.  

He seems to be very deeply loyal to the Yeshuite people at this point, and I don’t think I have seen enough of him to really understand why.  I know there are similarities between the Cassiline and Yeshuite faiths, and that they seem to be offering him both absolution and a role in their homeland prophecy.  However, he still seems to be more bound to Cassiel, and I’m not sure he would accept either of those things.  Maybe it is just that he sees the help he can give the Yeshuite people as something wholly good, so that it is one thing in his life that he can not feel conflicted about.   

2. What do think of the differences between the culture of La Serenissima and the City of Elua, and the differences in how they conduct their political intrigue?  Who would you favor for the next Doge?
La Serenissima is a very unique place, but I think I prefer the City of Elua.  La Serenissima is a republic, instead of a monarchy, but the leaders are only allowed to be drawn from a limited pool of nobles.  Given that, it doesn’t seem all that different from a monarchy.  The role of women seems considerably less equitable there, as well.  Not only can Phèdre not safely serve Naamah, but women can’t even inherit wealth or property.

I was a little surprised by the different style of intrigue.  It seems that in Terre d’Ange, people are very guarded, and speak to one another very carefully.  Here, while much still remains hidden, people speak quite straightforwardly and at length.  The strategy seems to be to cover their true intentions with a torrent of information.  If I had to pick anyone for Doge right now, I’d choose Ricciardo. He’s the only one that we’ve seen so far who seems to have an interest in the well-being of the people of La Serenissima.

3. What do you think of Phèdre’s plan to play along with Severio’s romancing?  Do you think he is approaching the matter with more sincerity than his parents?

This situation stresses me out.  Romance and serving Naamah really are two different things, and I hate that Phèdre is faking the former.  At the same time, I don’t see anything else she could have done, since rejecting Severio would likely have cut her off from the Stregazza family.  At the moment, I get the sense that Severio is approaching Phèdre in sincerity, and I think he is going to be hurt and humiliated at the end of it.  I am really hoping that it will be his parents who put a stop to the courting, so that he never has to find out Phèdre was never interested in him.

4. There is a lot of fortune-telling in this section, from the Oracle in the temple to the astrologer.  What do you make of the Oracle’s answer to Phèdre?  Why do you think the astrologer killed himself, and do you think he would he have been able to lead them to Melisande?

I agree with Phèdre’s companions, that it seems a fairly obvious prophecy on the face of it.  I’m not sure what it means, though.  Is Melisande actually in the City of Elua, and she wanted Phèdre to come to La Serenissima for some scheme-related reason?

I think the astrologer definitely had contact with Melisande.  It seems to be hinting that he may have lost his position due to a poisoning from her or one of her people.  I don’t really understand his suicide, though.  He hadn’t actually crossed Melisande at that point, so he needn’t have worried about her retribution.  It crossed my mind that no one saw him take his own life--maybe someone in his house forced him to drink the poison, to make sure he didn’t say anything, and then fled.  The characters seem to understand it as a way for him to take control of his own fate, but surely there are better ways to do that.  

5. Joscelin and Phèdre meet a couple who have made compromises in order to build a happy life together.  What do you think of their family, and does their example give any hope for Phèdre and Joscelin’s future?

They seem happy, but it is a little sad that they have had to make such major compromises. Phèdre seemed to see it as hopeful, but I am not sure their example will really map to Phèdre and Joscelin.  With Ricciardo and Allegra, it seems like he has mostly stopped following his own desires for the love of his family, and she has accepted that he has those desires and may still act on them from time to time.  Cast onto Phèdre and Joscelin’s relationship, that would mean Phèdre has to stop serving Naamah and Kushiel, and Joscelin has to accept that she will always want to return to it.  I can’t really see that happening, because they are both so dedicated to their own paths.

Other Things:

--La Serenissima was a name for the Republic of Venice in reality.  It surprised me that fantasy-Venice is not known for its painters!  Real-Venice has a rich history in both music and painting(Tiziano, Tintoretto, Veronese, etc…).

--La Dolorosa was a creepy place. It reminds me of Alcatraz.

--It was interesting to see how horrified Phèdre was at the sacrificing of the lamb.  It seems that Elua and his Companions were not into blood sacrifice at all.

--The Yeshuites seem to be in an even worse position in La Serenissima than in Terre d’Ange.  I am afraid of what the leaders may do when they hear the Yeshuites are training in combat.

--I think there is still some trickiness left in the current Doge.  I’m curious to see what will happen when Phèdre comes to sing for him. It seems like the invitation was designed so that he could have a chance to speak with her alone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Read-Along: Full Fathom Five, End

It’s time for the final post in the read-along of Max Gladstone’s Full Fathom Five!  I’m a few days late with this, due to overestimating my ability not to be wiped out by a long plane ride.  Anyhow, this read-along has been a lot of fun, and if you want to check out others’ discussions along the way, check them out at the Goodreads group page.  Also, I found it cool to see that Max Gladstone actually noticed and commented about our read-along :).  

Now, it’s time to get to the questions, which contain spoilers through the end of the book.  Stop reading now if you want to avoid them!

1. So Jace was in fact responsible for the rogue Penitent, and for what was happening to the 'idols'... And my guess last week regarding his reasons (that it was bad for business) wasn't far off the mark... What did you make of his confrontation with Kai and his justifications?

That was pretty much what I expected, concerning his guilt and justifications.  I wonder if he’s had much success in converting people over the years.  He said something about ‘not being good at this anymore’, but I don’t think we really know any of his allies.  He comments about one woman who left, and we know what happened to Mara and Kai.  I wonder if this cover-up was why the HR guy quit being a priest, though maybe he wasn’t allowed to remember the details of the conversation. I did not believe Kai was going to take him up on his offer, so I was glad she didn’t hesitate.

I did not expect the Penitent punishment, and I did not expect that was what happened to Mara.  I, like Kai, believed she’d been killed.  After the Penitent reveal, though, it all made sense.  Seeing them from the inside, that is an even more horrifying punishment than I imagined.  It seemed that Kai and Teo were better at holding themselves separate, likely because they’ve spent their whole lives affirming their identity against people who want them to be someone else.

2. Mako's involvement in the subsequent events was a bit of a surprise. Or was it? Did you expect the old man to be involved at all, much less the way he was?

Well, one of the commenters a few weeks ago suggested that Mako was Makawe, and so I’ve suspected it since then.  I’m glad he didn’t swoop in and completely save the day, though.  I think he is right to let Kavekana move on to future generations, and not to try to reclaim power over his people.  I also liked that comment about the prophecies coming true, though no one noticed.  I think the many-faced goddess will fit in well to the mythology of Kavekana.

3. Izza steals a goddess! What are your thoughts on the way her story ends (or begins, as the case may be)?

I’m quite happy that she didn’t end up leaving the island.  She clearly felt an obligation to the street kids.  The more we saw of her, the more she seemed like a religious leader, as well.  I think that she will be a good person to bring Kavekana into the future, and that she will be able to make things better for the kids in a longer-lasting way.

4. We leave the story with Kavekana "waiting for the world to come"... Do you think this particular ending is for the best, or would you have preferred to see the island remain apart, and peaceful?

I definitely don’t think Kavekana needed to stay as it was, with the Penitents and the deicide.  It may have been peaceful for foreign tourists and workers on Kavekana’ai, but it certainly wasn’t very peaceful for Izza or the other kids. I don’t know what the future will hold for them exactly, but maybe it will be something better.  Getting rid of the Penitents will be a step in the right direction, and I like that they acknowledged healing the damage done will take a long time.  I liked the ending.

Now that Last First Snow is out, perhaps there will be a read-along of it coming soon.  I’m looking forward to seeing some Elayne Kevarian backstory!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey, Part 2

It’s time for the second part of the Kushiel’s Chosen read-along, covering chapters 15-26!  The questions were provided this week by Susan of Dab of Darkness.  I’m a little late this week, because I was sidetracked by a Sunday-Monday airplane ride that left me less than coherent with exhaustion yesterday.  The final Full Fathom Five post is also coming soon! Anyhow, as usual, beware spoilers of Kushiel’s Dart and of the first 26 chapters of Kushiel’s Chosen below.

1) Severio & Phedre have their assignation. Who do you think learned the more from it?

I would say Severio. I think Phedre still doesn’t know all that much about La Serenissima yet.  Severio, on the other hand, had his entire social status in the City of Elua turned around by Phedre’s attention and her advice.  He seemed way nicer after the assignation, maybe because he was so thrilled to have someone who really didn’t judge him for his interests.

2) Hanna from the Yeshuites tells Joscelin, '....this pain you suffer, you cling to it.' Do you think that is true of Joscelin? What do you think of Joscelin teaching some of the young Yeshuite men to fight?

I think Joscelin is looking for comfort in all the wrong places. I don’t think Joscelin is clinging to suffering as much as he is clinging to wanting things that he can’t have.  For instance, I got the impression that he was happy with Phedre at Montreve, and not suffering much pain at all.  I think he would have clung to that happiness, if Phedre had let it be possible.  I don’t get the impression that he has any romantic feelings for Hanna yet, though she seems to want him to.  I hope the guys he trains don't end up getting into some kind of trouble in the city.

3) In this section, we really saw the pressure put on Marmion. Do you think Marmion's punishment was just?

No, Ysandre was pushed into it by Barquiel d’Envers.  I think Ysandre was very frustrated about having to do that to him as well.  I don’t really know what to think about d’Envers right now.  He must have known what he was doing, so it must have been in his interest to get Marmion ruined or killed. I worry for Nicola if he really is in league with Melisande.  

4) Phedre goes to Gentian House for some guidance through dream interpretation. What did you think of this? Have you ever had your dreams interpreted?

I’m skeptical about the need for sex in this particular endeavour, but I guess Phedre needed to relax in general. It sounded really peaceful.  The dream interpretation was a really neat skill! I don’t know if I would be comfortable having anyone else watch my dreams, but it seems to have really helped Phedre.  I did not predict the outcome though, I assumed she was having stress problems about the situation with Joscelin.  The “I need to go to La Serenissima” came out of left field for me, even though I had picked up the hints that she was going there at some point in this book.

Concerning dream interpretation for myself, not really. Most of my dreams are either really strange or really easy to understand.  For instance, I have fairly regular dreams about my teeth falling out and/or my mouth being full of some kind of gunk I can’t get out.  Apparently, this is tied to when I don’t feel like I’m being listened to at work. There’s also the recurring dreams where my vision becomes so poor and I become so dizzy that I can’t walk (obviously tied to fears about my vision), or where my loved ones die (self-explanatory, I think).  On the other hand, there’s probably nothing meaningful to interpret about dreams where I go to the north pole on a dogsled to slide down enormous slides made of ice candy. I dream a lot, but no professional interpretations!

5) The plot has thickened in this week's reading as Phedre & Joscelin dig further into the mystery of the escaped Melisande Shahrizai. Thoughts?

I was not suspecting Barquiel d’Envers, but after what he did to Marmion, I am.  I am not sure how he could be involved, though, if she is in La Serenissima.  I thought his connections were in the Arabic countries.  I am out of theories for the moment. Edit: I forgot to mention the Casselines.  I think they're in on it, but I can't really tell them apart, except for Joscelin. Phedre seems to have this problem too, so I still have no theories.

6) Ysandre and Phedre carry out a bit of subterfuge. Do you think it is enough to fool Melisande, should she be paying attention?

Melisande? No.  Many others?  Probably.  I think anyone who knows Ysandre and Phedre personally would see through it, or at least suspect it is a cover.  Luckily for them, there are not very many of those sorts of people around at the moment.

Other Things:

--Phedre was so brutal to Joscelin about going to La Serenissima.  I really hope something happens there to patch things up, or he may actually leave her.

--I actually trust Nicola. I don’t think she’s very discreet, so it’s probably best that Phedre did not confide in her.  I do think she’s on Phedre’s side, though.

--We get to see a new country next!  This is going to be fun!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Review: Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
Published: Tor, 2001
Series: Book 1 of Kushiel’s Legacy
Awards Won: Locus Award for Best First Novel

The Book:

“Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission...and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair...and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.” ~WWEnd.com

Kushiel’s Dart is Jacqueline Carey’s impressive debut novel, and the start of a long series. I participated in a read-along of Kushiel’s Dart, and spoiler-filled discussions of each section of the book can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10.  Now it’s time to wrap everything up into my final reflections!

My Thoughts:

Kushiel’s Dart is an epic fantasy that has helped to revive my interest in the genre.  From my limited knowledge of the novel, I had assumed it was going to be primarily a romance. There certainly is a lot of sex, and a little bit of romance here and there, but other than that my expectations were off the mark. Kushiel’s Dart is the beginning of an epic fantasy adventure, with a meticulously designed world, a variety of cultures, interesting mythology, a bit of magic, battles and court intrigue.

Phèdre--an intelligent, masochistic courtesan and spy--is a variety of heroine I have never seen before in this genre, and she lives in a society that has a surprisingly positive view of sex workers, both male and female. The fictional world of Kushiel’s Dart is obviously inspired by historical Europe, but the open sexuality and less constricting gender roles of Phèdre’s homeland Terre d’Ange (fantasy France) make for a dramatically different setting than the usual pseudo-medieval world.  Phèdre encounters a variety of different lands and cultures throughout the story, most of which have a real-world counterpart. I enjoyed trying to match up fictional places to real areas I’d lived or visited, and comparing my outsider’s view of various cultures to the novel’s portrayals.

Kushiel’s Dart also has a fair bit more sexual content than the books I usually review, so I feel like I should add a few comments on that aspect. Phèdre entertains many patrons, by her own choice, but I never felt like the descriptions crossed a line into too crass or cheesy. I appreciated that consent is treated as an important concept throughout; Phèdre enjoys pain in her encounters, but the distinction between consensual and nonconsensual sex is not blurred.  One thing that bugged me a little was the general attitude about Phèdre’s safeword. I’d generally understood that a safeword existed to enable clear communication, but Phèdre and her patrons seem to see forcing her to use it as a battle of wills. I also sometimes felt that Phèdre fell back on her bedroom skills and her physical attractiveness a bit too often, and I would have liked more opportunity to see her intellect shine.  Phèdre is growing and learning, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing how her tactics will develop throughout the series.  
Kushiel’s Dart has a lot going on outside the bedroom as well.  Phèdre’s life story starts out peacefully, but things become much more dangerous as she gets involved in the web of the d’Angeline court and beyond.  Her world is populated with a massive cast of characters, so much that it was a challenge at first to keep track of them all.  It was much easier to become emotionally invested in the small group of major characters that are closer to Phèdre, and to just try to monitor all the politics that were going on in the background.  In general, I could rely on the novel to highlight the important political details for me, but there are a few times where the story grinds to a complete halt for extensive discussions about the political situation.  The information is useful, but it seemed to throw off the otherwise-quick pacing of the story. Even so, I really enjoyed how even the most minor characters have their own personal goals, and how they act in accordance with them in ways that affect the story. This is the kind of book where any character may die, and where no one, including the heroine, is immune to failure.  I’ve enjoyed community-reading this novel immensely, and I am already reading the sequel, Kushiel’s Chosen!

My Rating:  4.5/5

Kushiel’s Dart is an engaging epic fantasy adventure featuring an unusual heroine--a low-born, masochistic courtesan and spy, Phèdre.  I enjoyed the creativity that was lavished on the fantasy version of Europe that made up the world’s setting, and I especially enjoyed the dramatic differences between the culture of Terre d’Ange and those that are more commonly found in fantasy.  For instance, Phèdre’s society is very permissive about sex, and her role as a courtesan is both respected and considered a sacred calling. The story takes some unexpected twists, and it seemed to me like Phèdre’s situation changed dramatically after every few chapters.  The cast was huge, the court intrigue was complex, and there were plenty of hardships, betrayals, and surprises on Phèdre’s long path to protect her homeland.  I’ve already started reading the next novel, Kushiel’s Chosen and I am excited to see what’s next for Phèdre.     

Monday, August 3, 2015

Read-Along: Kushiel's Chosen Part 1

The read-along of Jacqueline Carey’s series is continuing with Kushiel’s Chosen!  I’m a little late with this post, due entirely to airplanes and conferences.  Anyhow, the schedule is as follows:

Week 1: August 2, Chpts. 1-14, hosted by FaeStruck Review
Week 2: August 16, Chpts. 15-26, hosted by Books Without Any Pictures
Week 3: August 23, Chpts. 27-36, hosted by Tethyan Books
Week 4: August 30, Chpts. 37-49, hosted by Over the Effing Rainbow
Week 5: September 6, Chpts. 50-61, hosted by Dab of Darkness
Week 6: September 13, Chpts. 62-72, hosted by Lynn's Book Blog
Week 7: September 20, Chpts. 73-END, Someone????

And you can join the fun at the goodreads group page.  Now to the questions, which include spoilers up through chapter 14.

1. The book opens with Phédre and her household happy and content at Montrève. Phédre is faced with the question of returning to the Service of Naamah. The sangoire cloak is the what pushes her decision. Do you agree with her choice? Do you believe that Phédre would have returned to her calling eventually, regardless of the cloak? 

I think there’s no way Phédre would have remained satisfied with her peaceful life at Montrève, sangoire cloak or no sangoire cloak.  She has been too much involved as a mover and shaker in the court of Terre d’Ange.  I don’t know how successful she will be as a spy this time, since people are unlikely to underestimate her, but I’m sure she will be right in the thick of things again.

2. With Phédre returning to the Service of Naamah, Joscelin is also forced to make his choice as well. Who do you think had the harder decision to make and why? 

In a way, I respect the difficulty of Joscelin’s decision more.  Sure, Phédre didn’t want to hurt Joscelin… except that she actually kind of did.  In a complicated way, she’s deriving pleasure from feeling guilty for hurting Joscelin.  I kind of feel like Joscelin dodged a bullet, if that kind of urge was going to become a part of their daily life regardless.  Still, choosing to follow her, he must feel like his place is uncertain.  He’s not a Cassiline and he’s not her lover (or at least not her only one), so he’s really going to have to think about what his future could hold.  

3. Phédre's return to court unveils how Queen Ysandre is faring in the absence of her husband Drustan. Politically, should she take a lover while he is away? 

I don’t think it would be a good idea in a personal sense, given that they are a love match.  I also don’t really understand how it would be a good idea politically.  Wouldn’t everything get a little messy if the Queen’s oldest child was illegitimate?  I would think the politically convenient time to have lovers would be after you have an heir.

4. Favrielle nó Eglantine designs Phédre's Midwinter costume. How do you feel about the way in which Phédre repays her? 

On the costume, I was a little confused of how the costume was going to work, because Favrielle said the story was little-known and not widely publicized. Not even Phédre knew it.  However, everyone Phédre talked to seemed to recognize the story when she mentioned it.  Maybe Favrielle underestimates the bookishness of the average courtier?  Also, I think that's the costume on the book cover.

On the payment, it was a really nice thing for her to do, though I don’t blame Favrielle for being suspicious.  At the same time, I don’t think Phédre’s motivations were especially pure.  From what I could tell, she wanted to show off that she was a good person (to Joscelin and to Favrielle), and she wanted to ‘win’ the conversation she’d had with Favrielle earlier.  Of course, the act matters more than whatever motivated it, and it was a very nice thing to do.

5. Joscelin is spending quite a bit of time with the Yeshuites. Is it the pain of Phédre returning to Service that prompts this or would the Cassiline's faith, pushed so far already, have led him there if Joscelin and Phédre were simply looking for the answer to breaking the geas on Hyacinthe? 

They’ve already commented that the Yeshuite faith and the Cassiline faith have certain similarities.  Since he’s been kicked out of the Cassilines, I think it makes sense that he would start looking into similar ways of life.  They’re trying to help Hyacinthe of course, but I think that conversion has to be a temptation for Joscelin, somewhere deep down.  I doubt he’ll leave Phédre in the end.

Other Things:

--This section addressed one of my questions from the previous book, which was why Terre d’Ange people used sex-related insults when they also seemed to respect the Night Court, culturally.  I understand now that the Night Court, and serving Naamah, is not ‘fashionable’ anymore, due to influences from more puritanical cultures.  Maybe Phédre is bringing sexy back? :D

--Also, I had assumed Joscelin was going to keep his vow of chastity, but it is clarified here that he and Phédre did continue to be lovers.

--Phédre is making me roll my eyes a bit at the beginning here.  She seriously remembers the Masters of the Strait thing as Hyacinthe taking over a fate that was meant for her?  I thought it was pretty clear that it was meant for him, and she was the one trying to take his place (to spare him). Phédre, not everything is about you. 

--That’s not to say I don’t want Hyacinthe to get free.  He’s a good guy and he deserves to not be trapped on an island forever. I hope they can at least visit him in this book.

--Also, it sounds like this is going to be the Italian book! Yay!  Severio seems kind of mean, though.  I’m very curious to see what is waiting for Phédre with him at the assignation.

--I liked how Phédre told off Marmion.  It’s also good to see that he’s pretty anti-Melisande.  Maybe he can be an ally, once he’s convinced of Phédre.