Welcome to week 4 of the read-along of Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey. This week’s questions cover chapters 38-49, and have been provided by Susan of Dab of Darkness. Beware spoilers through chapter 49 from here on out!
I have to say, this week’s reading got pretty disturbing, and it was hard to stop reading with Phedre in such a horrible place. I really hope things start looking up in this week’s reading!
1) What do you think of Phedre's dealings with Naamah, Elua, and Kushiel in this section?
Knowing Phedre, knowing what she’s gone through, and knowing what she’s going to face later in this section, I wish she could have rejected Elua. She had spoken before of not wanting to be Kushiel’s Chosen anymore, and in the moment where she considered not going after Imriel, she had her chance. I understand why she didn’t, but I wish she could have just turned away.
I feel like Elua and the others got her to this point, so that she could at least understand a little what was going to be involved in the task they were setting her. Then, she was allowed free will, to choose to carry out their will or not. I think in some way it is more cruel, because now she has to acknowledge that this is a path she chose, and not one she was forced upon. On the other hand, she had been feeling helpless, so it must also be comforting to feel that she has a bit more control over her own destiny.
I theorized before that maybe Kushiel was going to be involved in justice for Drujan. Having seen more of society, I now think maybe Kushiel’s interest is in putting the ‘kingdom that died and yet lives’ back into its grave. What happened to the Drujan was terrible, but so is the community that they have built at Darsanga since then.
2) We have met the Mahrkagir. Are we dealing with true madness? Does he still know right from wrong?
Sure, he’s probably mentally ill, and he has also probably sustained brain damage (I’m no expert, but I think his fixed pupils are an indication of that). However, he’s still definitely capable of telling right from wrong. I know this because he is deliberately choosing to act in a way that he believes is immoral. His guidelines are “ill thoughts, ill words, ill deeds”, and he has made it his goal to be as evil a person as possible. He is clearly choosing his own actions with intent, so I don’t think physical or psychological injury should be considered a mitigating factor. I have no sympathy for him whatsoever.
However, I believe I have more contempt and disgust for the people who surround him. What kind of a monster would you have to be, to take an injured and traumatized little boy and egg him on to create a community like this? What kind of a monster would you have to be to live in this community and not seek for some way to end it all? I keep feeling like there has to be some good in the people at Darsanga, but it looks so far like maybe most of the ones who deserved to live were murdered by the Akkadians. This is a surprisingly dark book.
3) The zenana is full of interesting new characters. Who has caught your interest so far? What do you think of Phedre's first encounters with Imriel?
Imriel is not making a good first impression on me. Phedre has suffered so much to save him, and he spits in her face and runs away without even speaking to her. Then he continues to run from her, even when he has clear hints that she actually does know him and has come to rescue him! I’m trying to be pretty understanding, because he is just a kid and I assumed he has suffered quite a lot of trauma recently. I just hope he actually talks to her soon, because he’s being very frustrating.
Of the others, I’m impressed with the physician’s determination, and I feel pretty bad for Erich. I hope that when Joscelin and Phedre bust out of here, they can take all of the surviving members of the seraglio with them.
4) Phedre has her first night with the Mahrkagir. Thoughts?
I somehow did not expect this to be so disturbing. It’s hard to put together my thoughts on this, except that they involve a massive amount of rage towards the Mahrkagir and everyone who follows him. I didn’t really find the sex scenes disturbing in the first two books, but I don’t feel like these parts are sex scenes at all—they are torture scenes. I am hoping this part of the book ends soon, and Phedre and Joscelin get out successfully with all of the other survivors. I hope Kushiel’s justice is swift, merciless, and proportional to the evil of these people.
5) Who do you think is having a more difficult time, Joscelin or Phedre, and why?
It’s hard to say, because this situation is so completely horrible for both of them. If I had to choose, I’d say it is worse Phedre. Joscelin is being damaged emotionally and psychologically, while she is also being damaged physically. I hope they are able to survive this and make it out the other side together.
—Phedre is really tossing that Envers pass phrase around a lot, isn’t she? Someone commented earlier that they should have changed it, and I think that’s definitely the case now.
—I really hope things start looking up soon for our heroes. This section was really difficult to read.