Read-along: Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey (week 2)

The plot is quickly thickening for Phèdre and Joscelin in their twin goals to find Imriel de la Courcel and to free Hyacinthe from the curse of the Master of the Straits, and all signs are now pointing towards travel into the vast unknown. But as Phèdre learned well from Delaunay, “all knowledge is worth having” … at what cost has yet to be determined.

Details for this read-along can be found over at There’s Always Room for One More.

This week, that most excellent of reading companions Peat is asking the questions, so let’s hoik up our stoutest (most elegant) travelling boots and get going.


Week 2: Chapters 17 through 34

We have a twist in the plot! Imriel’s disappearance is less about Imriel and more random cruelty … and Kushiel. What was your reaction to this?

While I suspected that Imriel’s disappearance was possibly not part of some grander plot but of a more accidental nature, I didn’t call this at all. And I am more and more surprised-slash-fascinated as Kushiel’s hand in events becomes apparent. I continue to feel very conflicted about Kushiel as a deity – a punisher in a pantheon of lovers – but I admire that Carey doesn’t shy away from the complexities of such things, and I’m still reading for that reason.


Last week we saw Phèdre get uncomfortable over the human cost involved in her tale. This week she gets very close to it, both watching the torture in Amilcar and watching Joscelin kill the bandits (and fight a little herself). Do these events and her reactions tell us more about Phèdre?

Seeing this so early on in the story makes me wonder what’s coming.

In terms of what it tells us about Phèdre, I feel that we’re seeing her intelligence and compassion, but also her determination. She notes the poverty of the bandits, and the plea in the eyes of one of the Carthaginian’s (Mago) torture, and while there is compassion for these things, they don’t move her from her purpose. She won’t look away from the terrible things she causes to be done, she acknowledges the price, but she still gets them done. While I don’t for a minute think I could do what she does in these instances, I do really like this older, wiser Phèdre.


Phèdre’s decision to give Melisande the news in the most compassionate of fashions possible causes a bit of friction with Joscelin. Would you have done the same thing? And what do you make of Melisande’s response and revelations?

Would I have done the same? I don’t think I can answer that, having never felt about a person the way Phèdre feels about Melisande. I wasn’t surprised that she chose this course, and I found this whole chapter surprisingly moving – I had an actual lump in my throat at the end of it, and I couldn’t tell you why.

Melisande’s response was interesting, mostly because this is the first time I felt that she felt her captivity. Her frustration was palpable.

This chapter is also the first time I’ve really appreciated that Phèdre and Melisande are two sides of the same coin. I’m not sure I can put this into words very well, but Phèdre here embodies that “infinite compassion” that keeps getting mentioned …


One thing that’s noticeable is just how many characters we meet in this section as Phèdre travels back and forth across Europe. Any standouts? Any you wish we’d seen more, or even less of?

It was great to see Nicola L’Envers y Aragon again – I’d forgotten how much I liked her and I could definitely have stood a few more chapters in her company.

And it was nice to drop in on the Verreuil family briefly, just to see that they’re all OK.


And from Europe to Africa! What do you think of our introduction to Iskandria and Menekhet?

Suitably fascinating, thank you very much. More of the same, please!

As someone who hates to travel IRL I enjoy travel in books so much. That an author can create a whole other place for me without my needing to pack (urgh), or leave the house (shudder), is the greatest magic there is.

And the food! Give me all the food!


Something the narrative and Phèdre are keen to point out in these chapters is how some groups of people are overlooked and traduced – the Menekhetans, the Tsingani – which leads to a number of conversations. Anything in particular jump out at you about those?

I feel like Phèdre has been a champion for such groups from the start, so while nothing particularly jumped out at me this time round, I am always appreciative that Carey has both the groups themselves, and the range of attitudes towards them – it makes for thought-provoking reading always.


We appear to be on the verge of some big revelations. Any guesses at what they’ll be?

I’m very, very worried about the whole “to endure suffering untold, with infinite compassion” thing. Especially in light of what’s occurred already – I don’t imagine we’ve seen the worst yet. And that Skotophagoti hasn’t turned up twice for nothing – I have a feeling we’re going to be heading to “the kingdom that died and lives” before this adventure is done, but I have no idea what that might mean, where it is, or what will happen.

I feel much foreboding, all the same.


Any other thoughts?

  1. I am stupidly pleased that they found Agnette.
  2. I am increasingly impressed by the solidity of Phèdre and Joscelin’s relationship. They acknowledge the difficulties posed by Joscelin’s vows and by Melisande, but don’t let them disrupt their love for each other. I much prefer this maturity to some of what went before, and I’m having such a blast seeing their confidence in each other. *happy sigh*





  1. Melisande does feel a little like a foil for Phèdre. Melisande likes giving pain while Phèdre likes receiving it. But also Melisande doesn’t feel the range of things that Phèdre does. Both of them are good with people though and smart. The difference is that Phèdre actually cares. I also love how beautiful Phèdre and Joscelin’s relationship is. After her meeting with Melisande and then she hugs him… it brought me joy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hadn’t really thought about it until you mentioned the Verreuil’s but looking back, book one Joscelin makes SO MUCH more sense in the context of his family. They are good hearted and noble to a fault but also rather provincial – take a young boy and send him to the Cassilines and no wonder he turned out such a small-minded pain in the ass 😂 …and now I don’t think that was purely the Cassiline influence 😉 Nonetheless, he has matured so very, very well. Because they are good people, and I like that we see how Luc responds to Phèdre’s influence and promises to try harder in future.

    I am with you in struggling with Kushiel as a punisher in a pantheon of lovers (great turn of phrase there) – I find my response to this week’s reveal is a surprising depth of (out)rage.

    Liked by 1 person

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