raven: (middleman - sleepy wendy)
[personal profile] raven
So a few of you asked me to write up my thoughts on Kushiel's Dart, once I'd finished it! (It took a while. It had somehow escaped me that the print edition is NINE HUNDRED PAGES, wow.) My thoughts are - complicated. I liked it! I really did. But I probably won't read any more in the series.

Okay, so. Kushiel's Dart is set in the mythical land (actually Renaissance France) of Terre d'Ange. It's not high fantasy with magic, at least not really: it's a little like Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief books, in that this is a world with a polytheistic pantheon that actually exists. Phedre, the narrator and main character, is an "anguisette" - it's all there in the etymology. She feels pain as pleasure. Kind of. It's complicated. Phedre's parents sell her off into indentured servitude when she's very young. She's raised in the Night Court, the complex arrangement of high-status brothels that form part an institutional component of Terre d'Ange. At the age of ten, her bond-price is bought by a dissembling aristocrat called Anafiel Delaunay, who already has another bond-slave, but chooses to take her when he realises what she is.

This story did not go where I thought it would.

Well, it did, but not how I thought. In broad sweeps, it's the story of how Phedre becomes a high-status sex worker (which, in her world, can be a form of religious service, and is so for her) who's also uniquely well-placed to gather intelligence from her patrons. Slowly, it becomes a story about shifting court and national alliances, and about revolution and war. It's about power, of course. I think if I'd read this at fifteen, I would have adored it. Firstly, so much consensual kink in a mainstream fantasy book! And not not-remarked-upon, but not secret; acknowledged as an ordinary thing for people to want. And secondly, it does the thing I still love, which is to take the power dynamics between individuals, and use them as a lens to look at power generally, political and personal. I don't think it does it particularly well, for reasons to come; I'm hampered here by not being fifteen and having read the Captive Prince trilogy relatively recently. But it does try to do it, and I like that.

And you know, I'd probably have read it and liked it fine. I like Phedre (not so much as a child, but I do like the trope of the adult narrator speaking fondly but despairingly of her younger self). But then it turns out IT'S A FOUND FAMILY STORY. It really is! I love to itty bitty bits how much Delaunay loves Phedre and how much she loves him, and how much they both love Alcuin. Delaunay chooses to give them his name and they both choose to carry it for themselves. They choose to be what they are to each other. Ah. My heart, my id.

And speaking of which, Anafiel Delaunay, poet, scholar, spy, Gaelic speaker (!! what! what even!), literally no one is surprised that he is my favourite character in this book. If I'd read it at fifteen, I'd have found it completely vital. Not only is Delaunay unremarkably and unapologetically queer (bisexual, even, be still my heart), it's his star-crossed lifelong romance with Rolande de Courcel that drives the whole plot. (I guessed this before the reveal and have rarely been so happy to be proven right.) I love this. I love it so much. There is so much narrative hunger left in me for a story like this - a slightly silly, epic, high fantasy, a love story that's written to make you sigh with the romance of it all - that is also a queer story. It would have been so easy for Delaunay to have been the best friend of the crown prince; for them to have been blood brothers. Even this is ever-so-slightly elided; it's not quite clear if the oath in "oath-sworn" is an oath of friendship, or protection, or if it's REALLY QUITE GAY. But I've now read "You, and You Alone", the short story that sets out more of this backstory, and it's the THING IN ALLCAPS, OKAY. (Oh, my god. I'm not sure it's a very good short story, in fact I'm almost sure it isn't, but I read it anyway and sighed happily.)

And you know, I initially thought, to apply "queer" is an odd label in this context; it's not clear that the D'Angelines understand the idea of sexual identity based on whom you're attracted to. But then I recalled that Delaunay, too, chose the name; he changed his name to his mother's because his father wouldn't talk to him any more. If that's not a queer story, what the hell is. Moving on. Of course, if Delaunay is a queer, he's a dead queer. But I'm more tolerant of this trope when it seems to arise in pursuit of telling the stories queers don't get to appear in. The little moment where Ysandre tells Phedre that they may as well stop with the formality, because they're basically cousins - because of Delaunay's well-attested relationship with her father - made me really happy. It's such a nice worldbuilding note, and another jigsaw piece of queer family.

(And, aaah, the whole romance really does seem to have been written for me specifically. I don't think you could have written anything more tailor-made to tug at my innermost id than what happens to Delaunay after the death of Edmee. For everything else he is, he's a poet, and and everything he has ever written is burned, and this is mercy.)

So I liked it a lot! The reason I don't want to read any more of the books is partly because I'm just not cut out for 900-page doorstoppers, seriously, you could have told that story using half the trees, and partly because, well, the elephant in the room. I find Carey's worldbuilding really rich and interesting, for the most part. And I do like the quasi-real pantheon, and I even like the idea of a nation who are a little bit preternaturally beautiful because they're descended from a god. What I do not like is that of course it's white people are descended from a god. I like fantasy worldbuilding that draws heavily on real people and cultures. But I'm so not into petty criminal Roma people, and charming but "uncultured" Gaels; I don't really want to know what happens when Phedre meets brown people elsewhere, because I'm not thinking it will be good. And as a brown person, I'm used to fantasy that equates beauty with whiteness. It's another thing in this book, though; never, ever is it deconstructed that the people of Terre d'Ange may not be exactly their own account of themselves, perfect, beautiful, God's chosen people, and white.

So there we are. And it kind of sucks, because I liked a lot about this book, and I'd nominate Delaunay and Phedre for Yuletide in a heartbeat.

(Also, the Diana Gabaldon school of literary Gaelic lives on! Dear Ms Carey, "goirm" means blue. Sometimes it means green. Mostly blue. It's a real language, with living speakers. If you weren't such a white lady I would have given you the benefit of the doubt.)
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.

October 2017

1234 567

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 17th, 2017 04:37 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios