This book was sent to me for review by Hachette Books.
Premise: This is the beginning of a new series in the same world as the two Kushiel series, but takes place a few generations later. The heroine is Moirin, who was born into the Maghuin Dhonn, worshippers of a great brown bear, a wild people who are known as great magicians and feared for their past. Moirin at first has a simple life, living in the woods with her mother, but as she grows up, she learns about the outside world. Her father is a D’Angeline priest of Naamah, the goddess of desire. Moirin is guided by her diadh-anam (spirit guide) to believe that she is not meant to stay in Alba, so she first goes across the sea find him and to embrace her mixed heritage.
My Thoughts: You don’t need to read the other series in order to start at this one, however there are references to what happened in the past which could be spoilers if you’re paying close attention to them about what happened in the earlier books. The world building in these books is complex, but the book is written so even if you don’t know all the background (such as knowing the complete story of Elua and his companions – which I did not), you can still grasp what’s going on. (P.S. There’s an amazing amount of detail on wikipedia about this series!)
This is a very easily readable book despite it being over 600 pages. The words flow and the language lends itself to just paying attention to the story. Told in the first person point of view, the book is a coming of age tale that’s in three parts: Moirin’s childhood in Alba, her introduction into society in Terre d’Ange, and her adventures in Ch’in.
Because Moirin is half of the Maghuin Dhonn and half D’Angeline, she has two goddesses who watch over her and who guide her. Morin often consults her diadh-anam when she wants to make important decisions and sees the faces of “the Bright Lady” and the Maghuin Dhonn, who help her choose her way. Her Destiny is a big part of Moirin’s decision-making, and in some ways I’d have liked her to actually choose rather than having a tool to make decisions for her, but Moirin’s faith is large part of her personality. Her father and her mentor are both very spiritual as well and Moirin gains a lot from them. And because Moirin doesn’t turn away from her Alban roots she holds onto her gift of ”twilight” (that allows her to disappear from sight). Meanwhile, her comfortableness with Naamah’s gift (that of desire) means that Moirin is very open with her sexuality.
There are a lot of sex scenes in this story because of Moirin’s lack of hangups and her connection with Naamah. These were tastefully done without purple prose, but it is explicit. Terre d’Ange itself is a very sexually open society so she’s not alone. I read Kushiel’s Dart a long time ago so I wasn’t very surprised, but I thought that at times her approach was more for enjoyment than for a reason, like that of Phèdre nó Delaunay, the protagonist of Kushiel’s Dart. Moirin has no problems switching partners, men or women, on the spur of the moment. Maybe for that reason I didn’t find any of the relationships in this book particularly romantic, although Moirin obviously cared very much for many people.
There is a large cast of characters in this story. It’s at first Moirin and her mother in Alba, with the neighbouring lord’s son Cillian who comes by to visit. Although some reviewers found the first part of the book slow, I found it my favorite part – it reminded me of childhood and summer days without much worry. It is in the part of the book I found Moirin’s character least like she is in the other parts – more sure and wild maybe. When childhood ends is the beginning of the second part in Terra d’Ange. Here Moirin’s exoticness from being a beautiful “bear-witch” are much lauded (slightly excessively in my mind, but not enough to rile me), and Moirin meets several royals and people of the D’Angeline court. Of particular interest are Queen Jehanne and her lover, Raphael de Mereliot. These two characters I had the hardest time pinning down, they were so capricious – at some times selfish and at others very kind. I would say that they changed as Moirin learned more about them. It is here that Moirin grows and learns the most about her powers and about people. Finally, when Moirin finally meets her Destiny in Ch’in, she goes with a sage who she’d met in Terre d’Ange – Master Lo, and his bodyguard Bao. There she meets the fierce princess Snow Tiger. Ch’in is where the most action occurs and all that Moirin experiences culminate here in her Destiny. Although it was convenient, I still thought the resolutions were clever because I’d forgotten about couple of things until that point.
Although this is the first of a probably trilogy, the book ends in a satisfying place with most threads tied up. There is of course a couple of things where you want to find out what happens next (such as hints about someone she expects to meet again), but I was happy where the book finished.
Overall: An epic fantasy coming of age tale (at 645 pages-a bigger time commitment than the average book) with a very spiritual and sexual young heroine. If you’re a fan of Jacqueline Carey, this book is as strong as her past books, with the same detailed world building and absorbing storytelling. If you DO mind sex in your fantasy, then skip this one. I had only very minor issues (regarding Moirin’s Destiny, and Moirin’s exotic factor), and found it a good read.
Other revews: (both positive)