Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Blessing
Jacqueline Carey
I won a copy of this book at the last readathon I did (Dewey’s 24 hour readathon) plus got a copy (unsolicited) from the publisher. [Psst! Since I was sent two copies of this book, I’m giving the unread one away this week!] Naamah’s Blessingis the third book of this trilogy.
 
Book 1: Naamah’s Kiss  http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 2: Naamah’s Curse  http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
 
***** This review contains spoilers for the earlier two books *****
 
 
The Premise: Moirin mac Fainche has returned to Terre D’Ange from her adventures in the far away lands of the East. She’s found and brought back her lover (now husband) Bao, but while she was away. Moirin’s beloved Jehanne de Courcel, the D’Angeline queen has passed away, leaving a grief stricken king and a very young daughter. The city of Elua is left without an attentive king, and Desirée, Jehanne’s child is a lonely, isolated little girl. In the meantime, Prince Thierry has left on an expedition to Terra Nova for exploration and glory, and hasn’t returned. Moirin sees Jehanne in her dreams, again tasking her with a Destiny. Things have come around full circle and this time Moirin must fix a disaster of her own making. For when Moirin was younger she naively used her powers granted by the Maghuin Dhonn to further the ambitions of Raphael de Mereliot and the Circle of Shalomon. It has consequences Moirin never imagined, but Moirin must make things right.
 
My Thoughts: Like it’s two predecessors, Naamah’s Blessing is not a short story (this one clocks in at 610 pages), but for its length the story is very readable. I was grateful that the first couple of chapters are ones where Moirin looks back over her adventures, and whenever her past touches on the present, the relationship is summarized. I have a pretty decent memory of what happened in Naamah’s Kiss and Naamah’s Curse but it was nice to have my memory gently jogged without it becoming an info dump.
 
I felt like Naamah’s Blessing was easing me back into the story, which was good. After all that Moirin has been through, especially in the last book, it was nice for this one to begin back in familiar territory, not with Moirin discovering new people and traveling somewhere on an arduous journey (not that that doesn’t happen, but it happens later).  It was nice to see how Elua has changed since Moirin has been away, but more importantly how Moirin has changed. She has an idea of how to comport herself and what people expect of her, and most importantly she is now wiser about how her actions have consequences. If she wants to help certain people, (particularly the king and princess Desirée), Moirin has to take care.  There’s some court intrigue and machinations in Naamah’s Blessing, but Moirin is not so naive that she is unaware of them, and I loved reading about this less oblivious Moirin who wisely seeks advice on what to do about the problems she sees. Moirin’s maturity is a big part of what made this a very good third installment in my eyes.
 
Moirin’s character may be less naive, but she still keeps her open personality and her faith in her gods. As always she consults her diadh-anam which she has as a worshipper of the Maghuin Dhonn, as well as the signals of Naamah, the Bright Lady. Although Moirin wants to stay in Elua and protect Desirée from the ambitions of others and the grief-caused neglect of her father, her diadh-anam calls her away. Compounding that are dream visions of Jehanne that tell Moirin news about Prince Thierry. As before, Moirin follows as the gods will it.
 
Naamah’s Blessing has two distinctive parts followed by an epilogue. The first would be in Terre D’Ange and second, Terra Nova, where the Nuhautl Empire and the Quechua kingdom reside. Both parts of the story are tied together by Moirin’s task to fix things in Terre D’Ange and to fix the disaster she created in her youth. There are (as there always is in these books), fascinating new people and places where Moirin encounters new cultures. I enjoy reading of the lush new worlds Moirin discovers and about the new peoples. One big theme seemed to be “sacrifice” as the people of Terra Nova worship bloodthirsty gods in ways that the D’Angelines and Aragonians find barbaric. As the story progresses, Moirin learns to appreciate the idea of sacrifice being the price to pay to make things right.
 
I really like the epic nature of this series and the world building is fascinating. I liked how Moirin’s religion and the religion and cultures of the people she meets are a big part of the story and how the world is an alternative fantasy version of our own. Particularly tickling – having the D’Angelines alter the course of history by innoculating the natives of the Nuhautl Empire from a disease brought over by the Aragonians. But I have some minor problems with the story as well. I’ve commented on this in previous reviews –  on one hand it is just part of Moirin’s character to be so faithful, but on the other I never really felt like there was any danger of Moirin making a tragic choice because she just has to follow the path set for her. The only difficulty is getting others to follow along with what the gods have told her.  Another problem I had was that although minor characters from the first book return and are more fully fleshed (Balthazar Shahrizai and former King’s poet Lianne Tremain in particular), some felt less so. Bao, Moirin’s husband was one. I don’t know what it is but I couldn’t connect with him.  I had the same problem in Naamah’s Curse because he wasn’t in the story very much. Now that he is, he’s still not really there. I found him a cardboard “perfect husband for Moirin”. The other character I had problems connecting with was Raphael de Mereliot, who was completely unrecognizable in this story. There was no satisfying reason for it other than to have him fit an archetypical role, and I was disappointed that there wasn’t more. I think that for the length of the story, I’d like to have seen more in depth characterizations of these two.
 
That said, this still was my favorite installment of the series. I liked how Moirin’s story was wrapped up in a satisfying way that brought everything full circle and I really liked the growth of Moirin’s character over the three books and how that affected the story. I closed this one without feeling disappointed.
 
Overall: Probably the strongest installment in this epic fantasy series, Naamah’s Blessing concludes the adventures of Moirin mac Fainche with one last journey across the world. Moirin has learned and become a more mature heroine, and I liked her the better for it. Except for minor complaints about secondary characters in this story and the reliance on deus ex machina, I found this one satisfying.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
The Discriminating Fangirl – 5 stars (out of 5)
Fantasy Book Critic – A++
Dear Author – B (I feel like this is the review I most agree with)

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Curse
Jacqueline Carey

I was sent an ARC of this book to review from Hachette Books.

******

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK, Naamah’s Kiss

(My review: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpghttp://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/vox.png)

******

The Premise: This is the continuing story of Moirin mac Fainche, and her adventures away from home. Moirin is of the Maghuin Dhonn (a clan in Alba that honors a Great Bear) but also a descendant of Alais de la Courcel (from Terre de Ange, across the sea) and so to find herself, she sets into the world, at first to find her father, then to help the Ch’in. At the end of book 1, Naamah’s Kiss, Moirin is in the land of the Ch’in, but her lover Bao has left because he’s still coming to grips with his second life and with the diadh-anam that he and Moirin now share as a result. Moirin lets him go, but after some time has past, she can’t wait for him anymore. She sets off after him, following the second half of the spark they share. This leads her out of Ch’in to Tartar territory, and then to Bao. Of course, things are never simple, and because of Bao’s rash decisions which anger the Great Khan Naram, Moirin and Bao are forced apart once more.

My Thoughts: As with the first book, Carey’s writing has a simplicity that allows you to read without really feeling bogged down. At 567 pages, I was a little daunted by the length of Naamah’s Curse, and it certainly isn’t a book I could read in one sitting, but it wasn’t one that I felt I had to slog through. Like in Naamah’s Kiss, Moirin, covers many miles, through an amazing world that is of course familiar, since it’s a fantastic version of our own. The encounters with the Ch’in, Tartars and the Bhodistani made me want to see many of the places and people that Moirin describes. I particularly liked the families that took Moirin in. The cheerfulness of being surrounded by a large family who took their host duties seriously was comforting to read.

I would divide this book into three major parts: Moirin’s search for Bao through Ch’in and in the Tartar lands, her time separated from Bao in Vralia, and looking for him again in the mountainous Bhodistan.

Moirin is of mixed heritage and because of this heritage, she is a follower of more than one god, the Maghuin Dhonn from her mother’s clan in Alba, and Naamah, who she is connected to through her D’Angeline blood on her father’s side. Both of these deities favor her but also push her to do their will which they convey through visions and Moirin’s diadh-anam, which flares up inside her to steer her towards her Destiny. This is an unusual combination but it means that Moirin is very open to other people’s beliefs. I noticed this spirituality in Naamah’s Kiss, and Moirin stays true to character in Naamah’s Curse, but she discovers that she’s still an innocent when it comes to what other people believe. In Ch’in she sees  that people have different ideas of modesty than she may, but I don’t think she really knows how far some people would go when they think their beliefs are correct and hers are wrong.

When Moirin meets the Vralian Patriarch of Riva, Moirin sees how man may interpret the word of their gods for their own ends, and it’s a lesson bitterly learned. The Patriarch (a “Father” of the Church of the Yeshua), blames Moirin’s Alban ancestor for a schism in the current church, and declares Terre d’Ange a “bastion of depravity”. Moirin is a way for him to further his ambitions and he forces her to convert to his faith. His character with his shiver-inducing “creamy smile” and his absolute views made me wonder where the author was going because the book seemed to be condemning just Christianity as a religion of close-mindedness.  Just when I thought that this was going to be anti-Yeshuite/anti-Christian book, the story is saved by characters that are followers of Yeshua but who take a gentler, broader, view. Moirin also imagines a gentle god – Yeshua who forgives, not an harsh god who promotes suffering, but she can’t bring herself to fully convert and lose her connection to her own gods. I thought this part of the book was the strongest. It brings up a lot of interesting ideas about religion and I think it stirred up the most emotion in me, reading this section and worrying over Moirin. The lessons about men and the words of gods are also used later on in the story when Moirin sees a similar case where men have interpreted god’s words in a way that benefits them.

It’s a little telling that enjoyed the sections where Moirin was alone and traveling the most, rather than when she is with Bao, which was in the first and last thirds of the book. If I take them at face value, they have cute moments together and they’re well matched in terms of both being impulsive, sharing a diadh-anam, and liking one another. However, if I think about it beyond that – and I mean by looking at their actions, it feels like Moirin is with Bao by default, and this book does not make me warm to him. She had other lovers, but they were either in previously established relationships that they didn’t want to leave, or they were friends sharing a bed out of curiosity rather than romance. The latter group often also seemed like a stretch – like inserting sex just to reinforce Moirin’s role as a child of Naamah rather than to show the reader something more profound. Anyway, back to Bao. He truly acted like an idiot in this book, and it seemed contrary to his matter-of-factness and streetsmarts in the first book. The only explanation I can think of is that there needed to be a reason for why Moirin was traveling from Ch’in to Tartar lands and beyond, so following Bao, and having him run away and be an idiot was the reason. Sadly, it undermined my belief in their relationship.

As with Naamah’s Kiss, Naamah’s Curse ends in a satisfying place with just enough of  a hint of more adventures to come to continue the series.

Overall: This was a strong second book, which continues it’s epic tale of a wild Beauty traveling the world and changing it as she does. Naamah’s Curse has particularly engrossing elements on religion, which I think will make it linger long in my mind. The only issue I had was with the primary relationship, and I hope to find it more convincing in the third book, Naamah’s Blessing.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Fantasy Book Critic – “Overall Naamah’s Curse (Strong A) is an excellent follow-up to the brilliant Naamah’s Kiss
The Book Smugglers – 8 Excellent, again, leaning towards a 9 (one of her favorite reads of 2010)
Fantasy Literature –  “a “ripping good yarn” and kept me enthralled for days”

Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Kiss
Jacqueline Carey

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.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other revews: (both positive)