To many, summer means beer and bbqs, pools, sun, and tanning of epic proportions. To me, summer means a new book by Jacqueline Carey and hours on the couch in an air conditioned environment or begrudgingly out on the deck if my husband manages to toss me out there and lock the door.
I’ve been a fan since Day 1. Back in 2002, I was moving from NY to Michigan. I had bought Kushiel’s Dart before I left, planning to read it in the down time I knew I would have before I started grad school for playwrighting. And hey! JC was a Michigander – I took it as a good sign. Kushiel’s Dart is the first in JC’s (so far) 9 book series set in the world of Terre d'Ange. Terre d’Ange is alterna-France and all of its inhabitants are descended from the angels who left heaven for Blessed Elua – born of the blood of Yeshua ben Yosef and the tears of the Magdelene. There’s a lot more to this story, so seriously, do yourselves a favor and go buy Kushiel’s Dart right now. I’ve never read such a rich, intricate adventure story – and yes, even though the book is full of sexy sex, I would classify Kushiel’s Dart as adventure. I mean, it has Vikings, people. The first three Terre d’Ange books focus on Phedre, a courtesan/spy who finds pleasure in pain. The second trilogy focuses on Imriel, a character we meet in the last of Phedre’s books. Imriel grows up, marries, and has children who have children who have children. The third trilogy takes place 100 years after the second and our main character, Moirin, is distant but not direct kin to Imriel.
Following? I’m trying not to spoil anything because part of what makes JC’s writing so awesome are the plot twists she takes. I’ve read this series a few times now and nothing compares to that initial read where the plot just kicks you in the gut and leaves you gasping. JC isn’t afraid to take massive risks with her characters. Those risks and their outcomes are always immensely satisfying.
Since each trilogy is capable of standing on its own, you could start with Moirin’s story: Naamah’s Kiss, Naamah’s Curse, and the conclusion, Naamah’s Blessing, which is my focus here. I was a little worried at first that I wouldn’t like Moirin as much as Phedre or Imriel, and while I don’t think any of JC’s characters are as rich or complex as Phedre, Moirin is easy to love. Through her story, Moirin makes the transition from backwoods savage to member of the court of Terre d’Ange. She grows as a person but still maintains a certain innocence and this is part of what makes her so endearing.
Each of JC’s main characters comes of age within their trilogy. Phedre and Imriel focused on their internal conflicts – each of them had to come to terms with who they were. Moirin already knows who she is so her path of discovery is in navigating the good and bad of other people while maintaining her sense of self. Moirin meets so many of each type of person and helps some of them with their own personal discoveries, while learning for herself that there are others beyond redemption or even understanding.
However, Moirin doesn’t make her literal and figurative journey alone. JC writes the best secondary characters in all of fantasy. My favorite of these is Queen Jehanne de la Courcel. If these books were movies, Jehanne would steal every scene she was in. Jehanne is beautiful and prideful, a former adept of the Night Court and the first ever courtesan to rise to the throne through marriage. Jehanne has a notoriously awful temper that sets off at anything and everything. In Naamah’s Curse, through a series of wacky events involving dire sorcery and petty spite, Jehanne takes Moirin for her own and the two women come to love each other deeply. Moirin teaches Jehanne that she’s not nearly the crazy bitch she pretends to be.
And now, for the sake of this review, I can’t avoid spoilers any longer. In Naahma's Curse, we find that Jehanne has died in childbirth while Moirin was out chasing her destiny in the Tatar wilderness half a world away. Moirin is devastated. She had been Jehanne’s Royal Companion and had tried to help her through her fear of pregnancy. Moirin had not wanted to leave her, but her own spirit/god wouldn’t let her stay. At the end of Naamah’s Kiss and through Naamah’s Blessing, Jehanne’s shade visits Moirin in her dreams. Moirin has unfinished business with a man they both loved – Raphael de Mereliot – and Jehanne cannot move on into the afterlife until she helps Moirin finish this business.
Naamah’s Blessing returns Moirin and her husband Bao (seriously, go buy these books) to Terre d’Ange after many adventures on the far side of the Eastern world involving the sexy sex, and ninjas. Also, sorcery. They return only to find that they must once again set sail in the other direction, this time to the newly discovered land of Terra Nova, to find out the fate of the lost heir to the throne, Prince Thierry de la Courcel, who had lead an expedition into this new land and never returned.
JCs books deal in high adventure, sexy sex, and intricate character. In the past, I’ve loved the character development of this series. In her previous novels, even the most evil and twisted of characters were somehow sympathetic, and even the most noble had their own personal demons. The characterization in Naamah’s Blessing hasn’t matched this intricacy and depth. This is not the fault with the trilogy as a whole as I thought Naamah’s Curse and Naamah’s Kiss to be beautiful and multifaceted. However, overall, Naamah’s Blessing felt rushed.
Moirin and Bao’s interactions seemed superficial and perfunctory. Bao isn’t even very relevant as a character until late in the narrative, and even then, he is relevant due to circumstance. Raphael de Mereliot felt flat. He was very much the evil genius and only lacked a moustache to twirl. The dread and fear he did inspire weren’t even truly from his actions, but those of his millions of tiny minions. The decadence of the Shahrizai clan was overplayed. The Shahrizai family plays a very important role in the history of Terre d’Ange. I counted Balthazar Shahrizai examining his fingernails in nonchalance at least a half dozen times on the way to Terra Nova, and viewed him as a compilation of all of Melisande’s vanities without any of her depth (Note: Melisande is one of the big bads from the early books).
Parts of this book also felt recycled. Moirin’s deal with the Nahuatl Emperor was nearly the same as Phedre’s long ago deal with Quincel de Morbahn of Kusheth. The culmination of this novel in the Temple of the Ancestors echoed the endgame of Kushiel’s Chosen in La Serenisima. The return to Terre d’Ange and punishment of the villains more than echoed the punishments of the Trevalion family in Kushiel’s Dart, except with less dire consequences. This finale lacked the tension and risk of the first two books. There was no question in my mind that everything would turn out well in the end – it was just a question of how we got there.
All of that being said, I still enjoyed this book. There’s no such thing as a bad trip to Terre d’Ange. This was just a less awesome trip than previous visits. Part of what draws me to JC’s work book after book is her ability to surprise me. I’m not easily thrown off guard when reading, but she does so every time, in a good way. Parts of this book will make your skin crawl. Other parts are so very lovely. Moirin is married to Bao, but her love of Jehanne is what catches at my heart in this trilogy. Her dreams of the Queen are heartbreakingly tender and beautiful. Moirin and Jehanne’s love is one for the ages.
JC is a wonderful writer with a gift for description and detail especially in characterization. The love her characters share with one another is epic. Her books have brought me to tears – both happy and sad – many times through many readings. I would have liked a fuller ending to Moirin’s tale. I would have liked to see more development and depth. Despite its shortcomings, this is an adventure worth following to the end, and I look forward to finding out what else JC has in store for us in the realm of Terre d’Ange. Naamah’s Blessing will be available on June 29th.
P.S. Be sure to also check out JC’s stand alone (soon to be a series), Santa Olivia, for more modern adventure and love, if historical fantasy isn’t your thing – it’s badass. The sequel, Saints Astray, comes out in October. Go on and visit www.jacquelinecarey.com for regular blogging by JC, fan art, and a tattoo gallery based on the land of Terre d’Ange.