Sunday, July 4, 2010

REVIEW: Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
Book 7 of the Terre D'Ange series
Book 1 of Moirin's Trilogy

Paperback: 656 pages
Publisher: Gollancz (21 Jan 2010)
ISBN-10: 0575093579
ISBN-13: 978-0575093577

Decades ago a sacred oath was broken. And as it broke, the magic held by the oldest tribe in Alba was shattered. Their power over the natural world lost, their gift of foretelling gone, now only small magics are left to Moirin and her people: the ability to conceal themselves from sight, and a skill to coax plants to grow.

But Moirin also has strange gods in her life, who hint at another part of her heritage. While Moirin's mother is of the tribe, her father was a priest dedicated to the service of Naamah - the goddess of desire - and as Moirin undergoes the rites of adulthood it becomes clear that an unexpected destiny is unfolding at her feet.

Moirin's path lies across the ocean, past the elaborate dazzle and intrigue-filled courts of Terre D'Ange and up into the unknown land of the Ch'in. But, even gifted as she is, how can her destiny be linked with that of the blind-folded Ch'in warrior princess, and how can Moirin's small gifts ever hope to stand against the power of a vengeful, ambitious mage?

Magic is at work, war is looming, and the fates of nations hang in the balance... and if she is to find her destiny, Moirin must find her way through it all...

Naamah's Kiss is the first of a new trilogy by Jacqueline Carey, set in the same world as her previous two trilogies, Kushiel’s Legacy (Phaedre’s story) and Treason’s Heir (Imriel’s story). This world is geographically similar to ours, but the cultures are noticeably different. Terre D’Ange is at the heart of all the novels, with it’s unique religious culture, “Love as thou wilt” being the central tenet, and is located in what we know as France. Alba (Britain) is where Moirin and her tribe, the Maghuin Dhonn, originate. While you do not have to have read the previous 6 books to understand Naamah's Kiss, knowing the details of what has gone before helps put Moirin’s experiences into context. The very first book, Kushiels’ Dart, explains the theology behind the D’Angeline religion and how desire and love are ingrained into the Terre D’Ange society and culture. Political intrigue also plays a major role throughout the series, something Jacqueline Carey does very well. As one would expect of a society that embraces all facets of sexuality, these are adult novels, with graphic scenes that serve to reveal characters’ motivations and actions rather than just titillate.

She is the central character in Naamah's Kiss and indeed the trilogy itself. Born to the declining Maghuin Dhonn tribe, she lives a sheltered childhood with her mother in the wilds of Alba, learning the ways of her people and absorbing the energy of her natural surroundings. As she grows to maturity and meets her best friend, Cillian, we learn how her father, a D’Angeline priest, has given her the gift of desire… the Naamah's Kiss of the title. Moirin, like the others of her tribe, carries “the diadh-anam, the spirit spark of the Great Bear Herself” and it is this that guides her choices in life and ultimately her destiny.

Circumstances cause Moirin to leave Alba for Terre D’Ange where she is encouraged to explore the D’Angeline side of her heritage. She has magical abilities which she tries to use for good despite other peoples’ less altruistic guidance. Here Moirin matures and learns much more about who she is and her supernatural abilities. When she encounters Master Lo Feng, he becomes her teacher and mentor and nurtures her magical abilities while tutoring her in The Way, his life philosophy, which is similar to what we know as the Tao. Ultimately she travels to Master Lo’s homeland, Ch’in.

Moirin was an interesting character, with her strong belief in the power of her diadh-anam, her magical abilities and the gift of desire. She is initially naïve and overly trusting but matures through experience, learning valuable lessons from all those around her. Sometimes, however, I felt she was just a bit too good to be true and was occasionally irritated by her. Despite this, I always wanted her to succeed both in her adventures and in her relationships. She is an easy character to warm to as there is little malice within her, but she is no pushover either as she can be both physically and emotionally strong when required.

This is the story of a woman’s destiny and her search to discover who she really is. Naamah's Kiss is the first in a trilogy and covers Moirin’s early life up to around her early 20’s. We follow her from Alba to Terre D’Ange to Ch’in, where she becomes involved in the tragedy of the blindfolded warrior princess, Snow Tiger. Other than saying that there is a wonderful dragon here, I cannot relate much more without risking spoilers, which would be unfair. Yes, this is a ‘woman on a quest to find her destiny’ plot, but it is also so much more than a clichéd fantasy theme. With Jacqueline Carey’s wonderfully descriptive writing and imaginative world, Naamah's Kiss becomes a rewarding experience as Moirin’s life story unfolds.

If you are familiar with Jacqueline Carey’s earlier Kushiel novels, you will know that sexuality in all it’s forms is a principle theme throughout. Naamah's Kiss is different in that it is destiny that drives Moirin more than her desire. She is no Phaedre who used her sexuality to achieve her goals and whose depth of desire was an integral part of who she was as a person. Moirin is less complicated sexually and instead has magical abilities which enhance her character. This fits with the series progression, as Phaedre was fully in control of her darkest sexual desires, whereas Imriel was tormented by both his sexual nature and his experience of abuse. Moirin is more led by her emotional, romantic desires, however, as Naamah's Kiss covers only the first third of her life, this may well change in the next book Naamah’s Curse.

I really enjoyed the descriptive writing in this book, something I feel Jacqueline Carey does very well. She captures emotions and atmosphere in such a way that you can almost feel the tension or excitement of the situation. In Naamah's Kiss she explores three very different cultures and how they affect Moirin’s personal development is handled sensitively and with care. Secondary characters are also well drawn and have sufficient depth to allow the reader to build an affinity with them as well as with Moirin.

Much as I love Jacqueline Carey, I admit I was disappointed in Naamah's Kiss. I was hoping it would be as dark as the previous trilogies, particularly Kushiel’s Legacy, but it wasn’t. This could possibly be because it is the story of Moirin’s childhood and early adult life, where she her sexuality grows and develops in a positive and life-affirming fashion.

The religion, society and culture of Terre D’Ange has fascinated me since I first read Kushiel’s Dart and, for me, too little time was spent here before Moirin set sail for Ch’in. We see Terre D’Ange through her eyes, and although some background information is scattered throughout, I found this part of the book relied on the reader being already familiar with it. I hope that Moirin will return to Terre D’Ange before the conclusion of the trilogy, and indeed, there are strong hints of unfinished business with Raphael de Mereliot, which is enough to keep me reading the series.

Despite my high expectations not being reached, I enjoyed Naamah's Kiss, and look forward to finding out where Moirin’s diadh-anam will lead her next. She is a fascinating character who I believe will continue to learn from her unusual experiences while remaining grounded by the strong traditions of her Maghuin Dhonn heritage.

Rating 7/10

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