Title: Naamah’s Kiss
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: June 24, 2009
Hardcover: 656 pages
Stand alone or series: Book one of a new series set in the same world as the Kushiel’s Legacy books, though following a completely new heroine. Naamah’s Kiss stands on its own, but fans of the two prior trilogies will feel at home with Ms. Carey’s new series.
Why did I read this book: All cards on the table: Jacqueline Carey is one of my favorite authors. Period. The Phedre trilogy is my second all-time favorite series. I don’t think there’s any force that could have stopped me from reading Naamah’s Kiss.
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Once there were great magicians born to the Maghuin Dhonn; the folk of the Brown Bear, the oldest tribe in Alba. But generations ago, the greatest of them all broke a sacred oath sworn in the name of all his people. Now, only small gifts remain to them. Through her lineage, Moirin possesses such gifts – the ability to summon the twilight and conceal herself, and the skill to coax plants to grow.
Moirin has a secret, too. From childhood onward, she senses the presence of unfamiliar gods in her life; the bright lady, and the man with a seedling cupped in his palm. Raised in the wilderness by her reclusive mother, it isn’t until she comes of age that Moirin learns how illustrious, if mixed, her heritage is. The great granddaughter of Alais the Wise, child of the Maghuin Donn, and a cousin of the Cruarch of Alba, Moirin learns her father was a D’Angeline priest dedicated to serving Naamah, goddess of desire.
After Moirin undergoes the rites of adulthood, she finds divine acceptance…on the condition that she fulfill an unknown destiny that lies somewhere beyond the ocean. Or perhaps oceans. Beyond Terre d’Ange where she finds her father, in the far reaches of distant Ch’in, Moirin’s skills are a true gift when facing the vengeful plans of an ambitious mage, a noble warrior princess desperate to save her father’s throne, and the spirit of a celestial dragon.
Moirin mac Fainche is of the royal bloodline of Alais de la Courcel, but lives in the wild woods of Alba as one of the few remaining Maghuin Dhonn, inheriting her knowledge and small gifts of magic from her mother. Moirin’s father, however, is a D’Angeline priest, descended from the godly lines of Anael and Naamah herself. And so, Moirin is a child of two worlds, touched by two sets of Gods, each with important purposes for her. When she becomes old enough to be tested by the Maghuin Dhonn, the great mother bear reveals herself to Moirin, but shows her that Moirin’s destiny lies not in Alba with her people, but across the Straits to the land of her father, and beyond to lands further than she ever could have imagined.
Moirin leaves the open woods and is welcomed with open arms into Terre D’Ange. In a twist of fate, Moirin finds herself in the home of Raphael de Mereliot – charming courtier, lover of the Queen of Terre D’Ange, and magic-dabbling physician. Soon, Moirin – welcomed as an exotic distraction – is embroiled in D’Angeline court politics, caught up in the schemes between Raphael’s dreams of power and Queen Jehanne’s mercurial moods.
Following her diadh-anam, the spark of spirit within guided by the Maghuin Dhonn, Moirin travels from Terre D’Ange to the strange and far land of Ch’in with Master Lo Feng and his magpie Bao, to save a young warrior princess under a horrible curse, and to stop impending war.
Naamah’s Kiss is Jacqueline Carey writing in her element – her writing is as luscious, beautiful and captivating as ever. This is fantasy on an epic scale, encompassing magic, romance, heartache, war, and destiny. As a huge fan of the first two trilogies, I have to admit I was a little nervous as Moirin’s tale is set a hundred years after Imriel’s last book. Though there are references to Phedre and Imriel with a few easter eggs sprinkled throughout, I ultimately loved Ms. Carey’s decision to focus this new trilogy on an entirely new character as a fresh start, leaving Phedre and Imriel’s happy endings gloriously preserved.
As a new heroine, Moirin is exquisite. Ms. Carey excels at creating distinct characters; though I feared that Moirin would be too similar to Phedre, she most certainly stands apart as a heroine in her own right. While Phedre is D’Angelline down to the scarlet mote in her eye, polished, sultry and smoothly navigates troubled political waters, Moirin is raw, headstrong, and passionate. Unrefined in the realms of the political (or the realms of Naamah’s arts, for that matter), Moirin relies less on her savvy and more on her heart, believing in her Alban and D’Angeline gods and the spark of her diadh-anam to guide her. While Phedre’s destiny was sealed by a prick in her left eye and Imriel’s by his parentage, Moirin grapples with her fate – she knows not what her purpose is, only that she has a destiny, and she trusts blindly in that knowledge. Also, unlike her D’Angeline successors, Moirin brings a new perspective to the world of Terre D’Ange; through her eyes, readers see the glimmering beauty of the court, but also see its excesses and pettiness (something Phedre would never admit to). There is intrigue and scheming, but Moirin is not an active, maneuvering player in these games. Her gift from Naamah is desire, in her ability to give and to crave this passion, and this leads Moirin true throughout her adventures.
The plot of Naamah’s Kiss is decidedly less reliant on political intrigue than Phedre or Imriel’s adventures, and, reflecting Moirin as a narrator, is more driven by relationships and passion. The story is complex and sprawling, spanning across three vastly different lands – from the serene woods of Alba to the glitter of the D’Angeline court, and finally the mystical yet troubled land of the Ch’in. Alba and Terre D’Ange we already know, but the journey to Ch’in is completely, stunningly new. In Ms. Carey’s alternate China, Ch’in is an exotic new world, with magic and spirits of its own, and it is portrayed lovingly here. An imprisoned dragon, a cursed princess, family betrayal – it is all here in Naamah’s Kiss.
Finally, one cannot write a review for Jacqueline Carey’s books without mentioning her lush, rich prose. Naamah’s Kiss is no exception.
The stone doorway stood behind me.
But beyond it lay the sea. It sparkled in the bright sunlight, waves rippling and churning, stretching all the way to the horizon. Overhead, gulls wheeled in teh blue sky uttering raucous cries.
I looked back.
The Maghuin Dhonn Herself regarded me with infinite compassion. I took a deep breath, my body trembling. I didn’t understand, not really. And yet the spark inside me knew. “I have a very long way to go, don’t I?” I asked softly.
She didn’t answer.
I wiped my eyes. “May I at least keep this memory?”
Her great head dipped in consent.
“Thank you,” I whispered. “I don’t know where it is I’m meant to go or what it is I’m meant to do, but ‘ll try to make You proud.”
Brightness shimmered and the expression on Her face changed. It was a look like my mother’s embrace, hard and fierce. And it said without words that whatever came to pass, I was Hers. Her joy and Her pride, now and always and forever. My heart too ful for words, I nodded in silent acknowledgment. It was a gift of grace I would cary with me always.
She left and did not look back.
I’ve said before that Ms. Carey is one of those writers whose words make me fall in love, break my heart and leave me filled with a sense of wonder and longing – and such is Naamah’s Kiss. Like her gods, Ms. Carey uses her characters hard, but it is worth every ache and pain along the way.
I loved Naamah’s Kiss, and cannot wait to return to Moirin’s story.
Notable Quotes/Parts: The heartbreaking last climactic chapters are riveting and bittersweet. But to say more, I run the risk of spoiling.
You can read an excerpt from the first chapter of this book on Jacqueline Carey’s website, HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Ms. Carey’s alternate fantasy universe is now seven books strong; two completed trilogies, with Naamah’s Kiss marking the beginning of a third.
If you haven’t yet been introduced to the world of Terre D’Ange and beyond, I strongly urge you to hurry up already! Phedre’s trilogy (beginning with Kushiel’s Dart) is still my favorite, but for new readers with no knowledge of the prior books Naamah’s Kiss is a fine place to start.
Verdict: Naamah’s Kiss is everything I have come to expect from a Jacqueline Carey novel: decadent prose, passionate characters, and high fantasy adventure. Easily my favorite read of the year, thus far – and I cannot wait to read more. Bravo.
Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection – Narrowly missing a 10 because, being fair, Naamah’s Kiss isn’t quite as good as Kushiel’s Dart or Kushiel’s Avatar…but I have an inkling that the next installment quite possibly will break that threshold.
Reading Next: Darkness Calls by Marjorie M. Liu
Tomorrow, Jacqueline Carey guest blogs about her inspirations and influences for Naamah’s Kiss! Make sure to stick around to read her thoughts, and also for a chance to win 1 of 5 copies of this book…