Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review of Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

I had hoped to be able to provide a little interview to go with this review. Alas, Ms. Carey is working towards a publishing deadline and declined my request for the interview. Oh well! Here's the review, in any case.

Naamah's Blessing, by Jacqueline Carey, is the third book in the Naamah trilogy and the last of the Kushiel's Legacy novels. For me, this latter fact is very hard to accept. Like many, many readers, I have loved Terre D'Ange and the elegant prose of the novels Carey has set there, waiting anxiously for the next installment.

The Naamah trilogy takes place several generations after Phedre and Imriel's stories, and this, at first, discouraged me. I loved them both so much! But I came to love Moirin as well, the "jade-eyed witch" who narrates the Naamah novels. Moirin, half-D'Angeline, half-Maghuin Dhonn, travels the world following the spark of her soul, and getting into a lot of trouble as she does. In Naamah's Blessing, Moirin finds that despite her many adventures, her greatest challenge lies ahead of her, and she must travel to the equivalent of the Aztec empire. Carey soon connects the challenges of this new setting to mistakes Moirin made in the first novel, Naamah's Kiss, pleasingly closing the circle of the plot.

I have always found that Carey's Terre D'Ange novels tap into my personal tastes--often right at a point in my life when I've been thinking about just the sorts of things her stories happen to address (for instance, I was seriously considering adopting a child at about the time I picked up Kushiel's Avatar). The Naamah trilogy was no exception. That said, I did pick up on a sense of fatigue in Naamah's Blessing. Perhaps it was because I knew it was the last one--perhaps had I not known that, I wouldn't have gotten that sense at all. However, Moirin herself has had enough of adventures by the time she reaches the Terra Nova, and she seems to really only want one thing: to settle into a monogamous marriage with Bao, so they can start having plump babies. I can't fault her for that; in my experience, a loving marriage and a plump baby are the keys to heaven on earth. Still, I think the novel lacked drive; it was certainly compelling, and a good end to the series, but it was no Kushiel's Dart.

I do have to say that I admire Carey's handling of the Aztecs and Incas. Some reviewers on Amazon complain that the portrayals were too flat or stereotypical--I didn't think so. Sure, I would have loved more description, for the novel to delve even more deeply into their culture. Perhaps this is one was in which it communicated fatigue. However, thinking back to the discussion some months ago on this blog about orientalism, I have to say that Carey sidestepped that pitfall very gracefully. [Spoilers ahead.] The characters travel to a strange, intimidating place, but it is not the Aztecs or the Incas who are sinister and evil. It is a D'Angeline, wielding power he attained through a demon Carey created and he accessed while still in Terre D'Ange. Yes, his weapons are the fearsome fire ants of the Amazon, but it is his evil that drives them. The Aztec and Inca characters themselves are multidimensional, believable, and range from honorable and brave to treacherous and villainous. This confirms my earlier realization about writing adventure stories: the big bad needs to be from off-world or a complete creation of the author's, in order to avoid any taint of exoticization and the like. This was quite effectively handled in Naamah's Blessing.

I absolutely recommend this novel, but if you haven't read Kushiel's Dart, start there. And give it about 330 pages before you make up your mind--there's a pretty sweet plot point that really throws the reader for a loop--one I very much enjoyed.

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