REVIEW: Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
Dear Ms. Carey,
I think it’s no secret that you’re one of my favorite authors. Even though the Sundering duology didn’t do much for me, I loved the original Kushiel trilogy featuring Phedre and Joscelin. I’ve also been in something of a reading funk, finding myself unable to finish any book at all. I don’t think this is necessarily due to the much-dreaded paranormal malaise we’ve talked about in the past here at Dear Author, but I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of it. Thankfully, your latest book in the Kushiel universe came out recently and I knew that’d be guaranteed to kick me out of my funk. And what do you know, I was right.
Set over a century after the second Kushiel trilogy about Imriel and Sidonie, Naamah’s Kiss is about Moirin, a member of the Maghuin Dhonn from Alba. Readers familiar with Imriel’s trilogy will recognize the Maghuin Dhonn as being the principle antagonists from the second book, Kushiel’s Justice. In that book, the tribe committed a grave atrocity in order to preserve the continued survival of their people. In their eyes, it was necessary crime because if they hadn’t, their tribe would have been destroyed. Even so, it was a deed that resulted in repercussions. The Maghuin Dhonn were once powerful sorcerers and shapechangers. (They worship a goddess that takes the form of a giant bear.) But for the actions they took in Kushiel’s Justice, their goddess punished them — taking away their magic and shapeshifting ability.
Moirin comes from the era of diminished Maghuin Dhonn. She lives in the wild with her mother, learning the small magics that are still available to them: talking to animals, cloaking herself in twilight (making herself invisible to other’s eyes provided they weren’t looking at her when she did so), and listening to the voice of trees. But when she undergoes the rite of passage that marks her as an adult, Moirin discovers her destiny lies across the sea. For while her mother is a member of the Maghuin Dhonn, the father she’s never known is none other than a D’Angeline priest who serves Naamah, the goddess of desire.
What follows is a coming of age story that takes Moirin from her home in the Alban wilderness to the intrigue-filled courts of Terre d’Ange and then finally, to the faraway lands of Ch’in. And through it all, she learns there might be a reason why a D’Angeline priest would be called by his goddess to sleep with a woman from the Maghuin Dhonn, and vice versa. From the time Moirin was a child, she’s been touched by gods. Not only the great bear her people worship, but also by a bright lady and a man holding a seedling in his palm. I don’t want to go into much detail about the cosmology of this series’ world, but people who’ve read the other books set in this world will likely recognize who these people are.
There is much to like about this book. It’s very sex-positive. Moirin is very much in control of her own sexuality and being touched by Naamah, that’s a good thing. Having grown up in the wilderness with only her mother to keep her company, Moirin has lived a very solitary existence and it’s not until she befriends another boy her age that she realizes how isolated her life has been. But when that friendship turns to something more, she soon realizes she can never be the prim and proper wife her lover wants to be and finds his proprietary attitude towards her body stifling and unattractive. So I did like that aspect — it is Moirin’s body and sexuality and there’s absolutely no reason why she must conform to someone else’s ideas of what she should do with them. She’s not an object to belong to only one man without having any say in the matter.
I also enjoyed the relationships between the women in this book. I think readers who remember the relationship between Phedre and Melisande from the original Kushiel trilogy will find much to like in the relationship between Moirin and Jehanne, a former courtesan and the young second wife of the D’Angeline monarch. I also liked the relationship between Moirin and Snow Tiger, the Ch’in princess she later meets, but it’s the one with the young queen that really shines in all its complicated glory.
Speaking of the Ch’in princess, can I just say she’s awesome? Because Snow Tiger is so unbelievably awesome, I cannot emphasize this enough. I would read an entire book about her alone. I know the chances of her getting her own book aren’t very high but at the very least, there were enough spaces in the narrative to let me imagine there could be.
On the other hand, I think the relationships Moirin has with women sometimes overshadow those she has with men. A lot of the time, I didn’t find them very interesting because they followed some very standard, well-used storylines and I tend not to be as vested in plotlines whose resolutions I can predict far ahead of time, especially in fantasy novels.
One thing that will be of interest to people — and was in the fact the first question Jane asked me when she heard I’d read the book — is that there is no BDSM in this book. The lack of Kushiel is probably a hint about that, but I wanted to toss that out since I know that can make a difference in whether or not a person will pick up this title. And while I know I should find it refreshing that we’re exploring another aspect of the cosmology and expanding the existing world, I actually kind of miss the BDSM aspect. Without it, the book felt a little vanilla to me.
And finally, we come to the one thing that annoyed me. I realize Phedre and Joscelin were the heroes of their time, and I also know that Imriel played a role in some adventures too. But did every story about a famous hero or adventure be related to them? It’s unavoidable because as I said, they were the heroes of their time but honestly, I find it hard to believe that every single story told would be about them. Surely there are other famous heroes to tell stories about?
Overall, I did like this book and found it immensely readable, which considering my recent reading blues is one of the highest compliments I can give. But at the same time, I find myself relatively neutral about Moirin’s relationship with the character who becomes the love of her life because the story dynamics surrounding their romance are ones that don’t particularly excite me. The specific details about the romance dynamics are spoilers for the end of the book so I’ll hide them (highlight to read):
This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.