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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): There aren’t any substantial obstacles in the path leading towards Moirin getting together with her hero but she loses him at the end and the set-up for the next book is her going after him to get him back.   Even so, I am looking forward to the next book and seeing what’s in store for Moirin.   B

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

15 Comments

  1. rebyj
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 14:16:26

    I really liked the book. It’s so far the best book I’ve read in 2009.
    It’s not perfect but it’s a good addition to the world Carey’s built.
    The fairy tale feel of the last 1/4 of the book should make an old cynic like me toss the book down but I was captivated. There was a passage or two that I thought maybe Carey has small kids and maybe watched Kung Fu Panda one too many times lol.
    This isn’t a romance, the romantic aspects of the book take a backseat to the adventure but that’s ok because it’s an adventure of epic scope. I can’t wait till the second book!

    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?

    I found this skillful on the part of the author. A way to satisfy fans of the other books by mentioning the past characters in the only way someone would be mentioned after a century. Legend.

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  2. Jia
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 14:54:39

    @rebyj: I guess the reason why it didn’t work for me is because it felt too heavy-handed. Like I could see the author’s handprint too clearly, so it felt self-indulgent. I just couldn’t buy that Moirin, raised in the Alban wilderness as part of the Maghuin Dhonn, who didn’t find out that she was half-D’Angeline until she was in her teens, would only tell stories of heroes from Terre D’Ange. Yes, it’s true that Maghuin Dhonn are diminished and don’t really consider themselves under the rule of the Cruarch, but I just find it hard to believe that the only stories worth telling were those from Terre D’Ange.

    I’m not saying no stories from Terre D’Ange because that’s not believable either, given how Alban history intertwines with it once Drustan and Ysandre married, but a couple stories separate and individual from Terre D’Ange would have rang more true. Particularly because the story is told from Moirin’s perspective, we finally get an outsider’s perspective on Terre D’Ange and the hints supporting just how xenophobic its citizens actually are. Moirin only telling stories of D’Angeline heroes undermines that perspective.

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  3. votermom
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 15:38:33

    I’m a Carey fan (I even liked the Sundering a lot) — I am so not reading this review or thread until I get my hands on the book. :)

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  4. ~ames~
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 17:12:50

    Great review! I’ve been putting off buying this one until I finish Imriel’s trilogy. I’m putting off the last book – I want to make it last. That being said, I’m still looking forward to getting sucked into to Carey’s story writing. She’s a great author.

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  5. rebyj
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 17:14:43

    I just find it hard to believe that the only stories worth telling were those from Terre D'Ange.

    The story of how they lost their magic was told , and the characters involved in that but yes, I agree, as “earth’s oldest children” you’d think she would have had many other stories told to her as a child of her heritage. Maybe some will be told in the next two books if they fit into the present story lines or something.

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  6. Oyce
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 17:34:03

    Oh, I’m glad you liked it! I, um, have a crush on the love interest that may be greater than the plot he’s given warrants. I’m also hoping he gets much more development and backstory in the next book.

    Completely agree with you about the need for non-Phedre/Joscelin/Imriel stories, and am especially in agreement about the awesomeness that is Snow Tiger!

    I was curious, did you have any issues with the Ch’in setting or the Ch’in people? I had some things that made me nidgy, but I think I was in love with enough Ch’in characters to feel okay about it.

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  7. Jia
    Jul 13, 2009 @ 18:02:34

    @~ames~: I definitely recommend finishing Imriel’s trilogy before starting this one. Carey does a good job of making her individual trilogies (and to a lesser — but still workable — extent, the individual books) standalone, though so I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a requirement.

    @rebyj: That’s true, it was but in some ways, I think that tale became less a celebration of great deeds — despite it saving their people — and more a cautionary tale against using the gifts given to them by the bear-goddess to do such harm.

    @Oyce: You know, theoretically, I should have been bothered by the Ch’in storyline since it does fall into the category of “white person saves the Asian people” with the bonus of having the rather cliche wise Asian mentor character to boot, but I really wasn’t. Snow Tiger was amazing but let’s not belabor that point. I think one of Carey’s (many) strengths as a writer is to take what would in the hands of another author be stereotypical plotlines and breathe new life into them because she’s able to make the characters larger than life. It’s true that Moirin is the main character and the others supporting ones, but I don’t think the Ch’in characters were there for the sole purpose of supporting Moirin or making her look good, if that makes sense. Moirin goes to save them, yes, but they weren’t prop or two-dimensional foils in order for her to do so — they were fully fleshed characters in their own right. Even Black Sleeve.

    And it’s true there are negative comments about the Ch’in (“slanty eyes” or was it “squinty”?) but I felt the text portrayed those prejudiced comments in a negative light. I never got the sense those were good opinions to hold.

    I do think the Ch’in storyline might have been a little rushed but that could just be the part of me that wishes we could get more fantasy novels with wuxia-like elements. Because there were definitely some wuxia-like elements there towards the end.

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  8. Selene
    Jul 14, 2009 @ 00:17:44

    So, I loved (loved, loved) Kushiel’s Dart, enjoyed the rest of that trilogy, thought Imriel’s first book was OK, but didn’t really like the other two, especially the (IMO) poorly done relationship with Sidonie. I know we were supposed to believe in their Great Love, but frankly Sidonie struck me as a 1D character and their relationship nothing more than momentary lust. Oh, and killing off Dorelei felt like a cop out.

    This may be partly because I was never really enamored with the Epic (over the top?) adventure plotlines. I’ve read a lot of fantasy, and I totally agree that they were stereotypical, but unlike you I didn’t feel that Carey managed to breathe new life into them. The first one worked better for me, partly because of the characters and the strong internal conflict in that novel. The later novels, IMO, relied more heavily on external conflict, and also had the downside that it became less and less believable that the same characters would fall into one over-the-top disaster after another.

    Given the above, do you think I’d enjoy this book? :-) Your comments about the main romantic relationship has me a bit leery… but I can’t forget how great Kushiel’s Dart was!

    Selene

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  9. Christine Rimmer
    Jul 14, 2009 @ 10:17:31

    Great review, Jia.

    I loved this book and the six in the Kusheline cycle, as well. With probably Kushiel’s Avatar being my absolute favorite. Yeah, yeah, Kushiel’s Dart was amazing. But they’re all amazing. And Dart took a looooong time to really get moving.

    And there were hints that when Moirin gets back to T’erre D’Ange she will have some experiences with BDSM, for those that were disappointed the element was missing in Kiss. But no, given Moirin’s sexual nature, I would guess that BDSM is never going to be center stage in this cycle. But hey. Good authors are always full of surprises.

    Warning: some spoilers following.

    My picky things that bothered me about Kiss: I had a problem with the story moving to Ch’in in the first place. I know that’s the template for the D’Angeline books and I admit, once I accepted that we were leaving T’erre D’Ange behind and especially once Snow Tiger came on the scene, I was okay with it. But the leaving in the first place with such a strong story going on already…that was what seemed forced to me. And I get that we’re so going back to find out what happened with Raphael. But still…

    Also Bao. There was something a bit too cute and too place-holderish about him. I know many think there was the same prob with Sidonie in Imriel’s books (well, minus the cuteness), but I actually liked her and liked the way their relationship developed. Still, I’m waiting eagerly for the next installment and I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble getting used to Bao.

    Overall, just masterful. And flaws in a book are fine with me. Books to me are like people. A perfect person, in the end, is not all that interesting.

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  10. Jia
    Jul 14, 2009 @ 10:37:06

    @Christine Rimmer: I have a suspicion that the unresolved storyline with Raphael will be the third book. Carey likes mirroring her trilogies in terms of thematic structure so since Moirin started with Raphael, I have a feeling he’ll be the end.

    @Selene: I honestly didn’t find the main romantic relationship that interesting. It’s a personal preference but in terms of couples, I’d actually rank this one at the bottom with Phedre and Joscelin at the top and Imriel and Sidonie in the middle. Granted, it took me a long time to warm up to the idea of Imriel and Sidonie but as I told Jane one in a conversation, I tend to be deeply ambivalent about romances between cousins.

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  11. Christine Rimmer
    Jul 14, 2009 @ 10:43:17

    Jia, yeah. I see the big issues left hanging with Raphael being the last book, as well.

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  12. Selene
    Jul 14, 2009 @ 23:48:38

    Thanks Jia! Less interesting than Imriel and Sidonie, eh? Doesn’t sound too promising, but I’ll think about it. There’s time enough before the paperback release (definitely not buying hardcover).

    Selene

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  13. votermom
    Jul 23, 2009 @ 14:04:35

    Just finished this in one day! Phew!

    Talking about parallels, I actually see Moirin & Raphael as parallel to Phedre & Melisande, and Moirin & Jehane are more like Phedre & Hyacinthe (though that was non-consummated). Moirin & Bao are definitely parallel to Phedre & Joscelin.

    I like Naamah’s Kiss but the stakes don’t feel as high as they were in the two Kushiel trilogies. Also it lacks the edge given by the darkness inherent in Phedre & Imriel. Although the demon-raising by Raphael sounds promisingly dark. ;)

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  14. Francesco
    Sep 29, 2009 @ 20:05:28

    Just finished the book, bought it on you reccomendation, loved it an immense amount of fun.
    Of course the female relationships are more interesting – the female characters are more interesting, the boys are dull.
    Jia – are you sure that Morin is white ? The Maghuin Dhonn are described as short & brown, while Morin is half Angeline she seems to startle eveyone in Terra De Ange by her looks.
    I love the way Cary takes a chainsaw & arc weilder to Tolkien tropes . The scene on the mountain resemles the climax of Lord of the Rings exept that Cary’s is freedom loving , life afferming, human & does not require a deau ex machina.
    Speaking of Deau , the behaviour gods are the most irritating thing in the story – they lead Morin arround by going hot, cold, cold , hot, hot – found it. Could they not be clearer or at least have a reason for beeing obscure.

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  15. Jia
    Sep 30, 2009 @ 04:29:06

    @Francesco: Considering that Moirin comes from Carey’s Scotland/Great Britain analogue, I will still maintain that Moirin is white. As for the D’Angelline reaction towards her, I attribute that to their xenophobic ways.

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