Book Review: Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey
The adventures of Moirin mac Fainche continue in Naamah’s Blessing, the third book of her trilogy. It all started years ago, when Moirin left her idyllic home in the wilderness of Alba to fulfill a destiny, seeking to do the will of the Maghuin Dhonn. Her travels have since brought her to the far reaches of the earth, but it appears still the gods have more in store.
Upon her return to Terre D’Ange, Moirin finds the realm in a state of unease. The royal family is broken, with Prince Thierry, heir to the throne, absent on an expedition to faraway Terra Nova. King Daniel, bereaved over the death of Queen Jehanne, is too distracted to rule. Their young daughter the Princess Desiree is troubled and neglected, her future and happiness in question. Times are rife with uncertainty and political instability.
The story ofNaamah’s Blessing also has its roots in the events from the first book. When Moirin first journeyed to Terre D’Ange seeking answers in the land of her father’s ancestors, her encounters with the D’Angeline people did more than teach her about her heritage — it also opened up a window to a brand new world. In her naivete, Moirin allowed herself to be manipulated by the charms of Raphael de Merliot, becoming entangled in his plot to summon a fallen angel. Their efforts ultimately ended in failure — but a costly and deadly one.
Now faced the mistakes of her past, Moirin must take on a dangerous quest to make amends and embark on one final voyage to fulfill her destiny. The future of Terre D’Ange and the lives of people she loves depend on it.
I adore Jacqueline Carey, ever since the day I first discovered the Kushiel’s Legacy series. I still remember the wonder and awe I felt when I finished reading Kushiel’s Dart, the epic story that started it all. I’ve been addicted to her books ever since.
Devouring the rest of novels in the series including her second trilogy featuring Prince Imriel, I was thrilled when I heard Ms. Carey was planning on writing a third trilogy set in the same universe, though it would take place generations later, focusing on a half-D’Angeline child of the Maghuin Dhonn. I looked forward to it with anticipation.
And now that Moirin’s trilogy is finally complete, I must admit the experience has been both frustrating and gratifying. On the one hand, I feel it is not as strong as the previous two trilogies, yet on the other, I am probably being unfair by making comparisons. After all, Moirin’s story was likely meant to explore a different direction, and expand the world of Kushiel’s Legacy.
I ended up enjoying Naamah’s Blessing quite a bit, but it took some time to get there. I was not initially impressed with the first half of the book, underwhelmed by a rather uninspiring and self-indulgent introduction. There were various attempts at twists and turns, but not once did I find myself feeling any suspense, predicting many of the major steps in the plot that were meant to set up the story. As such, I felt none of the emotional blows I was meant to feel, but simply became increasingly frustrated at how all the events felt forced and telegraphed.
Still, while I thought the first half of the book was lackluster, I have to say the second half made up for much of it. It was Moirin’s expedition to Terra Nova that provided the turning point, and it was then I started feeling the thrill again, and marveled at Ms. Carey’s way of building new worlds.
I don’t mind it when she takes us to faraway places, showing us there is indeed a lot more beyond the borders of Terre D’Ange. Since Naamah’s Curse, Moirin has traveled the world, from exotic Ch’in to the dry plains of the Tatar Steppes, from remote Vralia to the lush lands of Bhodistan. The only regret I have is that all this jumping around does not do these places justice. With so many settings, it is impossible to give the same level of attention to the details. Terra Nova, however, received better treatment. I do very much enjoy the way each geographical area and culture in the series corresponds to one in the real world, and I love reading how Carey shapes each place to her owm vision. She succeeded in drawing me in again with her descriptions of this new frontier.
The story itself was nothing elegant, but it was exciting nonetheless. Once Moirin and her companions started on their journey, it was hard to stop turning the pages until the climax was reached and her destiny resolved. D’Angelines are people used to a life of comfort and decadent luxury, so it also something else to read about them out of their element, trekking through the dangerous and unforgiving jungles of Terra Nova.
I have to admit I was never a big fan of Moirin, but after this book I started liking her more. Being so used to the strength and quiet poise of Phedre no Delaunay, it took some time to accept Moirin’s voice and her sometimes emotional and impulsive nature. I still got annoyed every time the narrative talked about her eyes stinging or filling with tears, but I think I’ve finally come to terms with her character. Moirin may seem childish sometimes, but her youth also gives her an energetic and lively view of her life’s challenges, which I came to appreciate in this book.
I also started to like her companion and romantic interest Bao a lot more. His character hasn’t been very popular with fans for some reason. Still, while he’s no Joscelin Verreuil, Bao has been much developed over the last three books and he is very much one of Jacqueline Carey’s men. I’ve always admired her talent for writing male characters, and over time she has given Bao the same treatment she has given to others like Barquiel L’Envers or Hyacinthe, transforming him into a hero I can respect.
There are, however, things I felt the book missed. Once again, Moirin is off to single-handedly save the world and right all its wrongs, but thankfully this was not as overdone as the last book. Still, the outcomes of the novel were very predictable. It is an irony that while Moirin being a child of the Maghuin Dhonn possesses a connection with magic, her story felt markedly less magical than the previous two trilogies. It was like something faded away from the series after Prince Imriel’s trilogy. I’ve always felt Moirin’s story lacked a focus, her mysterious destiny a tenuous reason for her adventures at best.
A lot of it has to do with so much of the plot feeling so convenient, such as the timely insertion of a usurping regent as an antagonist in the beginning of the book, or the child princess Desiree, three years old when she first meets Moirin, but who happens to be the spitting image of her mother Jehanne and acts and speaks in a way beyond her years. It’s discomfiting, even when it is explained to the reader that she is unusually precocious for her age. Or even Raphael de Merliot, the book’s main villain. While he poses a real and dangerous threat to Moirin and our heroes, his wickedness is one-sided, and he has none of the subtlety or delightful avarice, of say, Melisande Shahrizai whom we all loved to hate.
Overall, however, I still really liked this book. The trilogy really picked itself up following the last installment, and I also liked it for its themes of deities and destinies. Throughout her many adventures, Moirin has to remind herself time and time again that things get ugly when mortals misinterpret the will of the gods.