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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Naamah's Kiss" by Jacqueline Carey (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Jacqueline Carey Website
Order "Naamah's Kiss" HERE(US) and HERE(Europe/Overseas)
Read the first chapter from "Naamah's Kiss" HERE

INTRODUCTION:
Jacqueline Carey is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically-acclaimed Kushiel's Legacy series, The Sundering epic fantasy duology, and her Imriel Trilogy that follows the first three Kushiel novels. Recently she has published a different type novel, the present day fantasy Santa Olivia.

Fantasy Book Critic's reviewers Robert and Liviu are big fans of Ms. Carey's work and we have reviews of "Kushiel's Justice"(Imriel #2 or #5 overall) HERE, "Kushiel's Mercy" (Imriel #3 or #6 overall and the ending of the Phedre/Imriel series) HERE with a Bonus Q/A too which makes instructive reading as to how plans adjust as time goes, as well as a full 2007 interview with the author HERE.

As usual, the above means that "Naamah's Kiss" came with huge expectations and I am happy to say that it delivered in spades becoming Liviu's top fantasy for 2009 so far and likely to stay there.

OVERVIEW: The popular series of which "Naamah's Kiss" is the seventh installment though set four generations later is featuring the descendants of Elua and his Companions. The first six books divided into 2 trilogies set several years apart, deal with the legacy of Kushiel, the God of Pain and Justice, while this one introduces a descendant of Naamah who is the Goddess of Desire. The are set in alternate Earth cca 15th century for the first 6 and cca 16th century for this one. The countries/geography are pretty much the same with names that are quite clear for the "real Earth" analogs as well as a history that is both similar and different form the "real one", so for example there is a Carthaginian state now.

The series has been so popular that there is a detailed Wiki about its setting with lots and lots of information about anything you want to know. There are spoilers for the first six novels of course so beware if you have not read them, but I will refer anyone to the Wiki for more detailed information.

As with all the novels so far, "Naamah's Kiss" is narrated by the main character, in this case Moirin a "bear witch" of Alba, ie a druid with some magical powers from "alt-England", that is half-Angeline (ie "half-French"), her father being a priest of Naamah.

The Goddesses - Naamah and the Maghuin Dhonn druid goddess - took a hand in her conception at a festival where her father and mother met for the first and only time so far. Moirin is also descended from Alais de la Courcel in a direct maternal line so she is a distant cousin of the Angeline royal family.


Other main characters are Queen Jehanne, former top Night Court "adept" (ie former top courtesan of Terre Ange) and second wife of King Daniel Courcel, her lover and dabbler in magical arts Raphael de Mereliot, elderly Ch'in wizard Lo Feng and his factotum disciple and martial arts expert Bao who are honored guests of the Angeline court, as well as quite a few others that you will encounter in the fullness of time.

"Naamah's Kiss" stands at 645 pages divided into 89 chapters with a map of the "Old World" at the beginning. In keeping to the 16th century analogy there is talk of the Aragonian (ie Iberian) discovery of the "New World" and its strange inhabitants - in European eyes of course.

ANALYSIS: I could do a one liner here: just superb, the "Naamah's Kiss" has everything you want in a fantasy - great characters, wonderful world building and prose that flows smoothly and sensuously, as well as being a page turner end to end.

But let us take each claim from the above. You cannot get a more compelling fantasy heroine than Moirin. She is "claimed" by two Goddesses as their own, though her first allegiance is to the Maghuin Dhonn who sends her to find her destiny. She is a woman of her world with no psychological hang-ups about sex or friendship and she follows the precepts of Elua with glee.

In Alba the customs are slightly different so when the local lord' son, childhood friend, companion and later lover wants to marry her, Moirin is frightened since she definitely does not want to be tied to one man for now, but she is also young and naive so she hesitates to make the required clean break. The Alban inheritance being matrillineal, and Moirin's line being royal the marriage would have been an unexpected and not quite welcome favor for the lord's family but destiny not family awaits our heroine.

S
he has magical powers, small by historical Alban standards but not negligible in the present in which the Maghuin Dhonn took away most magic from her people after the events chronicled in Kushiel's Justice and alluded here. And she can shoot the bow well too, so saving the lives of royal or imperial heirs may be in the cards with both magical and mundane means.

Moirin also gets to take many lovers of both sex as befits a Naamah descendant even though she refuses formal "adepthood" keeping her druidic roots. As in the first six volumes the many sensual scenes are very explicit but very tastefully done, no crudity or sexploitation here.

The rest of the main characters from Jehanne and Raphael to Master Lo and Bao and several more to be discovered later, are very memorable, larger than life true, but that is the intent and it succeeds magnificently. No forgettable characters here.

The world building - well check the detailed Wiki linked above and you will get the flavor of it. The only thing I would add that Terre Ange and the rest of Ms. Carey's alt-Earth forms the best fantasy world I've ever read about and the one I would like the most to live in.

For the prose, I linked to an excerpt above and I am sure there are tons of excerpts online from the first 6 novels too so I will leave you to decide, no need for quotes.

And there is action, magical acts and creatures, while the novel rolls from page 1 to its end which though it came 640 odd pages later, it came way too early for me!! The ending is excellent tying many threads and the book is almost a standalone though the ending is a clear beginning too.


If there is one small criticism I had about the first Kushiel book, it was that the setup took a while so the novel had about 200 slower pages at the beginning until it truly got going, but here the action starts immediately when 10 year old Moirin slices Cillian's peach offering with an arrow.

As an additional bonus, you can start reading the series here without reading the first six books, and you will be most likely compelled to read them after you will love this one.

Highly, highly recommended and top 09 fantasy for me.

13 comments:

The Reader said...

Hi Liviu

I haven't read this series by JC however I did read & enjoy her Sundering duology.

If one reads NK directly, is it easy to grasp the plot & world structure?

Thanks for the review.

Mihir

Liviu said...

Naamah's Kiss is self-contained - no need to know anything about the previous series - though of course there are many allusions and tons of spoilers.

The world of the series is Earth with a somewhat different history and with a different theological worldview but again it's easy to figure out what's what.

In many ways Naamah's Kiss is a perfect series entrance if you have not read the rest

suzie said...

Wow, great review! I am a huge Kushiel fan and this book has been on my list, but I haven't gotten it yet. I will definitely have to do that asap!

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words.

Now the series moved into Naamah's territory so I guess Kushiel legacy is not quite adequate anymore

Anyway I have no doubt you will love this one if you loved the first 6...

tori said...

Liviu,

I have to say... its very difficult to explain in words exactly what is so fantastic about the Kushiel series, and you've done a fantastic job.

I just found out about Naamah's Kiss yesterday, but was hesitant to buy, since Imriel and Phedre won't be in it. However, your review has definitely peaked my interest. I'm practically jumping out of my seat waiting for work to be over so I can go get a copy.

Thank you for such a fantastic review!!

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; I had the same fear about no Phedre/Imriel and the rest spoiling the series so I did not even ask for a review copy..

So I was waiting for the June 24 official release and imagine my surprise when I saw the book in Borders on June 14 - I opened it and 100 pages later when I left the store cafe, the book came with me and I finished it that weekend.

Not exactly Kushiel, but something I got recommended based on it and I loved a lot is the S. Micklem series Firethorn (pub 2004/05) and now the superb, superb sequel Wildfire (tbp July 7, full rv here of both next week)

Ed said...

I just finished reading this latest installment from jacqueline Carey. Unbelievably brilliant! She just gets getting better and better as an author. This is what fine literature is all about!

mark said...

JC is one of my favourite authors at the moment. I've read six D'Angeline novels (just waiting for the last Imriel one) and I have enjoyed them all immensely.

Felt slightly depressed when I finished Namaah's Kiss. Not because the ending is sad or depressing but because I knew I will have to wait for far too long for the next one.

deiscordia said...

Just one question about this series. How does it connect to the other six books. Like generation and family wise... are there characters who are related to characters from the first books (like sons and daughters of Imriel).

Liviu said...

It's some 3-4 generations and the heirs of Imriel are reigning in D'Angeline lands, while Moirin descends from Alias in direct maternal line - I think she is 4th generation, could be 5th. There is a place in the novel her descent is spelled out with all the names of the intervening women.

There is a discussion in the book about how the succession went, who reigned after Imriel/Sidonie up to the days of this novel.

As the big picture goes, the first series would correspond to mid-1400's this one to mid-1500's when the "world" is opening with talks of the discovery of America - forgot how is called here ...

cecilym214 said...

I JUST got finished with this book and it was my first time with Ms. Carey's work...

Can I just say, superb!! Like you mentioned, it is EVERYTHING one want's in a fantasy fiction work. Absolutely enthralled me front to back. I read the whole book in a matter of 7 days!! I was sorely disappointed when I realized I had reached the last page :( BUT very happy to learn that this book is a part of a series! I went to Miss Carey's website and to my delight saw that there is a Namaah's Curse! I am buying it as we speak...

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I was such an amazing fan of both Pheadre and Imriel's stories that I jumped at the chance to continue my stay in Terre D'Ange, however, after reading three chapters or so, I put the book down (something I rarely do with Carey's books...) and left it for a good week before forcing myself to pick it up again and finish it.

It was just so AMAZINGLY shallow in comparison! None of the characters seemed to have the flaws and quirks that made the previous two trilogies so enticing, and Moirin was just 1 dimensional and flat as a character to me, she had no spice or flair other than her use of the word 'Aye' and the term 'Stone and Sea'....which became awfully tiring, as did the fact she didn't seem to have to fight for anything....everyone in the entire world seemed to fall instantly in love with her for no apparent reason!

I didn't feel a connection to her or anyone else is the universe, especially Cillian, who seemd to just exist as a way for her to loose her virginity.
The only mildly interesting character was her mother, but when Moirin left Alba she was barely remembered.

I was sorely dissapointed and shall not be buying anymore of this series, but I definently hope other people have a better experience than I.

Liviu said...

I am sorry the book did not work for you though hopefully the author's new series which I am really curious also about will.

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