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Monday, June 14, 2010

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

Official Jacqueline Carey Website
Order "Naamah's Curse" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Naamah's Kiss"
Read FBC Review of "Kushiel's Justice"
Read FBC Review of "Kushiel's Mercy"

INTRODUCTION: The universe of Elua's Companions created by Jacqueline Carey is the most fascinating fantasy world for me as of today. This universe is an alt-Earth with some major changes and subtle magic and the setting of the superb Kushiel's Legacy six volume cycle - which is my number one finished fantasy series.

Last year the author started another cycle set about a hundred years later which makes it a 16th century analog and featuring fourth generation descendants of the Kushiel's Legacy characters, this time dedicated to Naamah another of Elua's Companions. While Kushiel represents the darker side with pain and suffering as essential attributes and the original novels strongly reflect that, Naamah represents pure desire and physical love and appropriately Naamah's Kiss was an exuberant novel with an unforgettable heroine and was an A++ and a top novel of mine for 2009.

Naamah's Curse became a Top 10 expected novel of 2010 and while having a bit the weakness of a transitional middle novel that moves the heroes a lot around without settling too much, it still was an excellent novel that I could not put down once started since the voice of Moirin has remained extremely compelling.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: Naamah's Curse stands at about 560 pages divided into 82 numbered chapters There is a nice map in the beginning of the book that will help with the naming conventions, though they are more or less obvious from the context anyway. As in Naamah's Kiss, Moirin narrates while the missing Bao who left our heroine to "find his roots" after the dramatic events at the end of the previous novel is the other main character.

The universe of the series expands dramatically here since we see the equivalents of Mongolia, Central Asia, India and the Himalayas, as well as more of Russia which we had also seen in the fifth Kushiel novel. There is a promise that the next volume will finally go to the New World and we get tidings of the current happenings in Terre Ange too. While transitional, Naamah's Curse has a clear and quite nice and definite ending and the next novel will be another top 10 expected book, hopefully for 2011.

Naamah's Curse is fantasy adventure at the border with epic and part of a series that is as good as fantasy gets.

ANALYSIS: Naamah's Curse starts where Naamah's Kiss ends and I would strongly recommend to read that one first since otherwise a lot of the motivations of Moirin and Bao will be unclear. Alone in the great empire of Chin, Moirin enjoys the favor of the Emperor and his daughter, but the goddess fragment in her soul aches for its severed half that she can feel pretty much at any distance, so on she goes towards the steppe and winter is coming...

And here we have the first thematic difference with Naamah's Kiss which started exuberantly in a world full of life and while it had its share of tragedies, by and large continued that way to the end. Here on the other hand and befitting the title, the book starts in a bleak environment and to a large extent continues that way with both human scale darkness from treachery to fanaticism to enslavement of others and with nature at its raw, which is best exemplified both in the steppe crossing and later in the Tibetan plateau adventure.

Faced with this, Moirin who is essentially a creature of light and life lived to the full has to adapt and find the necessary inner resources, especially when cruel fanatics find a way to chain her magic that not only she cannot use it, but also Bao's half of the diadh-anam cannot feel it so he would naturally assume her dead and believe the implied lies about that.

So in a sense
Naamah's Curse turns to be a true star-crossed lovers novel on a large geographical canvas that will take us to all the places mentioned above. I really loved this expansion of the series universe and the many people and cultures encountered by Moirin on her trek add a lot to the depth of the novel.

I am of two minds about the darker tone of the novel with respect to Naamah's Kiss; on one hand I think it develops Moirin quite effectively and keeps Naamah's Curse fresh, avoiding repetition, but on the other hand I still believe that Moirin's nature makes her much more suited to an exuberant novel as opposed for example to Phedre of the first three Kushiel novels.

The other reservation I had about the book concerning its "middle" novel status is less important in a way, since after all this series is structured so far as back-to-back novels - or if you want as a huge novel split into several parts - so the ultimate judgment about its effectiveness and all-around balance has to wait for the last volume - again in opposition to the first 3 Kushiel novels which succeeded one another at 2 and then 10 years intervals, so each worked more or less as a standalone.

The style of the novel is the same outstanding one of all the author's works and there is a lot of action in a novel that's a page turner end to end, but those things were expected since I have not yet seen a Jacqueline Carey novel to disappoint there.

Naamah's Curse (Strong A) is an excellent follow-up to the brilliant Naamah's Kiss and I recommend it without reserves for any lovers of exquisite fantasy.


Jon said...

I've been looking forward to this one for a while. It's on my hold list at the library, so I should get it soon. I thought all of the Kushiel's Legacy series was marvelous, and NK was great, but I was disappointed in the past by Santa Olivia and even more by the Banewreaker stuff, so I can't say that she's always good.

Boyd said...

I was less enthusiastic about this book. I agree with your observation about its exuberance, but I'm finding that Carey's Moirin and Snow Tiger and Bao are too "perfect" for me. I miss having characters that struggle with at least some part of themselves. Here, the flaws are so minor and the strengths so overplayed that I never really feel the tension of character development and evolution.

I also don't find the culture of Ch'in well developed and described here. I think Carey uses some stereotypes that most of us have been exposed to, but most of the time allows it to bend towards the Angeline way. Moirin's last bedding is one striking example. Generally, you never really the tension between what Moirin is and believes and that of the Ch'in people. It's mentioned, but Carey never really applies her good descriptive talents towards making us *feel* it.

Not saying it was bad. I found it an easy and pleasant read. It just wasn't great.

Boyd said...

Sorry, please post my last comment "Boyd" for Naamah's Kiss, not N's Curse


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