Chunkster Challenge, Book 1:
Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
Hardcover: 9780446198035 $26.99
(If you want to know what I mean by "Chunkster Challenge," refer to my blog post here.)
Naamah's Kiss is the first book in the third trilogy in the fantasy world created by Jacqueline Carey. The first trilogy followed the as yet unsurpassed story involving Phedre and Joscelin, Terre d'Ange, Kushiel's blessing/curse, and the fate of the world. The books in the first trilogy are Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen, and Kushiel's Avatar. The second trilogy followed Phedre and Joscelin as their lives intertwined with the fate of the nation and the fate of Imriel de la Courcel, son of D'Angeline royalty and the nation's most famous traitor. This series is comprised of Kushiel's Scion, Kushiel's Justice, and Kushiel's Mercy. Now, a third trilogy is going to hit shelves in June.
Naamah's Kiss is a softer read than the previous trilogies. I'm sorry, but nothing has come close to touching the political intrigue with fascinating historical and religious references and wrestlings combined with the compelling (and at times heartwrenching) love story. Not to mention, let's be honest, Jacqueline Carey knows how to write a smokin' sex scene. In Naamah's Kiss, we lose a lot of (my personal favorite) the interesting bits - the politics, the way Carey alludes to our own knowledge of world history and religions morphed into the world she has created, and the sacrifices made in the name of honor, duty, and most importantly, love. There is a certain passion missing in Naamah's Kiss, despite the very evident passionate love scenes. Or maybe it's not missing, entirely, maybe it's just quieter, and as I'm used to this bold, reckless style, it's hard to switch gears and properly appreciate the quiet dedication of a softer personality, a softer love.
Whatever the reason, I was a bit disappointed at what I saw as the lack of additional interesting story elements to pad out a so-so twisting plot. The part of the book that held my attention the most was actually the beginning, when we learn of Moirin - the main character - and her childhood spent with her mother, living in a cave, learning the wild ways of the Maghuin Dhonn, the oldest tribe in Alba. Descended of Alban/D'Angeline royalty, half Maghuin Dhonn, half D'Angeline by birth, Moirin's secluded upbringing has allowed her to grow independent, wise, free-thinking, yet naive in the ways of the rest of the world. This naivete, while originally charming, quickly irritated me when she failed to have a backbone at certain points in the story. I'm sure it's not often that a reader asks for more plot complications, but there were a few elements in the story that seemed far too pat for me to believe; knowing Carey's writing as I do, she is capable of more.
The second half of the novel, when Moirin (who left Alba for Terre d'Ange, at which point the plot and her personality had the consistency of a wet blanket) leaves Terre d'Ange for Ch'in, is where I was expecting to find that fascinating filler of information on this new culture, but was left a little disappointed. The high point of the second half of the novel was not actually the love story between Moirin and Bao - which, btw, I called the moment his character was introduced, and I'm not saying that in a complimentary way - but instead was the 3-way relationship between the Princess, the dragon imprisoned within her, and Moirin - the only person to whom the dragon would listen. Carey does write a good adventure story from this point on, but the tentative, lukewarm, barely blossoming feelings between Moirin and Bao paled in comparison to the begrudging respect, agonizing courtship, and eventual passionate love between Phedre and Joscelin (who you can't help but compare them to).
This book did end well, and I look forward to reading more about Moirin's trek into the land of the Tartars, following the other half of her heart and soul. Perhaps she'll find a little more plot, my favorite - cultural, religious, and historical elements, and some backbone there.