Review of Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey
by Jacqueline Carey
Now that’s how you end a series.
Naamah’s Blessing is the swan song of Moirin, half–Maghuin Dhonn, half-D’Angeline. Moirin has ventured as far eastwards as Ch’in, where she saves a princess and a dragon. In this novel she goes westwards. After a brief stop in Terre d’Ange, it’s off to Terra Nova, where she hopes to find Prince Thierry alive and bring him back to Terre d’Ange to deal with an opportunistic regent. Raphael de Mereliot awaits Moirin in Terra Nova, though, and he isn’t entirely sane any more.
The first part of this book is a nice, almost relaxing reminder of what it’s like to exist in D’Angeline high society. Carey once again shows how uncomfortable Moirin is with interacting with the nobility: she possesses the social graces but not necessarily the acuity needed to navigate the dangerous social terrain. She always tries to do the right thing, but she goes about it in very direct ways that tend to upset a lot of people, which isn’t her intention at all. Eventually, Moirin is forced to admit that the most good she can do is to fetch Thierry, whom most people believe lost forever, back to Terre d’Ange.
Once we hit Terra Nova, the plot thickens and the action gets more intense. Carey chronicles their journey through Mexican and Panamanian jungles down towards the mountains of the alter-Incan empire (Tawantinsuyo). Moirin and her party have to deal with all sorts of obstacles, from the boorish Aragonians to the human-sacrificing Nuhuatl (alter-Aztecs) to the more natural impediments of a jungle. People die. A lot of people die. And once they arrive in Tawntinsuyo territory, they discover that Raphael has set himself up as a god.
I still can’t bring myself to enjoy Raphael as an antagonist. He’s just not all that scary. In the first book, the most interesting part of the conflict between him and Moirin was the way he was manipulating her innocence. She felt obligated to help him, not because of outright threat (at least not until the end) but because she thought it was the right thing to do. The tragedy isn’t anything Raphael does so much as Moirin’s own naivety. In this book, Moirin is older and wiser and having none of it. Raphael comes off as unhinged and rather uninteresting.
No, the best things about this book are the natural perils that Moirin and party face, along with the moral conflicts that Moirin experiences as she tries to defeat Raphael. He makes her swear an oath on her diadh-anam, and if she breaks it, she loses that “spark” and all her magic. More importantly, because half of it is what brought Bao back to life, if she loses it, he dies! But it increasingly looks like the only way out might be the very human sacrifice that seems so despicable…. I rather wish Carey had interrogated the depths of this moral ambiguity more thoroughly. As it is, though, it’s pretty engaging.
Naamah’s Blessing also exemplifies the spirit of this series quite well. The numerous charges that Moirin is a Mary Sue have some weight. She does seem to make an inordinate number of people love her for little reason other than that she’s got some goddess in her. This book is no exception, and it seems like almost everyone except Raphael decides to be a good person just because Moirin is such an inspirational example.
If we can look beyond the flaw of this particular character, though, let’s acknowledge what Carey is doing with characters like Phèdre and Moirin. This world is thinly-veiled analogue to our own history, a history that is sadly lacking in many prominent women figures, at least the way the tales get told in school. Here, we have a woman exploring the wilderness of South America instead of yet another man. Magic aside, Carey’s confident heroines provide a healthy dose of “what if” and a reminder that the historical narrative of Great Men foisted upon us by tradition is just that—narrative, not indelible fact.
This trilogy is nowhere near as awesome as the first one, but a fair sight better than the second (sorry, Imriel, but you know it’s true). You don’t need to have read either preceding series to understand or enjoy these books. But if you’re just starting out, my recommendation would be Kushiel’s Dart. The original remains the best.