98% chimpanzee, 100% crazy wizard writer

I can still hear Jim Butcher’s sing-song, “I’m not gonna tell you” ringing in my ears from his Q & A session at the Barnes & Noble in Buckhead. He chanted that refrain every time someone in the crowd tried to trip him up with a spoiler about Harry Dresden’s future adventures.

The fans only got him once. There was a minor reveal about a fallen angel hiding the shadows, whispering in Harry’s ear in Ghost Story, Harry’s latest outing. It isn’t totally obvious in the book that we’ve seen this character before, or that we might see her again in one of Harry’s later adventures, and Butcher told us her name. But that was the only time he slipped, in spite of an hour of pretty intense fan interrogation.

I bought a dead-tree book. It’s not as if I wasn’t going to read Ghost Story anyway…but the one thing that physical books have all over ebooks is the ability to get the author to sign them.  I read the first 160 pages while I waited for my turn. And then I read the ending to see if I had guessed right. My bad. And that’s what the inscription on the book reads. “To Marlene, a bad girl who already read the ending.”

I finished the book this morning. I couldn’t quite manage to stay up last night, but after all, I’d gotten kind of a late start.

Ghost Story is awesome. It also marks a departure in the Dresden Files universe. When I first started reading the series, somewhere around Dead Beat, Harry’s Chicago and Harry’s world was pretty recognizably the Chicago I knew. Since I had lived in Chicago for a lot of years, it was pretty cool that Harry’s Chicago was only about a half step away.

After Changes, when Harry dies, his world diverges pretty dramatically from the world we know. In a lot of urban fantasies, the mundanes (or muggles) are able to ignore the magic in the world.   But with Harry out of the picture, that seems less and less possible.  There’s just too much bad stuff going down.

It’s not just that Harry is dead. It’s that his death has sent the world spiraling downhill fast. For all his many faults, Harry was the biggest thing (sometimes literally) standing between the light and the darkness. And being large, he cast a huge shadow. A lot of bad things avoided Chicago because that was Harry’s turf. And a lot of bad things just plain hid in their holes because they didn’t want to attract Harry’s attention. But with Harry out of the picture…stuff happens. And big men leave big shoes to fill. Harry’s friends, and even his enemies, try to fill them, but it just isn’t quite enough.

Ghost Story story is not a happy book. In Changes, Harry decides he’s going to save his daughter, even if it kills him. It does. As a ghost, he has to clean up the mess he left behind. And if there is one thing Harry always, always does, it is make one hell of a mess. But this time, the battle is for his soul, and the lives of his friends. And his city. Because even as a ghost, Chicago is still Harry’s town. Last time out, he had to save his daughter, and he did. This time, he has to save everyone.

And Jim Butcher was wearing Harry’s shirt. “98% Chimpanzee.” Cool.

Hunting Kat

Hunting Kat by PJ Schnyder is an ebook-only science fiction romance published by Carina Press. It’s also the first book in the author’s new Triton Experiment series.

The title character is Kaitlyn Darah, member of a mercenary spaceship’s crew on the outer edge of human explored space. But Kat has a secret. Sometimes, she really is a cat. She shapeshifts into a panther as a result of a bio-engineering experiment that was forced on her three years ago. Physically, she is super-human. Psychologically, she is still… recovering.

Her captain knows her secret. And he protects her from a government that would use her as a lab rat. Or is that lab cat? But he knows that after three years, she is ready to take the next step in her rehab, and start to join the human race again. He sends her on a courier job that will make her re-learn some social skills, by stranding her for two days for R and R.

Kat surprises herself by making a friend in Boggle, a beyond-stereotypical über-geek who can, and will, provide her with data on missions in return for simple friendship. A friendship that he needs every bit as badly as she does.

But Kat also meets a man in a bar and takes him back to her hotel room. This set up for a one night stand turns out to be anything but. Lt. Christopher Rygard is a warrior every bit as battered as Kat, but in his case, it’s his sense of trust that’s injured. His fiance sent him the typical “Dear John” missive just before his last mission. Bad enough, but it’s his trust in his commanders that has really taken a pounding. What used to be an elite squad that made a real difference, something he could believe in, has recently become an instrument for personal gain, or even nastier deeds. He goes into that bar looking for a decision on whether or not to re-up at the bottom of a glass of whiskey. and instead finds Kat.

Their night together was both tender and sexy. But the morning after was nothing but ugly, as both his trust issues and her insecurities resurfaced with a vengeance. But when a pack of leopard shifters burst into their “morning after” intent on killing Rygard because his unit stole their cubs, everything changes.

Escape Rating B: This was a quick introduction to the series. Only 25,000 words long, this story kept me entertained for an hour, but it was a very well spent hour. Be advised, this story doesn’t lead to a happily ever after, but these two characters aren’t ready for one, either. What they are ready for is growth and healing, and the promise of happy later, hopefully together. They end up in much better places then they started, and that was happy ending enough for this reader.

Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves by David Chandler is the first title in The Ancient Blades trilogy. It is also a thoroughly delicious tale in the old school known as sword and sorcery.

As in all the best sword and sorcery stories, our hero is not exactly a hero. To be specific, Malden is a thief. He’s the bastard son of a whore, and thieving was the only profession open to him that allowed him to make a living. But Malden is good at it. And, important for any sword and sorcery hero, or should I say anti-hero, Malden is a survivor.

Malden finds himself on the wrong side of the head of the Thieves’ Guild of Ness. How does he do that? By being a little too good at being a thief, and burgling a house under the Guild’s protection…successfully. But entry into the Guild’s membership costs more than Malden will earn in a lifetime. So, he looks for a way to earn a lifetime’s worth of gold, fast.

In the best, or is that worst, sword and sorcery tradition, Malden gets in over his head. He gets involved in a scheme to steal the crown of the head of state, the Burgrave. His commission comes from a sorceress and a knight carrying an “Ancient Blade” that is called Acidtongue for very good reasons.

But the crown is not just a crown. And the knight is no longer truly a knight. And the sorceress, well she really is a witch, but witches aren’t exactly witches as we know them.

But there is a sorcerer involved, and he wants to bring down the city. And there is another knight involved, an idealistic knight who still believes in his vows, and he wants to rescue the witch. And Malden, he discovers that the hard part isn’t stealing the crown. The really hard part is stealing it back–while playing “keep away” from demons.

Escape Rating A: Sword and sorcery is fun if you like your laughter with a side of gallows humor. Den of Thieves is no exception. Malden is always one step ahead of his doom. Sometimes only a half step, but still ahead. His best hope is win another day. To survive. And he does. Or, at least so far.

Malden’s story continues in A Thief in the Night, which is due out in September. Malden is so good at getting himself into trouble, I can’t wait to see what he does next!


It’s almost a universal concept. The person your child looks like they are going to marry just isn’t good enough for them. The definition of “good enough” may vary, but the idea probably occurred to the first caveman’s parents when he dragged a cavewoman home from the cave next door.

In Nicola Cornick‘s latest Regency romp, Notorious, she takes the concept to a whole new level. Betrothals were broken if one of the parties proved unfaithful before the marriage was solemnized. After the wedding, of course, the rules were a little different. But what if a young man’s parents really, really wanted to prevent his marriage to an unsuitable young lady? What if they could hire a professional “betrothal breaker” to tempt him away from someone they were just certain wasn’t, in this particular case, blue-blooded enough for their tastes?

There weren’t, as far as history records, any such things as professional “match breakers”, but that hasn’t stopped Cornick from creating a story centered around one.

Susanna Burney has been hired to prevent the impending match between Fitzwilliam Alton, the heir to the Duke of Alton, and Francesca Devlin, the rather impoverished sister of Lord James Devlin. Miss Devlin isn’t well enough bred for the son of a Duke. Not to mention, the Duke and Duchess of Alton fear she is a fortune-hunter. Unfortunately for Francesca, she really is in love with Mr. Alton. It is her brother, Lord Devlin, who is the fortune-hunter. James Devlin has been dancing attendance on Emma Brooke for two years, waiting for her to finally give him her hand, and her fortune.

Susanna Burney’s introduction into the London Season as the mysterious widow “Lady Carew” causes havoc, not just with Francesca’s plans, but also with Devlin’s own. Dev has met the lady before. However, he was informed, by her family no less, that the lady was dead. If he had not been so certain of her death, he would never have proposed marriage to the rich and possessive Emma, as Susanna Burney is Devlin’s wife.

This is a Regency farce that starts out with two couples and ends with three. At the beginning, James Devlin is unhappily engaged to Emma Brooke. He is a former adventurer who is marrying her money. She is a spoiled rich girl who wanted to marry an adventurer and is disappointed that he has become respectable. Francesca Devlin hopes she has an “understanding” with Frederick Alton. She loves him. He is a cad who intends to use her and then throw her away.

Enter Susanna Burney, masquerading as the mysterious Lady Carew. Her job is to seduce Alton away from Francesca, to the point where he proposes marriage, and then break the engagement a month or so later. Her plans start to fall apart the minute that she and Devlin meet. He has spent the last eight years believing himself a widower. She, on the other hand, has always known that he was among the living. Her reasons for not seeking him out are just one of the many secrets that lie between them.

Escape Rating B: Notorious was a great way to spend an afternoon. I wanted James Devlin to find a happy ending for himself, and I knew from the very beginning that Emma Brooke was not the right girl for him. I think she got what she deserved in the end, and I don’t want to spoil the surprise. However, I found the character of Susanna to be somewhat contradictory, and it bothered me. She was a professional “matchbreaker”, and her “job” was to be sophisticated and seductive. And yet, she had managed to keep all of the men she had previously become engaged to not just out of her bed but had kept their hands off her as well! This stretched the bounds of either her luck or my fictional belief, even for a romance. But not enough to keep me from finishing the book at breakneck speed!

The Taming of the Rake

The Taming of the Rake, by Kasey Michaels, is the first book in her new trilogy about the Blackthorn brothers.

The most important thing to remember about the Blackthorn brothers is that they are bastards. That’s not a value judgment, it’s a statement of fact. Their parents were not married, at least not to each other. Their father, the Marquis of Blackthorn, loved their mother, but married their aunt to protect her from being sent “away” because she was a bit, well, simple. Not to mention slightly fey. And their mother wanted to be an actress, not exactly a respectable pursuit for a Marchioness. So everyone came out ahead. Except for the Blackthorn boys. All three of them.

Beau, legally named but never called Oliver, is the oldest. And he is forcibly reminded of his bastardy by Thomas Mills-Beckman when Beau makes a quite respectable offer of marriage for Thomas’ sister Madelyn. Thomas has the servants horsewhip him for his effrontery, witnessed by the entire household, including Madelyn’s much younger sister Chelsea.

This is not the story of Beau’s and Madelyn’s thwarted love. Madelyn is not worth two minutes of Beau’s time. Beau takes his whipping like a man, picks up the shreds of his dignity and joins the Army. This is, after all a Regency, or close to it. Beau makes a name for himself at Waterloo. By the time he returns, Madelyn’s little sister has grown up.

The story is Beau’s and Chelsea’s story. Chelsea needs to escape from her brother Thomas’ desire to reform both himself and her by giving her in marriage to a scheming, fraudulent reverend with a perpetually wet mouth and wandering hands who only wants Chelsea for her access to her brother’s money. She throws herself on Beau’s probably non-existent mercy because she is sure he is the one man who will jump at the chance on using her to get revenge on her brother. And she is right. But instead of revenge, what Beau and Chelsea get is each other.

Escape Rating A: How Beau and Chelsea discover that what they really want is a future together is the heart of the story. These are two intelligent characters who find out that they have much more in common than a simple desire for revenge. On their way to Gretna Green for a hasty elopement, chased every step of the way, they still manage to have fun. And so does the reader.

This is just the first story. Beau has two brothers, each of whom should get his own book. I’m looking forward to them. The second brother Jack, seems to spy for the government at least some of the time, and he’s very secretive about it.  The youngest brother, Puck, wastes time as a “fribble”, in his own words. I also want to see if I’ve guessed right. I think their parents may really be married after all, but if it’s true, that will be part of the big finale at the very, very end. We’ll see.

Embracing the downloading present

In the ALA Virtual Conference, a presentation that can have an immediate impact for any library was “Download This! How One Library Embraced Its Downloadable Future”.  But it’s not about the downloadable future, it’s about the downloadable present!

For those who missed the ALA Virtual Conference, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County gave an excellent presentation about how they took the proverbial bull by its proverbial horns and pushed downloadable ebooks and eaudiobooks from backburner to front and center of their website, their service and their collection development. There was definitely a note of chagrin in their confession that just a couple of years ago, the best place for a person to learn about ebooks in the Cincinnati area was the local Barnes & Noble, not the library. (Full disclosure, my very first library job was as a page for PLC&HC many moons ago)

Although they may be a large library with a good-sized budget, the process that Sandy Bolek and Holbrook Sample outlined was a process that any library could tailor to their own circumstances.  And every library has circumstances.

The current statistics according to the Pew Research Center show that 12% of Americans own an eReader of some type. 8% of Americans own a tablet device, so an iPad or Android tablet. On the one hand, some of that ownership definitely overlaps (yours truly has both) but on the other hand, those statistics are a month old. They’ve undoubtedly changed–by rising. EReader ownership has tripled since the same time last year, and tablet ownership has doubled. Book sales are down in every category, except digital, which is up by 150+% according to the American Association of Publishers.

The July 25, 2011 issue of Shelf Awareness reports that, “Some 21% of reading group members are now reading all or most of their selections on e-readers, up from 11% in 2009…”  Reading groups are valued members of every library’s community. And one member out of five is reading their book on a reader.

If more than 1 person in 10 has an ereader, and 1 person in 5 in a reading group is reading their selections on an ereader, then, are downloadables the future, or are they now? What can your library do if it’s now?

Cincinnati’s plan is straightforward. Although this list is in order, it is also a continuous loop. Once you start, you don’t ever get to stop.
1.Collection to meet demand and holds
2.Staff training to be able to assist patrons
3.Website promotion to make downloads prominent and increase ease of use, FAQs, etc.
4.Marketing, marketing, marketing

Straightforward doesn’t mean easy. They spend 5% of their collection development funds on downloadables, and circulation has risen dramatically as a result. This is true for collection development in general. New material, popular material, brings new users. Older material, a collection that is not refreshed, does not have what people want, or doesn’t have anything in, frustrates people and turns them away.

Patrons need to know that the library doesn’t just have ebooks, but can help. Although the user experience is getting better as the products mature, it can be frustrating. If we want people to come to us, we have to be willing to help them, and to listen to them. Barnes & Noble will help them if we don’t.

We need to tell patrons that we have what they are looking for. People don’t assume that we have ebooks. Some people think we all still have white hair tucked up in a bun, and we know that’s not true. Why would they think we have ebooks unless we tell them? Barnes & Noble and Amazon put their Nook and their Kindle front and center on their websites.

At the Alachua County Library District, I went through many of the same steps that Cincinnati did. I also looked at the collection as it was, and the outside market, and realized that downloadables could be really huge for the library if they were focused on in the right way. Collection development for downloadables is a different animal in some ways than more traditional library formats, but the challenge is to work it into the library’s flow. Alachua also saw a jump in downloadable circulation of 300% from 2009 to 2010, and 2011 is on track for a similar increase. Giving the downloadable collection a prominent place on the library’s website will reap benefits. Making sure there is high-quality, constantly refreshed content when patrons go to your downloadables will bring them back time and time again.


Life after Harry

When I say “Harry”, I mean Harry Potter, of course.  Who else could I possibly mean?

The movie poster for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

Harry Potter fans have been in a curious kind of limbo since July 21, 2007, when the last book was released. We’ve all known how the story ends. But as long as the movies were still being released, the “illustrated” edition was, in effect, still putting out supplements. There were still some unknowns, just not very many. Now that saga, too, is complete.

There are generations yet unborn who will discover Harry for the first time, but there will never be another who will grow up exactly as he does, while he does. Even for those of us who read the series as adults, the experience of waiting for the next book, and speculating on what might happen will never be the same. All has been revealed.

The magic of Harry Potter was not in Diagon Alley, or even at Hogwarts Castle. It was in the overwhelming desire it created in both children and adults to pick up a book and READ! What comes next? Or who?

The inevitable lists have come out, suggesting books that people can turn to as alternatives. For example, Kirkus Reviews published a list of books called “For those suffering from Harry Potter withdrawal“. It’s a great idea, but I’d love to have seen more suggestions for adults suffering from Potter Withdrawal Syndrome (PWS, anyone?) and not just books for kids. And, of course, some of my favs are missing. Tamora Pierce belongs on any list for the magically inclined, either starting with Song of the Lioness or the Circle of Magic. And so does Diane Duane’s series starting with So you want to be a wizard.

Of course, Hollywood is looking for the next big blockbuster. Deathly Hallows 2 had the biggest opening weekend of any movie in history. It’s too bad they didn’t split it into three parts. Just think of all the money they could have made!

Or, if George R.R. Martin had held out for a series of movies instead of an HBO series for The Song of Ice and Fire. On second thought, that’s one saga that is better as a mini-series. Those books are huge. Condensing them to a mini-series was probably difficult enough.

However, io9‘s Facebook users have leapt into the breach and suggested a list of 10 fantasy book series that could replace Harry Potter at the movies. People were supposed to suggest series for their movie-worthiness; whether the books in question were “good” books or not is, as always, a matter of personal opinion. What was interesting about the list was that the books were not necessarily new, not necessarily popular, and not necessarily good. Having read 7 out of the 10 books listed, I’m can definitely testify to any of the above.

The number 1 listed series was Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. From 1936! These are classics. I mean, really classic. As in, Leiber not only coined the term “sword and sorcery” but Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are arguably among the foundation stories in the genre. If you’ve never had the pleasure the first book is Swords and Deviltry. Or, for a real treat, try the graphic novel version.

Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series was also listed. This is not a big surprise. The series is not just long, but it has a huge number of fans. Artemis Fowl was also mentioned, as he is frequently listed as a successor to Mr. Potter. I haven’t read him, but I have the first three books in the vast TBR pile.

The surprise of the list was Dragonlance. I had to groan. And I did read them, so I am entitled to my groan. I read the Dragonlance Chronicles on a Trans-Atlantic flight, when those were the only three books I had. I can’t sleep on airplanes. If I could have slept, believe me, I would have. Essentially, someone took a Dungeons and Dragons campaign and wrote it up into three books. The trilogy sold well enough that they managed to sell a second trilogy. That first book, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, was almost painful. But as I read it, I could see the writers learning their craft as the book progressed. By the end, it wasn’t too bad. But filming it?

I’d rather see anything else on the list. But then again, the first time I saw the trailer for Cowboys & Aliens, I thought it was either a joke or a video game. Whatever it is, it’s not a substitute for Harry Potter. Or John Wayne either, come to think of it.


Bye bye Borders

It’s time to say “Goodbye” to Borders. And, like the quote from T.S. Eliot, the bookstore giant seems to be ending, “not with a bang, but with a whimper.”

It began with a glad cry, at least on the part of a lot of book lovers. I remember when the first Borders opened in the Chicago exurbs. At that time, probably in the early 1990s, it was fantastic! There were truly marvelous bookstores in downtown Chicago at that time (the late, lamented Kroch’s and Brentano’s on Wabash comes to mind) but way out in the ‘burbs, the only bookstores were Walden’s and B.Dalton’s. If you wanted the best sellers, they were fine, but for a genre reader, they always left something to be desired. For true discovery, or simply just to browse for hours in utter contentment, an expedition downtown was required.  Downtown Chicago meant an hour driving each way, navigating traffic, paying for parking, etc., etc. It could be done, but it required some planning. It was an expedition.

Borders brought a real, total, complete bookstore, with the depth of Kroch’s, or close enough, within 15 minutes. And free parking. I could stop by whenever I wanted. It was bliss. If I found a book I liked, and it was part of a series, they usually had the whole series. Rack upon rack of magazines, in all kinds of esoteric subjects. Borders represented the instant gratification of this biblioholic’s desires, transplanted to suburbia.

But the bloom fell off the proverbial rose. Barnes & Noble moved in down the street. In many cases, quite literally.  Just like Walgreens moves in near CVS or Rite-Aid, and Safeway opens its grocery chain across from the Kroger’s or the Publix, B&N moved in near Borders. But B&N learned from Borders and outdid them. The B&N built a bigger parking lot. Or picked a location with slightly better traffic. And Barnes & Noble started a discount program. Borders never seemed to figure out how good an idea that was. Instead, Borders dropped the loyalty programs that B.Dalton’s and Walden’s used to have. B&N picked up goodwill, and Borders started generating badwill. The snowball began its slide down the hill.

The pattern repeated itself when bookselling moved online. Amazon became the world’s, possibly the universe’s, biggest bookseller. Barnes & Noble started their own online bookstore. Amazon discounts books sold online. B&N’s in-store discount program is also applicable online. What did Borders do? They gave away their online bookselling to Amazon. They gave away their future. And so they are gone

Now the future is in ebooks and online sales. Amazon sells more ebooks than it does print books of all kinds, paperback or hardcover. So does B&N. Barnes & Noble is Amazon’s remaining challenger in the bookselling marketplace. And is it any wonder that B&N’s CEO works from the headquarters of barnesandnoble.com, and not from the old, traditional headquarters of the bookstore division that all of his predecessors have used? The future is in selling many more bits than books.

Doctor Who and the Spam Planet

First of all, that’s not the real title. When I requested this title from NetGalley to review it, the official listed title was Doctor Who II Volume 1. That’s way too boring for the Doctor. And it’s not even technically correct. The publisher, IDW, lists it as Doctor Who Volume 2 #1. Still boring.

The graphic novel is definitely not boring. What it is is an absolute howl. After the wedding, Rory and Amy are traveling in the TARDIS, and Rory finds one of the many phones that the Doctor has spiffed up over the last few years for his human companions. So what does Rory do? Does he phone home? No, not our Rory. He signs it up for a data plan. Only one problem with that. The TARDIS may have lots of really neat features, but one of the things the old girl doesn’t have is a firewall.

The Doctor discovers what Rory has done when the TARDIS gets flooded with spam. And not just spam email, but spam holograms. Yes, spam gets much more sophisticated as the millenia move on, and this is not a GOOD THING. The poor TARDIS overloads, shuts herself down, and they crash. Nothing unusual in that. Howsomever, the TARDIS crashes on a planet chock-full of holograms, holograms and nothing but holograms. Many of whom are spam. And one little holographic stapler, who just wants to help.

And, in true Doctor Who style, the planet is about to be destroyed by intergalactic scroungers who are more than a wee bit annoyed that the holograms can’t be taken off-planet and sold as slaves.

There’s a good time to be had just in playing “spot the trope” among the various types of spam that the planet, the email run amok and the Doctor’s own plots foist on the raiders and on the readers.

This was lighthearted fun. I had a good time giggling with the story over my lunch. And the drawing of the characters worked for me. I know what the Doctor and Amy and Rory are supposed to look like. That can make it difficult for a graphic novel to be “close enough”. This one was. Some of the images of the Doctor were spot on, and he’s the character that matters most.

The adventure the Doctor has on the spam planet is just the lighthearted opener to a much more serious encounter with Jack the Ripper.  In The Doctor and the Ripper, it looks like the Doctor is going to get in some serious trouble, again.

Naamah’s Blessing

In Jacqueline Carey’s alternate world, Terre d’Ange is the center of the civilized universe. Or, at least it certainly thinks it is. And it is not so much different from the 15th century France that it most resembles. Use that information to give yourself a time and place reference for technology/industry/civilization and otherwise, let everything else slip away. The world of Terre d’Ange is not our world, except, perhaps as it might have been, if it had been founded by fallen angels. The theology of the world created by those fallen Angels, Elua and his Companions, is a story for another another time.

The gods use their chosen hard in Carey’s world. That was certainly the lesson in her first trilogy, the emotionally shattering trilogy introduced by Kushiel’s Dart. Our own philosophy also contains this concept. The comment that “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad,” is an ancient proverb, originally attributed to Euripides. The ones the gods choose in Terre d’Ange, at least in Carey’s works, are never quite driven mad, but to despair, sometimes very nearly.

And it could also be said that in the world of Elua and his Companions, the gods use the ones their chosen love equally hard.

Naamah’s Blessing is the final book in Carey’s latest trilogy set in this world. This trilogy is set centuries after the events that take place in Kushiel’s Dart and its sequels. The events that occurred have great bearing on the present, but are no longer within living memory. Naamah’s Kiss, Naamah’s Curse, and finally, Naamah’s Blessing, follow the trials and triumphs of Moirin mac Fainche, the unlikely descendant of both House Courcel of Terre D’Ange and the Maghuin Dhonn of Alba. Moirin is descended from royalty on both sides, but the Maghuin Dhonn do not care for such things, and the D’Angelines believe that the Maghuin Dhonn are little better than savages. They called her a “bear-witch” while she was in Terre D’Ange, and they were not wrong. The name was just incomplete.

But Moirin is touched by destiny. Maghuin Dhonn is not just the name of a tribe or a totem. She is the living Bear herself and she has given Moirin a task to complete. One that carries her first from her home in Alba, to Terre D’Ange to finally meet her father. And there she stirs up spirits that should have been left alone. Moirin’s task then compels her to take ship from Terre D’Ange to the far side of the world, to Ch’in, to free a dragon. And fall in love.

But love is never easy for one who is chosen by her gods. At the end of Naamah’s Kiss, her lover dies, their teacher gives his life to save him and uses part of her soul spirit tie to the Great Bear to keep him alive. Uncertain whether he loves her because he feels it, or because of the sacrifice that was made to restore his life, he runs from her. And she chases him across the Tatar steppes and into Vralia, our Russia. They face separate trials from anti-magic fanatics (hers) and lust-inducing magic-gem wielding sorceresses (him) before they find each other again in Bhodistani.   Returning to Terre D’Ange at the end of Naamah’s Curse to set the stage for the final book holds both triumph and tragedy.

Naamah’s Blessing doesn’t start out with many blessings.  Queen Jehanne died in childbirth, leaving her husband King Daniel de la Courcel in a deep depression, and her daughter Desiree physically cared for but emotionally bereft. She is the spitting image of her mother, and her father cannot bear to be around her, even more than three years after her mother’s death. The crown prince, Thierry, is off on an expedition to Terra Nova to stake a claim on the New World for Terre D’Ange. Moirin sweeps in to provide emotional sustenance for the little girl, and the King officially appoints her as the child’s sword protector. Then tragedy strikes, and Thierry’s expedition returns without him, reporting his presumed death. The King commits suicide, leaving the kingdom in the small hands of his 4-year old daughter and an overambitious regent who plans to marry his son to the little girl. Moirin, ever the servant of her destiny, is compelled to go to the New World, having received a vision that Thierry is alive. She has also seen the future that Desiree faces without her brother, and it is bleak.

Moirin, with her husband Bao at her side, raises an expedition to Terra Nova to follow the prince. The New World is more dangerous than she imagined, more beautiful and more deadly. The Nahuatl practice human sacrifice. The Aragonians fear the loss of their trading hegemony. There are no maps. Everyone they meet is certain they will not survive. And her first and greatest mistake is waiting for her at the end of her journey.

I read Naamah’s Curse and Naamah’s Blessing back to back, having waited until the final book was out before I started the second book. I just didn’t want to have to wait to find out how it all ended. Not again.

Carey has created an incredibly rich, complex world, and the background detail pulls you in deeper and deeper every time. Did I love Naamah’s Blessing? Yes, absolutely. Is it a stand-alone book? No, it’s not. The richness is in the multiple layers of the weaving. If you have not read Kushiel’s Dart, read the whole thing from the beginning, you are in for something special. The series is not for the faint of heart. Every character, and the reader, is put through an incredibly amount of pain, anguish, and pleasure-in-pain, in order to get to the ending. But the story is so worth it.