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.