To End is to Begin Again: Naamah’s Blessing

 

A little over a month ago, I saw that my favorite author was looking for book bloggers to review the final book in her trilogy. I think it would be a gigantic understatement to say that when I emailed Jacqueline Carey to offer my blog as a place for a review of Naamah’s Blessing and received a response, I was almost bursting with excitement.

I think it goes without saying that herein lie spoilers for the entire book. Naturally. So here it is, my review of the final book in Naamah’s Trilogy. (God I hope she likes it…)

I wish I had a back like that…

As far as endings go, Naamah’s Blessing is one of the best conclusions to an epic adventure that I’ve ever read. As you can see from the title of this post, this ending harkens at something more beautiful and meaningful than usual, but I get ahead of myself.

Naamah’s Blessing picks up right where the previous book, Naamah’s Curse, left off, with Moirin and Bao (married, to my great delight!) on their way back to Terre d’Ange after a book and a half of being halfway across the world in Ch’in, Vralia, and Bhaktipur successively. The Naamah books have done something that the previous Kushiel’s Legacy books did not quite capture. As Carey’s environments evolve, it’s clear that her writing style does as well. She is able to capture a vibrancy of culture that is clear in every paragraph.

I have to give Carey major props for the amount of research she put into this book. Though I’ve only done academic study of the Maya (not the Aztec or Inca, which are the focuses of the book), I can tell that every choice she made regarding ritual, cosmology, and cultural experience was carefully chosen to be as accurate and enriching as possible to the reader. The book made me want to do more of my own research into the other ancient New World civilizations. Raphael de Merliot, as he lords over a Quechua (Inca) city, states that he wishes to bring “true civilization” to Terra Nova. His attitude reflects that of all colonial powers during the age of expansion, and even that of some nations today. The inherent arrogance in his belief that those who are different are primitive and barbaric is exactly what readers must be aware of to better their own perceptions of others.

Blood sacrifice is often a difficult topic to discuss, as so many people these days have a complete lack of cultural relativism. Carey handles the violent death with an understanding of the necessity with which these actions were viewed in the eyes of the participants. Bao’s reaction to killing of the temple-maiden, Cusi, is subtle, understated, and absolutely perfect for someone of his cultural background.

Now I will move on to the differences between “person” and “character” as I understand them. Let’s take Raphael de Merliot. What a terrible, terrible person, but an absolutely fantastic character. I understand that his character development and ultimate demise was the result of multi-faceted stressors (childhood tragedy, spurned love, death of all loved ones). Those stressors turned his character into a narcissist in the truest form of the mental disorder. He fashioned himself as a god, which is pretty much the most intense narcissism you can get. I hated him so much, but loved him regardless because of the way Carey unfolded his character and explored all of its darkest crevices.

The men in Naamah’s Blessing are beautifully written. I fell in love with Temilotzin, the loyal Jaguar Knight (props again the Carey for the use of a real Aztec practice), as well as the tortured Daniel de la Courcel and his son Thierry, who I didn’t have much love for before this book. When it looked like Balthasar Shahrizai might die of malaria, I feared I might cry. When he recovered, I started referring to him in my head as “My Little Baby Shahrizai.” The men are just as colorful, emotional and inspiring as the women in this book.

Unfortunately, this brings me to the ultimate development of Moirin. Overall, I was happy with her character, her personhood, and her conclusion. But there was something missing. I had to continue reminding myself that Moirin was not Phèdre, and did not have the ruthlessness that that made Phèdre’s character balance the knife-thin edge of love and hate. Ultimately, I don’t know exactly what I wanted to see from Moirin. She was a refreshing character, full of love, intensity, and wonder, that isn’t seen much in fantasy these days, so I definitely can’t say I’m disappointed. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that Moirin felt… fuzzy. Whereas Bao and Raphael were in sharp relief, Moirin overall seemed a bit less defined in Naamah’s Blessing, especially in comparison to her strength of will in Naamah’s Curse.

My favorite scene in the book is perhaps a random and unexpected one, but it really speaks to me as both a psychologist and an anthropologist. It even sharpens Moirin’s character quite a bit, which I appreciated. Raphael asks Moirin why she married Bao, and she’s finally is able to tell him in blunt words what his deadly character flaw is.

‘How many times did you see fit to remind me that I was naïve and unsophisticated? I grant you, it was true, but it did not make me less than you. Different, but not less. You never saw me as aught but a useful tool for your hands to wield, the very thing you called me today’ (481).

The tale ends with Moirin accepting her duty as the protector and gatekeeper of her native heritage, which I think is really poignant, given how many times she’s prevented Terre d’Ange from descending into darkness. She’s really the perfect fit for the job, and it really wasn’t much of a surprise. I was thrilled that she and Bao were finally going to have their round-as-dumplings children. I think many readers see having children as a natural rite to solidifying a relationship (e.g. yaoi m-preg fiction, which really ends up missing the point of love in the first place…) but for Bao and Moirin it’s more about continuing their respective cultural backgrounds into the next generation.

And now I think it’s time to go back a re-read Kushiel’s Legacy. I’ve had enough of Naamah and desire pleasure with a sharper edge!

I want to thank everyone for reading, even if you don’t agree with me. But most importantly, thank you Jacqueline Carey for giving me this opportunity. The inspiration you’ve given me will never be forgotten.

 

%d bloggers like this: