Grand Central Publishing, 645 pgs
There is something that is curiously addictive about lush, epic fantasy romances (whether or not actual romance takes place). Particularly if there is strange, intricate world building that turns world history just slightly sideways. (Or, in the case of Guy Gavriel Kay, reinvents it with different names.) Even if I don’t actually like the world building or the characters, I usually end up getting sucked into the story, because there’s usually something about it I find fascinating, or just too weird to look away from.
Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series pretty much fits the bill as far as “fascinating but weird” is concerned. The back story of this series is based off of Gnosticism and various Christian heresies involving Mary Magdalene and Jesus being married. (The D’Angeline pantheon is made up of the son of Jesus, and a bunch of angels who decided they liked following him around.)
Given the back story it is probably necessary to have read the previous books in the series to get a handle on what’s going on in Naamah’s Kiss. Or maybe not, it’s difficult to say. Carey uses the same “first person omniscient entire life story from early childhood onward” style she uses with the beginning of the Kushiel sequence, so a great deal gets explained as back story and history that the character learns.
The story takes place several hundred years after the events of the Kushiel books, and we find that the D’Angelines are pretty much resting on their laurels while the rest of the world is off discovering “Terre Nouvo,” a recently discovered continent. Terre D’Ange’s king doesn’t have any interest in exploring the new continent, which is causing a certain amount of unrest among the more adventurous. Into this situation steps Moirin, a half-D’Angeline, half-Maghuinn Dhonn (the “bear-witch” magic users from the tail end of the Kushiel sequence) girl who turns out to have a Destiny. In addition to various magical powers of concealment, she also has the blessing of Naamah, (which translates to “she likes to have sex, a whole heck of a lot, with lots of different people,”) and Anael, (which translates to, “she has a green thumb and can make anything grow.”) Moirin is related distantly to the D’Angeline’s royal family and it turns out, has a lot of money as a result, so it’s very easy for her to set out to find her Destiny.
Moirin travels to Terre D’Ange to find the father she never knew (a priest of Naamah) and runs into Raphael, a noble and physician with some interesting connections with a group attempting to gain knowledge through the Occult and summoning demons. She has various romantic and sexual escapades with Raphael and the Queen of Terre D’Ange, (and the Dauphin, and with carriage drivers) and various metaphysical disasters that nearly get her killed. (It turns out that she has mediumistic talents and can act as a kind of mystical battery for the would-be sorcerers in Raphael’s little coven.)
Naamah’s Kiss is an entertaining book with engaging characters. The only major problem is that most of the book is taken up with Moirin’s growing up and her sexual escapades, and very little of it has to do with the Destiny foreshadowed throughout the book. The main, promised action where Moirin begins the journey to find her Destiny doesn’t happen until the book is almost over, and as a result is very rushed and much less detailed. I did like the way the relationship between Moirin and the person tagged as the Primary Romantic Interest was built up, but I also feel that the parallels established between Moirin and Phèdre’s Primary Romantic Interest(s) were too obvious and contrived.
The other problem is–complicated. One of the major (spoilery) plot points of Naamah’s Kiss is apparently that The Gods Think Firearms Are Evil and Have Sent Moirin To Keep Guns From Being Invented. Needless to say, I don’t especially like this idea. (And the book almost went flying when I realized that this particular meme was being presented.) Aside from this particular meme, I did enjoy the book (though someone who likes gunpowder with his or her fantasy probably won’t.)