Jaqueline Carey managed to surprise me twice last year. Her novel Santa Olivia, a novel that is very hard to put into a category, was one of the better books I read in 2009. In her Kushiel setting Naamah's Kiss appeared. Something of a fresh start for a series that hadn't managed to convince me in the previous three instalments. The new trilogy is noticeably less dark. Carey has changed direction the direction of the series and while Naamah's Kiss will certainly appeal to readers of her earlier books, I appreciated the new course the author set. I had high hopes for the second book in this trilogy. Naamah's Curse didn't quite live up to them.
After the events in the previous book our young heroine Moirin is a favourite at the Ch'in court. The gods ride their champions hard however, her next challenge is already lined up for Moirin. Her love Bao has disappeared. In an attempt to find the man who raped his mother with Bao as the reminder, he has left for the Tartar steps. Moirin hesitates. Bao has his own destiny to follow after all. With winter approaching the choice can no longer be postponed and Moirin decides to follow him. Even with the blessing of the Ch'in court, currently at peace with the Tartars, this in not an easy journey.
Hit by the first snow storm of the year, Moirin is forced to seek shelter with a band of Tartar nomads for the winter. When spring finally comes she travels with them to the gathering of the Tartar Khan, where she expects to find Bao. She does indeed find the Khan and her love appears to be one of his favourites. So much so, that he has given one of his daughters to him. The Great Khan is not pleased with Moirin showing up and attracting Bao's attention. The humiliation to his daughter is too much to bear. Moirin must be gotten rid of, the sooner the better.
Moirin has grown considerably as a character. Her youthful mistakes of the previous book have made her more cautious in her dealings with the supernatural as well as a lot more aware of what Naamah and the Bear Goddess of the Maghuin Dhonn. For Moirin this is something of a blessing and, as the title suggests, a curse. These two divine presences provide Moirin with something of an unfailing compass. Following these divine instructions gets Moirin in trouble more than once, not everybody appreciates the teachings of Naamah in particular, but they are always presented as a necessary step in Moirin's development.
In Naamah's Kiss Moirin does not always heed the divine warnings she receives. Sometimes she just fails to pay attention to them, sometimes she consciously ignores them. More often than not these decisions turn out be costly mistakes but she does not regret it in every instance. In Naamah's Curse Moirin has learnt to heed the goddess' warnings and apparently the price is generally to high to ignore them. For each and every difficult choice Moirin faces she consults the goddess and unfailingly chooses the path that meets with her approval. It generally leads to a favourable outcome (at a price). This approach took a lot of the tension from the book for me. Moirin rarely questions the intentions of Naamah or the Bear Goddess, instead focussing on the beliefs and cultures she meets along the way. A little more introspection would have suited her at times. Being a Goddess' chosen doesn't generally come with a roadmap to success. I guess I miss the rebellious spark that the teenager Moirin possessed.
As in previous volumes, there is quite a bit of travelling in this book. Carey explores a number of places not seen in previous novels. The Tartar territories are prominent early in the book but Carey also shows us parts of what in our world would be called Tibet. Given Moirin's focus on religious matters her interest in local religions is not surprising. Carey draws from Buddhist traditions as well as the Hindu pantheon in these chapters. Bhodistan (India) has been mentioned in a number of books now but it does not look like Carey means to travel there in the next volume. She has dropped hints that Moirin's destiny will take her to the New World next. Throughout the story Moirin acquires another couple of languages. I will admit that this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine but learning to speak a foreign language is not quite that easy for most people. Moirin seems to be headed in Phèdre's direction, she speaks at least half a dozen languages at this point, most of them from different language groups.
Although sexuality in general is a theme in the series and the book, the sexual content of this entry is quite modest compared to the previous part. With Moirin chasing her beloved for most of the book there aren't that many opportunities. Moirin isn't precisely celibate but if you read these books for the steamy sex then Naamah's Curse is not going to be your favourite. Personally, I think Carey was wise not to force it. The story does not lend itself to more sexual content and sex for the sake of it is not really something I appreciate in a novel.
While Naamah's Kiss was a promising start of a new trilogy, Naamah's Curse does not quite match the standard set in that book. The fresh, inquisitive Moirin of the first book has grown up considerably and in the process has lost something of her appeal. This book is not a bad tale but a little less dependence on the divine in Moirin's quest would have made it much more exciting. Her complete acceptance of her destiny is a little too much of a good thing. Interesting characters are generally more than a well trained pet of the Gods but in this book Moirin is in danger of becoming just that. It makes one wonder what would happen to her if the Bear Goddess does not guide her through a difficult decision or what will happen if the two deities disagree. Perhaps Carey will show us in Naamah's Blessing.
Title: Naamah's Curse
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
First published: 2010