Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey
Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey (Grand Central Publishing, 2011) (Book III of the Naamah Trilogy which fits into the broader narrative of the Kushiel’s Legacy series) is both enjoyable and frustrating. This is what I take to be the final episode in the current series that began with Naamah’s Kiss (2009) and continued in Naamah’s Curse (2010). We have therefore to tie up all the loose ends when our heroine, Moirin mac Fainche, and her more pithily named husband, Bao, finally return to Terre D’Ange. All this could have been done in relatively short order had the main antagonist been available. Unfortunately, Raphael del Mereliot has disappeared off to the New World with Thierry, the Dauphin of Terre D’Ange in tow. Merchants have realised the full benefits of trade, particularly now that this alternate reality Europe has discovered chocolate. This exploratory mission is intended to forge the necessary links to make long-term trade possible.
Jacqueline Carey gives us 150 pages to familiarise ourselves with the new political realities of Terre D’Ange given that Jehanne de la Courcel is dead. Her husband, King Daniel, remains locked in grief and has temporarily passed de facto control of the kingdom to Rogier Courcel (never a good move to give an ambitious relative a position of real power). No matter. The King’s depression is so deep, he neither knows nor cares what’s going on around him. Worse, he can’t bear to be with his four-year old daughter, Desiree de la Courcel, who looks too like Jehanne. Her care has been passed over to “trained” nursemaids who are struggling to contain the tantrums of the precious little tyke. Such is the stereotype of behaviour displayed by the unloved. King Daniel emerges from his slough of despond long enough to appoint Moirin surrogate Mummy and, together with Bao, they start about converting the frog into a Princess. Although the politics of ruling the state and, ultimately, of succession have some mild interest, this first section drags like a sack of potatoes across a rocky terrain. Only when adverse news comes from the New World do things begin to perk up.
Even so, the sea voyage and the trek through the unforgiving jungle to find the missing men is all fairly routine. It may be an alternate reality but the jungle remains the same. There’s disease (damn mosquitoes are everywhere), snakes (damn things lurk on land and in rivers) and a river in flood to sweep away the unwary (damn thing pretends to be a means of transport, hides the snakes, breeds the mosquitoes and, when it rains a bit, acts as a meat grinder for anyone who falls in). And let’s not forget the damn natives who sacrifice the tour package holidaymakers, revolting villagers in neighbouring counties and anyone else they don’t like, and build temples to their gods out of the skulls they collect from the stew pots. There are, of course, Conquistadors but, mercifully, it’s too early in this version of history for pirates. When the chocolate trade gets started, shipping carrying the new gold will be targeted, of course. I read reams of these adventures stories when I was growing up and, now I’m old, having to plough through this rerun in an alternate reality book is ironic to say the least. This is a dismal swamp for desperate authors who want to spin out the story for a few more pages, i.e. to page 370 — only another 240 pages to go.
Only when we get to meet Raphael again does the book settle down into a more comfortable rhythm and back into a more creative zone (although one small passage suggests an awareness of “Leiningens Kampf mit den Ameisen” by Carl Stephenson (1937)). The final third of the book is immensely satisfying even though the resolution of the first 150 pages is achieved in a rather perfunctory way when the survivors get back to Terre D’Ange. It makes you wonder why the set-up was so long if there was to be no detailed follow-through. Nevertheless, this efficiency of disposition allows time for the final confirmation of the love between Moirin and Bao, and to see their immediate future settled.
So, let’s come back to the two words I started with. The final third of Naamah’s Blessing is fantasy of the very best quality. It’s more than merely enjoyable. It leaves such a good feeling, I’m tempted to forgive all the hack clichés that preceded it. Jacqueline Carey has consistently produced excellent work. It’s frustrating that this book should start off on the final leg of the trilogy journey with such leaden feet. Although, in fairness, all you young things who’ve never encountered people trying to make progress through a hostile jungle, may find the middle section the most exciting thing you’ve ever read. So, for those who are fans of the first two novels in the current cycle, there’s an emotionally satisfying ending as all the farewells are said to all the key players from the earlier parts of the story. It should go without saying that, if you’ve not read the earlier books, you should not start here. When in doubt, always start at the beginning.
It’s a rather beautiful piece of art from Alan Ayers for the jacket.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.