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Smugglivus Feats of Strength: Ana reads Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

The Feats of Strength are an integral part of our annual Smugglivus Tradition. In the Feats of Strength, we each dare each other to read a book that we know is so far beyond the other’s comfort zone as to put it in another galaxy altogether. It is more than a mere Dare – it is a Feat of Strength.

Title: Naamah’s Kiss

Author: Jacqueline Carey

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing/ Gollancz
Publication Date: June 24, 2009 / January 2010
Hardcover: 656 pages

Stand alone or series: Book one of a new series set in the same world as the Kushiel’s Legacy books, though following a completely new heroine. Naamah’s Kiss stands on its own, but fans of the two prior trilogies will feel at home with Ms. Carey’s new series.

How did I get the book: An ARC from Gollancz

Summary: (from amazon.com)
Once there were great magicians born to the Maghuin Dhonn; the folk of the Brown Bear, the oldest tribe in Alba. But generations ago, the greatest of them all broke a sacred oath sworn in the name of all his people. Now, only small gifts remain to them. Through her lineage, Moirin possesses such gifts – the ability to summon the twilight and conceal herself, and the skill to coax plants to grow.

Moirin has a secret, too. From childhood onward, she senses the presence of unfamiliar gods in her life; the bright lady, and the man with a seedling cupped in his palm. Raised in the wilderness by her reclusive mother, it isn’t until she comes of age that Moirin learns how illustrious, if mixed, her heritage is. The great granddaughter of Alais the Wise, child of the Maghuin Donn, and a cousin of the Cruarch of Alba, Moirin learns her father was a D’Angeline priest dedicated to serving Naamah, goddess of desire.

After Moirin undergoes the rites of adulthood, she finds divine acceptance…on the condition that she fulfill an unknown destiny that lies somewhere beyond the ocean. Or perhaps oceans. Beyond Terre d’Ange where she finds her father, in the far reaches of distant Ch’in, Moirin’s skills are a true gift when facing the vengeful plans of an ambitious mage, a noble warrior princess desperate to save her father’s throne, and the spirit of a celestial dragon.


First things first. I guess I should start by explaining why reading this book is a Feat of Strength. A few months ago Thea dared me to read Kushiel’s Dart, a book set in the same world as Naamah’s Kiss and one of Thea’s most favourite books ever. Although I liked the writing and enjoyed the political side of the story, for most part I felt deeply disturbed because the heroine of that book was an anguisette (almost a sort of religious calling), someone who takes pleasure from pain. I just didn’t feel comfortable at all with that aspect of the story which I realised had more to do with me as a reader, than with me, as a reviewer. So, I was scared to face another book set in the same world, in Terre D’ange where people live by the motto “Love as Thou art Wilt”. Another thing that makes this a Feat of Strength is the pressure I feel to like the book, because not only do I want to share this with Thea but also with the rest of the world: the reviews for Naamah’s Kiss have been overwhelmingly positive.

I open Naamah’s Kiss and encounter the heroine and narrator Moirin as she grows up in Alba across the sea from Terre D’ange. She is a child of two worlds: daughter of one of the few remaining Maghuin Dhonn, one of the peoples from Alba and a D’Angeline priest. Moirin is touched by both cultures, having small gifts of magic from her mother and Naamah’s touch (that would be a Goddess of Desire) from her father. She spends her childhood living in the woods with her mother, never knowing her father. When she reaches a certain age, she is tested by the Maghuin Dhonn, and the great bear -goddess shows her that her future lies in Terre D’ange where she needs to find her Destiny.

It is in search of this Destiny that Moirin leaves everything she has ever known behind and embarks on a journey , falling in love and in lust on the way, meeting pivotal people (including her father), always following her diadh-anam, the spark of spirit within. She travels from Alba, to Terre D’ange and then to lands faraway to save a princess under a curse, always and forever listening to her diadh-anam.

This is an extremely difficult review to write. I am never more aware of the separation between being a reader and being a reviewer than when I read a Jacqueline Carey novel. Usually both are intrinsically connected but my reaction to Naamah’s Kiss (as my reaction to Kushiel’s Dart) is as conflicted as it can be.

I don’t think anyone could deny that the writing is lovely, the world building impressive, the overall story interesting, compelling and far-reaching in scope. I absolutely loved the first part of the book, set in Alba and the last part of the book set in Ch’in. Both worlds are imbued with magic and history and stories that were exquisite. It is the middle part, when Moirin is in Terre D’ange that I couldn’t bring myself to like. And I came to the conclusion that I simply can not stand Terre D’ange and the D’Angelines. It seems to be all that they do with their time is to scheme and to have sex. Seeing as how Moirin is sort of out of the loop when it came to scheming, all that was left to her was to have sex. In all fairness, it is not exactly like this, but it sure felt like it. There were endless sex scenes (as hot as they might be and hell, can Jacqueline Carey write sex scenes) between her and her lovers (three whilst in Terre D’ange) and it was plain.boring.

Plus, the “Love as Thou Art Wilt”, is a lovely concept, amazing in theory but when it comes to the practical side, it is when I wonder. Because Moirin suffers losses. Terrible loss, a person she loved when she was a kid, her friend and first lover, for example. But how could I possibly grieve with her when she is already falling in love with the next person? How can I miss a character when Moirin seems not to be missing them at all. She may say she is , but I just don’t see it. How she finds comfort in sex is understandable , if only it didn’t happen continuously. The whole lifestyle of the D’Angelines seems so indiscriminate. It makes me wonder: when everybody is special, then no one is? It is important to note another thing: I am fully aware than I am coming from my own comfort zone of reading Romance with strictly monogamous relationships.

I also can’t help but to compare Naamah’s Kiss to Kushiel’s Dart seeing as it is set in the same world. Even though I wasn’t crazy about the first one, I actually missed the more political aspects of that novel and all the intrigue that made it fascinating to me even tough I was disturbed by the sexual side of the story. Reading Naamah’s Kiss where Moirin does not have the pride and duty of a D’Angeline and the need to make sacrifices in the name of her Country , makes it less of a grand story. In fact, Moirin’s story is a very private one, everything that she does is in the name of her own spark of goddess-life. And I KNOW, that this sounds crazy coming from me, who am always asking for simpler stories based on character development, but I wished that there was more to the story that Moirin’s search for her Destiny and her answers to Naamah’s calls, which seems to be more reactions than actions. This is part of why I am so conflicted as well.

In the end, it is at a more personal level, the emotional connection with the story that may vary from reader to reader, that I seem to be out of the loop. Because to me, as a reader, this connection is missing when I read Carey’s books even though the reviewer in me, says, “hey this is a good book, what the hell are you on about?”.

Notable Quotes/ Parts: I really enjoyed the first chapters of the novel when Moirin was still in Alba.

Verdict: Objectively speaking, Naamah’s Kiss is a wonderful book that I simply did not connect with.

Rating: I am going to go with the same thing said when I read Kushiel’s Dart: 7, because it is well written and the world that the author created was believable and complex. No more than 7 because my level of enjoyment varied from chapter to chapter.

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  • Guinevere
    January 5, 2010 at 7:13 am

    I understand where you’re coming from. I had very mixed feelings about Kushiel’s Dart as well, although that is the only Carey book I’ve read so far. Beautifully written, but I just didn’t really enjoy it.

  • Maya M.
    January 5, 2010 at 9:44 am

    You’ve convincingly shown why this was a feat of strength for you. Bravo for carrying through to the end and taking such care to state your views in a reasoned way.

    Having said that – I think I’ll cross Carey off my list. I have trouble with linking sex and pain, and I often get bored during love scenes so I tend to skim or skip, and if a good part of the book would be skimmed or skipped, why bother?

  • KMont
    January 5, 2010 at 10:40 am

    OK, I’m finding your stressing the differences between being a reader and a reviewer to be interesting. I suppose we all approach this differently because each reviewer has their own style, but I guess I’ve always thought most if not every reviewer like you ladies, me, etc., reviewed as readers. Maybe I’m not understanding that – do you mean a reviewer would stick mainly to key elements, like examining the merits of the characters, plot, writing style, etc? I know I cannot always keep my emotional reactions from a review, but I feel that these actually lend the reviews more authenticity. So I don’t see that you reviewing the book as a reader to be any less valid a way to review. You done did good.

    And that being said, I get exactly where you are coming from. This is pretty much the problem I had with Warbreaker by Sanderson. Rave reviews everywhere; awesome characters for the most part; a beautifully rendered world…and I just did not care for the book, for its execution. I felt no connection to it most of the time.

    It’s distressing when this happens. Heck, I just had it happen with most of Bone Crossed by Briggs. It just…happens.

  • Lustyreader
    January 5, 2010 at 11:16 am

    whoa, quite the feat of strength! after reading Kushiel’s Dart and Kushiel’s Chosen i was done with Carey…for now anyways. i mean i bothtered to memorize an entire complex religion and history of a world i kinda want to get back into it again…sometime, but im in no rush to pick them up.

    regarding the D’Angeline way of life and the call to serve Naamah i had similar issues, i just couldn’t wrap my head around the acceptability and pride in sex and political intrigue. the call to serve Naamah (especially as an anguisete) just didn’t seem enough of a reason to be a prostitute or get cut up by flechettes (*shudder* the worst part!). despite the complexity of the religion i felt like some of the character motivations were a little forced.

  • Ana
    January 5, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Guinevere – we seem to have had the same reaction!

    Maya – The sex and pain thing is completely absent from Naamah’s Kiss. And the sex scenes are on the short and not very graphic side but they are numerous.

    Lusty – Did you think that the fact that someone is Naamah’s chosen or Kushiel chosen actually represents a lack of choice? I kept thinking about it.

  • Ana
    January 5, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Interesting questions. Even though I agree with you to start with (ie readers are reviewers are readers) I am actually always aware of two different impressions when reading a book. Whereas usually I listen to both sides, and let the emotional connection be a part of it,sometimes I just think it is best that there is a separation and the subjective reaction, the emotional reaction is what I call the “reader” . This happens ,mostly when I can objectively speaking SEE that a book is good, even if it is not a book that is good for ME.

    Hush Hush for example, is a book that both the reviewer side (ie the plot is full of holes, the characterisation is poor) and the reader side (OMG I couldnt STAND Nora) were in agreement.

    Naamah’s Kiss, as much as I didnt LIKE the experience of reading it, I could still appreciate the quality of it.

    Does that make sense to you?

  • Lustyreader
    January 5, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    i stuggled with phedre and joscelin’s motivations on and off. sometimes i feel like my brain would click into the right pattern of “suspension of disbelief” and would be fine with her being all into BDSM and him refusing to give up his vows, and then sometimes it wouldn’t. sigh.

    i think back to the scene where she was a little girl in the Cereus House and pricks herself with a pin and is fascinated by the pain and the blood. while it was a step in showing me she was “made that way” and being marked by Kushiel determined some parts of her destiny i still thought that she could have made better choices, that she was been ABLE to make better choices, independent of the red mote in her eye.

  • orannia
    January 5, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Thank you Ana. This definitely sounds like a Feat of Strength! I have yet to read a Jacqueline Carey book but I have challenged myself to read Kushiel’s Dart (as part of my Big Book Challenge) this year. I’m very intrigued to see how I find it!

    And BTW – the conflict between being a reader and a reviewer is interesting 🙂 It could be a whole post (and a fascintating one IMO) in and of itself 🙂

  • Tiah
    January 5, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Good job Ana! I loved Kushiel’s Dart, but I can understand why some don’t like it. The sex stuff didn’t bother me, I thought it was done tastefully and it wasn’t in your face. I think because there was so many other things going on in the story the sex took a back burner for me. I’m glad to hear that you liked this one.

    I want to get back into this series but I have to brace myself. These books are long! 😀

  • alana
    January 6, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    I totally understand what you mean in regards to everyone being special so no one is. Even though I enjoyed this book, I started to get annoyed with how heart wrenching every one of Naamah’s relationships was. Like, I could no longer invest myself emotionally in the characters because I had already ridden the roller coaster too many times.(Though the ending does give me hope that the next book won’t be so bad in terms of her emotional attachment to all of her lovers.)

    I also struggled with the reaction/action part as well as it seemed like Naamah felt like she didn’t have much choice most of the time. It’s great to believe in fate and all that, but it makes me uncomfortable when that’s tied to heavily into sex.

  • pamelia
    January 6, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    As much of a huge Jacqueline Carey fan as I am with both Kushiel trilogies read at least twice and the Sundering duology too, I did not finish Naamah’s kiss (yet? dunno if I will since it’s been three months since I lost interest at about 60 pages from the end.) I think my problems with the book evolve from that no one’s special if everyone is problem you mention which I didn’t find at all with the books about Phedre or Imriel. In those series there was a definite slow build of emotion and/or obsession with the relationships and Carey took her time letting the relationships evolve so that I was really emotionally vested in them. With Moirin it just felt all so capricious and unfounded. Maybe that’s the way her character was meant to be, but it just never grabbed me. By the time she got to Chin I wasn’t tied in enough to care.
    It’s still well written, yes and maybe that’s one of the problems. I’ve devoured some pretty schlocky books in my day amidst the finer examples of literary accomplishment I’ve read, and I find them easy to get through even if they’re poorly written or lacking character development/plot/etc. With Naamah’s Kiss though I needed emotional depth to match up with the depth of the writing and it never made it for me.
    So, even though her other books are some of my all time favorite reads, this one… meh!

  • Ana
    January 6, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Alana, you GOT IT. YES, that is exactly it, you expressed it way better than I did:

    I also struggled with the reaction/action part as well as it seemed like Naamah felt like she didn’t have much choice most of the time. It’s great to believe in fate and all that, but it makes me uncomfortable when that’s tied to heavily into sex.

    Yes, that.

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