Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel and Naamah books have become comfort reads for me. When I open up one of these novels, I always know I’ll find beautiful writing and a world I enjoy returning to again and again. A world where love in all its forms — not just romantic or sexual — can defeat evil and change the course of history. Naamah’s Blessing, the final installment of the trilogy about Moirin mac Fainche, is no exception.
After their adventures in Bhodistan, Moirin and Bao are returning to Terre d’Ange as a married couple. There they find King Daniel a shell of his former self and the little princess Desirée lonely and neglected. Moirin devotes herself to turning Desirée’s life around. Then the companions of Prince Thierry return from Terra Nova with dire news: Thierry is missing and presumed dead. Desirée, four years old, is now the heir to the throne, and a corrupt politician plans to manipulate the child and break her spirit.
The late Queen Jehanne then appears to Moirin in a vision, telling her that Thierry still lives. Hoping to restore him to his rightful place and save Desirée from becoming a pawn, Moirin assembles an expedition and sails for Terra Nova. Her party travels first to the Nahuatl (Aztec) empire where the natives and the Aragonians exist in an uneasy stalemate and where Moirin will gather information and assistance. Next they travel through the jungles to South America, and then to the Quechua (Inca) empire in Peru. There, Moirin must face a terrible enemy that she unwittingly and unwillingly assisted, years ago, in his quest for power.
This enemy’s greatest and most frightening ability is one we’ve seen before, in Naamah’s Kiss, where it was a throwaway detail or even a joke. Carey brings that detail back in Naamah’s Blessing — and no one’s laughing now. And Moirin, as it turns out, has exactly the gift that’s needed to counteract the ravages of her enemy’s talent, and of her many gifts it’s the one that has received the least page time so far. Carey has done an excellent job of using details that seemed forgettable or extraneous and bringing them full circle.
Carey shows us the beauty to be found in Nahuatl and Quechua culture while not glossing over problematic practices, a balancing act that she discusses in a post on John Scalzi’s blog. A chauvinistic Aragonian official tells Moirin of the native peoples, “You’ll find nothing to love about them,” but he’s wrong. Moirin’s rapport with the Nahuatl and Quechua she meets is key to her ability to thwart the plans of the villain. Many of the other Europeans don’t treat them with respect or try to understand them, and therefore underestimate them. The Native American characters have large roles to play, as does Bao, so they don’t come off as a mere backdrop for a story about Europeans.
Speaking of Bao, I really enjoyed his character here. I’ve had issues with him as Moirin’s boyfriend, but it seems I like him as her husband. Carey is great at writing a stage of relationship that too few authors tackle: the established couple keeping the spark in their marriage.
The other characters are wonderful as well. My favorite has to be Balthasar Shahrizai, who gets tons of character development, terrific one-liners, and perhaps my very favorite line of dialogue in the book, one that had me in tears of joy.
For longtime fans of the series, there are Easter eggs. Occasionally a detail appears in the story that Moirin doesn’t understand — but the reader does. I had a lot of fun with these.
One must admit to a few contrivances and moments of predictability. The timing of the news about Thierry seems contrived, and I was as frustrated as Moirin was! As for predictability, the intrigue is less dense here than in the Kushiel books, and the betrayals are not always surprising; and there are a few plotlines that are introduced and then simply roll down the hill and land just where you thought they would, without many twists or turns.
Yet I can’t say it bothered me all that much. Naamah’s Blessing features beautiful writing, an exciting and emotional plot, gorgeous new landscapes, appealing new characters, development of old characters, tragedy, joy, humor, and a satisfying culmination of Moirin’s story. As always, Carey sweeps us away.