Jacqueline Carey returns to the world of Kushiel's Dart in new novel Naamah's Kiss, and she has managed to rekindle the excitement of the series too. Set over a century after the last book, it's an auspicious new beginning.
For those unfamiliar with Carey's two previous trilogies, collectively referred to as Kushiel's Legacy, they're set in an alternate middle ages spiced with magic. In previous novels, magic was never really the point. There were a few moments with otherworldly powers, but by and large they were the tales of political machinations across Europe and the Middle East in a world without Christianity. In Carey's universe, the world is mostly pagan. Instead of Christianity, a country resembling France has adopted the religion of Elua, the child of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
Those who follow Elua believe in his one tenet, "love as thou wilt." They live in a society were prostitutes are like royalty, everybody is bisexual, and having multiple love affairs is considered an ordinary part of everyday life. But that's just the backdrop: the first trilogy was about a prostitute spy named Phedre, who repeatedly prevented war; the second trilogy was about her adopted son Imriel and his star-crossed love affair with the princess. Yes, there are a lot of princesses in these books.
And Naamah's Kiss doesn't disappoint in this department: there are at least two princesses, both of whom have pretty awesome sex with our new heroine Moirin. Like Phedre, Moirin comes from humble beginnings to become a friend of royalty and a savior of two nations. And she also has quite a bit of magic. She comes from an alternate version of England, one of the last members of a Druid tribe who worship a great bear. At least, her mother is a druid. Her father comes from Terre d'Ange – the alternate version of France – and he fathered her during an orgiastic celebration. So Moirin has the best of both worlds. She can do all kinds of druid magic, like disappearing when she wants to and talking to spirits, but she can also have completely awesome sex like Phedre could.
At this point, you're either saying to yourself that this is the most awesome heroine ever, or you shouldn't read the book. I fall into the former category, and was completely enthralled by the novel.
When Moirin comes of age, she goes on a spirit quest to meet the great bear goddess of her tribe. What she discovers is that the goddess has a plan for her that involves sailing over many oceans – including the strait between Alba (England) and Terre d'Ange to meet her long-lost father. After she crosses the ocean but before she can meet papa, she accidentally gets run over in the street by a man who turns out to be the tempestuous lover of the princess. And by the way, the princess is also the most beautiful prostitute in the land. Did I mention that I love this novel?
The princess's lover draws Moirin into a dark plot involving magic and power, which escalates into a love affair, and finally propels Moirin into the arms of the princess. She also meets her father, who turns out to be a priest in the temple of star-crossed lovers. So he completely understands what she's going through.
Quickly she plunges into court intrigue, and is elevated to the status of companion to the princess (which means everything you think it means). But at the same time she meets a mysterious holy man from China who teaches her how to use her druid powers. And eventually he takes her with him to visit the land of his origin, accompanied by his ultra-hot student/ninja Bao. The second half of the novel takes place in China, where Moirin has to help a princess who is possessed by a dragon – and, of course, she helps save the nation too.
And let's not forget what she discovers with Bao. Which is that stick fighters are super hot, and super romantic.
This is a novel of pure adventure, with a kick ass heroine who gets to fight, do magic, and get laid just like the swashbuckling heroes of old. It's a perfect beach read. And the best part is the Jacqueline Carey is extremely clever – don't let her fool you with all that romantic frippery. She manages to slip a lot of interesting, subversive messages into this swords-and-sorcery tale. I'll leave it to you to find them. Or to ignore them, and just have a hell of a lot of fun.