I think this is the first Kage Baker novel I've read whose jacket description properly captures its feel (though the description for The Anvil of the...moreI think this is the first Kage Baker novel I've read whose jacket description properly captures its feel (though the description for The Anvil of the World comes close). The first paragraph (and the first section of the second paragraph) sound exactly like at least half of the heroic fantasy novels being written today, and in broad strokes, this novel follows that very popular story arc. But throughout the story, and coming to the fore at the end, is the sort of wry humanism that is so at odds with most of heroic fantasy, and so trademark to Kage Baker's (and Connie Willis' and Lois McMaster Bujold's) style.
This is the story of how the Master of the Mountain and the Green Saint came to be who they were in The Anvil of the World, making it a prequel of sorts, though both books stand equally well on their own. As in The Anvil of the World, Baker doesn't confine herself to even-length chapters, nor does she stick with one viewpoint; some sections are first-person narrative, one is second-person, and one is third-person with a first-person frame -- though while it isn't always clear who is speaking at first (because they are characters that haven't been introduced yet) Baker is always in control, and the reader is immediately aware that the perspective has shifted and where in the world it has shifted to.
Most of the story revolves around Gard, who will become the Master of the Mountain; the Green Saint isn't born until halfway through the book. Gard is a wonderful character -- despite all the baggage handed him by heroic fantasy convention, he retains a wonderful clarity of purpose: all he wants is the chance to live and be happy, and he will do what seems necessary to make that as likely as possible. He encounters several mentor figures (another fantasy trope) including Balnshik, who we met in The Anvil of the World; he attracts a ragtag bunch of followers, outcasts in the world at large, through his strength of character; and he forges himself (with the help of those mentioned above) into the sort of tool so very common in heroic fantasy: impossibly skilled at everything he sets his hand to, be it conventional fighting (with any weapon) or magic.
But just as his journey appears to be veering too far into teen boy wish-fulfillment, Baker grounds it yet again in his simple desire for happiness. He bests his enemies not to make the world a better place, but simply to get himself and those he loves out of harms way; that accomplished, he takes whatever jobs come to hand (I particularly enjoyed his turn as an actor) to keep food on the table and a roof over his head. If I have one quibble, it's that the Green Saint was not given as much depth as Gard, and their romance was of the "love at first sight" variety. But while that quibble was strong enough that I couldn't love this volume quite as much as The Anvil of the World, The House of the Stag is still one of the best heroic fantasy novels I've read in a long time.(less)
The world Jacqueline Carey has created with this series continues to have a great deal of beauty and grace about it in this seventh novel. Her charact...moreThe world Jacqueline Carey has created with this series continues to have a great deal of beauty and grace about it in this seventh novel. Her characters are still fully-fleshed and wondrous, each one unique and each one worthy. Like the first books in the other two trilogies, this one starts at the beginning of its heroine's tale, and many people may find it slow going at first, for Moirin's journey to her destiny does not really start until she leaves for Ch'in 2/3 of the way through. More than the others, this one feels like the first book in a trilogy, despite its excellent resolution. Nonetheless, Carey remains one of the strongest authors in the fantasy genre today.
I must admit, however, that I begin to suspect she has already created the greatest protagonist she has in her in Phedre. Imriel and Moirin are both beautiful souls, and I follow their journeys breathlessly, continually delighted by their passion, their integrity, and the myriad ways they are nothing at all alike and yet still equally worthwhile as fantasy protagonists. But both fall far, far short of Phedre in one important respect: Phedre, even as a child, was always thinking about her situation and moving in ways to make what she wanted happen. Even when she was an unwitting tool of another character, she was the one performing the actions and in that way always ended up with the upper hand. Both Imriel and Moirin, admirable though they are, are not always the active movers of the plot. Imri is driven by his haunted past; Moirin is driven by her diadh-anam, and while both have plenty of their own will, they spend much of their novels trying to glean what they should do. Phedre always knew what she should do, even though the way to do it might be obscured, for she carried her moral compass within herself rather than looking outward for it.
Perhaps this makes Imri and Moirin more realistic or approachable as characters, but they are not quite so romantically heroic as Phedre was, and that leaves me wanting just the tiniest bit more.(less)
I am very sad to say this is my least favorite novel of Terre d'Ange so far. This is partly because of the theme Carey is exploring in this novel, but...moreI am very sad to say this is my least favorite novel of Terre d'Ange so far. This is partly because of the theme Carey is exploring in this novel, but mostly because it simply does not measure up to the rest of the series.
Don't get me wrong -- I love this world with a deep and abiding passion, and I will buy the novels in hardcover the day they come out as long as Carey writes them. But this, the third trilogy set in the world of Terre d'Ange, is simply less powerful than the two trilogies that came before. It is less focused. The books are less focused than either Phedre's or Imriel's -- while the first six books in this series had definite beginnings, middles, and ends (that nonetheless contributed to the larger three-book story arc) both Naamah's Kiss and Naamah's Curse have minor endings that are clearly just pauses in the action rather than true endings to a book-long story arc; and Moirin herself is less focused -- she is seeking her destiny, but the only guideline she has is that she will cross many seas, so she just kind of wafts through the world waiting for her diadh-anam to flare up and let her know that this is a place she's supposed to be for a while. That passivity stands in stark contrast to Carey's best heroine, Phedre no Delaunay, who always had a sense of purpose and urgency to whatever she set her mind to. (Phedre also thought before embarking on any action, while Moirin just kind of jumps into bad situations and then goes "Ooops! I guess I shouldn't have done that.")
And the fact that I kept comparing the two protagonists to each other is symptomatic of the flaw in this book as well. They are both female first-person narrators in the same world, and Carey's skill is not so great that she gave them very distinctly different voices, so some comparison is natural. But in this book I have become convinced that Carey is deliberately comparing them to each other in her own mind, because so much of the action of this book echoes the action of Kushiel's Avatar, the third (and best) book featuring Phedre. Both books range into non-European lands (in Avatar it was Africa; here it is Asia); both books feature the protagonist's soul being made a battleground of the gods; the protagonist is tortured in both books as a part of that battle. (There are other parallels, but they would constitute spoilers for this book.) And at each point where there is this echo of the earlier heroine, Carey makes Moirin make the opposite choice.
Obviously, she did this to ensure that Moirin is NOT just a Phedre clone; but simply making Moirin the reverse of Phedre does not make a unique heroine -- being the anti-Phedre is no better than being Phedre-lite. She even gave Moirin an anti-Joscelin in Bao, and reversed the way their relationship worked -- in Kushiel's Justice Phedre drove Joscelin away, while here in Naamah's Curse Bao drives Moirin away through his actions and the difficulties they cause.
But the anti-Phedre trend continues even to the thematic level, and this is the point that I have to give the caveat: the theme Carey chooses to explore is well-executed, so I cannot say that the book is bad as a result of it; it simply is not to my taste, and so I disliked the book a bit as a result. In all the Phedre books there was an underlying theme of the gods' battles being worked out through their human followers -- Melisande is acting out her Kusheline nature in playing the game of Kings, and the battle between her and Phedre in the first two books emphasizes that the gods have created the battle and the battleground, and the humans are simply acting in accordance with their natures; the Mahrkagir, in the third book, is also acting as the avatar of a god, and Phedre is cast against him by her own gods. I loved this theme, because it allowed the human characters (even the villains) to be human, heroes of their own stories even as they are the villains in ours, while not at all lessening the visceral impact of the good vs. evil battle.
Here in Naamah's Curse, the theme itself is reversed. Instead of the humans acting in accordance with their gods, this novel is all about the ways humans can twist their gods to their own ends. The Khan of the Tatars, the Yesuite Rebbe, the Falconer and the Spider Queen -- all of them preach a twisted piety to serve their own human needs for power. And this made the book ugly to me. The battles between the gods had a certain purity to them, a sense of larger-than-life figures and motivations beyond our ken; the battles here are purely human ones despite all the talk of gods, and there is nothing pure about that. It is the darkest of the novels of Terre d'Ange to date, despite the fact that darker things happen in ALL of the other novels, and that made it hard for me to take it to my heart.
Still, anyone who has read the other novels has to read this one, and will have to read the next one as well to find out what Moirin's destiny finally is. And to show one way Carey has improved over time, this novel did at least have more humor than all the others combined, as well as the best one-liner ever, and one that echoes off the Phedre novels in all the right ways: "They say the gods use their chosen hard. Apparently, the gods are part of a vast conspiracy to share their chosen, too."(less)
This was my least favorite of the Twelve Houses books. I re-read the previous four leading up to this, and when placed back to back like that their si...moreThis was my least favorite of the Twelve Houses books. I re-read the previous four leading up to this, and when placed back to back like that their similarities began to wear on me. Four romances with class distinctions as their primary conflict got tiresome, especially when so few people actually seemed to care about the class issue in any other setting. Perhaps it is true, what the British say, that Americans simply do not understand class the way people with a history of an aristocracy do -- certainly Sharon Shinn does not. The book felt very odd, coming, as it does, after the major political and religious conflict in the series has already been resolved. It also would have been stronger if it had followed Wen solely. Shinn spent a great deal of time getting all the principle players in the previous novels together again and then to Forten city, but none of them had any real stake in the matter. They are all happy, and while I am happy that they are happy, there was no conflict in any scenes with them. I found myself even disliking Senneth a bit, reduced as she was to grousing about ball gowns and travelling -- totally out of character for her, as in every other book she has wanted nothing more than to be on the road. Wen's heartache never connected with me on anything but an intellectual level, and there was virtually no jeopardy to anyone through vast swaths of the book, despite all her vigilance. I understand that that is the usual lot of a bodyguard, but it does not make for dramatic reading. Still, Shinn does have the trick of making you care that her characters are happy, and the book reads quickly enough that it did not feel like an imposition. I only hope that she is now done with this series and can turn her imagination to something new.(less)
Several people recommended I try Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy based on my love of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series. I can see why -- b...moreSeveral people recommended I try Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy based on my love of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series. I can see why -- both books share a similar forthrightness about the act of love, particularly love tinged with sado-masochism. However, right off the bat it became obvious that while in the Kushiel novels sado-masochism was about trust, in Daughter of the Blood it is about power.
Every character in the novel except for Jaenelle is involved in power plays large and small; there is no trust to be had between any two individuals (again, excepting Jaenelle). This made the novel incredibly frustrating for me -- I hate it when the entirety of the conflict in a novel could be solved by a few of the people sitting down together, talking things out, and taking that (to me, easy) leap of faith that they aren't all trying to stab each other in the back. That that lack of trust meant that Jaenelle was being sexually abused (blindingly obvious to me from page one, though none of the men that supposedly loved her noticed) for almost 400 pages with no one to step in and rescue her made me very angry at times.
Many things in the novel created a low level of frustration. The magic system was too much like in an RPG; I never got any sense for the physical landscape; I could have used a cast of characters but none was provided; there were too many places where the most obvious choice was taken in a scene. (How many times do I have to see/read a character get offered a handkerchief, blow his/her nose in it, then wonder whether to hand it back to the person who offered it?) On a larger level, Daemon's rigidly controlled lust for Jaenelle left a bad taste in my mouth -- I don't care that her soul was Witch, and ageless; both her body and her consciousness were that of a 12-year old girl. Given Daemon's character as it had been set out prior to their meeting, his strong physical reaction to her presence didn't fit. I didn't accept their relationship until several chapters in, when Bishop showed Jaenelle bringing out his playful side and giving him a glimpse of the childhood he never had.
But that scene served as a sort of turning-point for me with this novel. At that moment I finally believed in Jaenelle and Daemon as people, and once I believed I cared desperately what was going to happen to them. I read the final quarter of the novel breathlessly, rooting for a happy ending with all my heart. Therein lies the real difference between the Kushiel novels and Daughter of the Blood: from page one in Kushiel's Dart, Carey treated her heroic characters like real people, showing their flaws and hesitations, showing their epic qualities, and always balancing those bits with their humor and lightheartedness and joy. That balance between the heroic and the mundane, the dark and the light, captured my heart immediately, while Bishop took almost 300 pages to do the same. I will be continuing the trilogy, because I finally did break through and love Jaenelle, but I certainly can't put it in the same breath as Jacqueline Carey's masterpiece yet.(less)
The second book in the Black Jewels trilogy picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of Daughter of the Blood, then quickly starts jumping for...moreThe second book in the Black Jewels trilogy picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of Daughter of the Blood, then quickly starts jumping forward in time in intervals of days, months, and even years. The story makes these jumps throughout, and unfortunately, Bishop does not accomplish them smoothly. The jumps are necessary to keep the plot moving, but every time there was a jump forward in time I felt a moment of dislocation, as there are very few clues in the text about what happened in the intervening time -- I understand that the time was mostly irrelevant, but the author needs to be firmly enough in control that he/she can say "Over the next two years, Jaenelle continued to gain physical strength while her emotional well-being stagnated. . ." or something of the sort to smooth the transition.
Another jarring aspect was that Bishop doesn't seem able to handle having all three of her main male characters in the same book. Lucivar was nearly nonexistant in Daughter of the Blood, while Daemon and Saetan got all the screen time; in Heir to the Shadows it is Lucivar and Saetan that are the focus while Daemon languishes in limbo off screen. In Daughter of the Blood this didn't bother me tremendously, for even though his perspective was shown very early on, not enough had been established about his character for me to feel the lack. But in Heir to the Shadows Daemon is already a well-established character, one whom I eventually cared about deeply, so to have him essentially forgotten for the years that the book covers was frustrating.
Beyond those two things, however, Heir to the Shadows was more engaging than Daughter of the Blood was; I still have no real sense of the physical landscape, but at least the magic system gained a little complexity (though it still resembles an RPG too strongly for my taste) and all the people lusting after Jaenelle this time were bad guys, so it didn't raise my hackles. (Besides, she grew up, so it was less queasy-making.) I still objected to the fact that none of the characters ever sat down and hashed things out -- there would have been less conflict if they had, but that sort of conflict is cheap anyway -- but overall this was a stronger novel than its predecessor, and I am looking forward to reading the conclusion of the trilogy.(less)
This concluding novel of the Black Jewels trilogy is the strongest of the bunch. Bishop manages to keep all of her male leads on screen this time, and...moreThis concluding novel of the Black Jewels trilogy is the strongest of the bunch. Bishop manages to keep all of her male leads on screen this time, and all the character-building that went on in the previous two books means that I cared about what happened to them all from the start. The world-building is still the weakest aspect of these books (though I finally got, in this third volume, that the only access from Terreille to Kaeleer and vice versa is through portals, so there's very little communication between the two realms) but again, it's less problematic now that the work has been put in getting through books 1 & 2.
The stakes are higher in this book than the previous two; Jaenelle has now come of age and taken the reigns of power, so Hekatah and Dorothea band together to make a final attempt to wrest control of the realms from her hands. The conflict is still predominantly of the "We can't possibly trust each other enough to share information, so we're at risk from our enemies" variety, and I have never understood why Saetan sits idly by and allows Hekatah and Dorothea to ruin so many peoples' lives, but while that's frustrating it still is effective at creating tension. And while there are many ways this series is inferior to Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel novels, there is one thing the two series share that I wish there was more of in heroic fantasy: in both series there is a sense that "everything has a price." Victories are not bought cheaply; they come with blood, sweat, tears, and a lot of sacrifice. Despite the lack of trust, that makes these characters (and this world) feel more adult -- they go into situations with their eyes open, knowing that the consequences may be too much to bear, but that the decisions have to be made anyway. Daemon's sacrifice in the climax (the intended one and the unintended one) nearly broke my heart -- and that's high praise for any book.(less)
The premise sounds a bit juvenile and silly, and the book is anything but. It is moving and lyrical and raises questions about family and identity tha...moreThe premise sounds a bit juvenile and silly, and the book is anything but. It is moving and lyrical and raises questions about family and identity that are rarely addressed. It is a coming-of-age tale in the absolute best sense, and has wonderful things to say about how our past shapes us.(less)
This is a book the likes of which I have not come across in some time. It grabbed me within the first few pages and did not let go until I finished it...moreThis is a book the likes of which I have not come across in some time. It grabbed me within the first few pages and did not let go until I finished it. It hasn't quite let go of me yet, actually -- it was almost physically painful to stop myself from immediately picking up the next book in the series to instead come to the computer and write this review.
It was such an all-encompassing experience, as a matter of fact, that it's hard for me to summon up the distance to write a good review. Trying to think about it objectively, I don't think it was anywhere near a perfect book. The pacing was uneven, and the ancillary characters were no more than cardboard cutouts moving the plot along. Some of the more important ancillary characters' motivations were terribly unclear, and I didn't buy the small romance subplots for either Seyonne or Aleksander.
But none of that matters to me, because the heart and soul of the novel is Seyonne and Aleksander's relationship, and that is realized pitch-perfectly. They are both complex men with everything in the world working against any potential relationship they might develop and the fate of the world resting on the fact that they must learn to trust each other and work together. And wonderfully, they manage to do this, with neither useless angst nor unrealistic protestations of affection. Berg summoned some significant magic into this novel, and I am greatly looking forward to reading its sequel.(less)
Sadly, Revelation is nowhere near as involving as Transformation was. While Transformation was flawed, its beating heart was the relationship between...moreSadly, Revelation is nowhere near as involving as Transformation was. While Transformation was flawed, its beating heart was the relationship between Seyonne and Aleksander, and that relationship was almost completely absent in this follow-up. Instead, the novel follows Seyonne back to Ezzaria and then through several large set-pieces, each of which felt too dragged out. None of the new characters grabbed me, and the resolution was obvious from 200 pages away.
I think the major flaw in this novel is its female characters. Carol Berg has admitted that writing women did not come naturally to her, and I think that is fairly obvious in Revelation. The story revolves around Seyonne's relationship with three women: his Aife Fiona, his wife Ysanne, and the demoness Vallynne. The plot rests on whether or not each of these women will trust him. And unfortunately, none of them is ever explored enough for the reader to make any sense of their decisions. Fiona in particular is given a clunky backstory at the very end of the novel that explains everything while explaining nothing. Each of the women was extraordinarily interesting in theory and completely flat in practice.
Still, it was a decent novel. Berg's writing is never painful, though her pacing continues to be problematic, and when I think about the novel I can see the bones of a brilliant story. It is definitely strong enough (and leaves enough unresolved, though the novel has enough of an ending to satisfy temporarily) for me to read the final volume. I just hope that Aleksander returns and that Fiona, at the very least, is made more real than she was in this novel.(less)