At the end of Naamah’s Kiss, Moirin’s lover Bao set out on his own, uncomfortable with the magic that bound him and Moirin together. As Naamah’s Curse begins, Moirin undertakes a dangerous journey to find him. The beginning is on the slow side, focusing on the hardships of winter travel and on Moirin’s stay with a kindly Tatar family.
Then, Moirin learns that Bao has done something stupid.
It took me a while to warm to Bao in Naamah’s Kiss, mainly because of his habit of calling Moirin “stupid girl.” Yet warm to him I did. By the end of the book, I was rooting for Moirin and Bao as a couple, and I thought Bao’s Han Solo “I know” moment was really cute. Here, though, he does something that makes me like him a good deal less. It’s a spoiler, so if you want to see it, please highlight the following text: Bao makes a choice that has two likely outcomes. He could lose Moirin forever, or — if she arrived with the Imperial entourage he was expecting — he could cause a war. Reasons for his decision are given, but I just can’t shake the idea that either he’s “just not that into” Moirin or that he doesn’t care if he ignites a war. Neither possibility endears him to me. Later in the book, he realizes he made a mistake, but he seems more regretful about squandering his second chance at life than about the fact that he has hurt Moirin and others. [END SPOILER]
Yet I have a love-hate relationship with this turning point in the story, because this is also when it picks up and becomes impossible to put down. Moirin and Bao are separated again and sent in different directions: Moirin to the Vralian city of Riva, and Bao to the valley of Bhaktipur in Bhodistan. We follow Moirin as she endures a grueling captivity at the hands of an intolerant Yeshuite patriarch, and later as she travels to Bhaktipur to rescue her love.
Jacqueline Carey frequently sends her protagonists on several very different adventures in a single book. Naamah’s Curse is no exception, and the adventures seem less “connected” here than they sometimes have in the past. Moirin’s journeys to Vralia and Bhaktipur don’t seem as intertwined as, say, Phedre’s journeys to Drujan and Saba. Moirin’s travels make a darn good story, though, as she finds new trouble and lovers along the way. It reminded me, in the end, of the French courtly fairy tales of the seventeenth century, where just when you think the hero and heroine are on course for Happily Ever After, some wild plot twist will arise to test their love. Even if it doesn’t all seem to “go together,” it keeps the reader enthralled and wondering what will happen next.
The only other reservation I have about Naamah’s Curse is that it’s starting to sit uncomfortably with me that every culture in the world seems to have a magical problem that can only be solved by a D’Angeline. It feels a little Eurocentric, plus I miss the ambiguous nature of magic in the earlier books. There was magic, but it was rare enough that you didn’t always know at first sight whether you were dealing with magic or trickery. I fondly remember wondering whether the Master of the Straits was just a myth, admiring the ingenious set-up that produced Asherat’s “voice,” and spending half of Kushiel’s Avatar thinking the Skotophagoti were just charlatans with a really scary act.
That said, Naamah’s Curse is the very definition of a “ripping good yarn” and kept me enthralled for days. I will definitely read the third Moirin book — though it will take Bao a while to grow on me again, and I doubt that I’ll ever weep buckets over them the way I did over Phedre and Joscelin in the waterfall!