Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Fantasy Novel by One of my Faves

So last week I bookmarked all the books I've been working away at in order to immerse myself in Jacqueline Carey's new fantasy novel, Naamah's Kiss. In a way this is the first book in a new trilogy but it could also be considered a continuation of her previous series--all set in a alternate ancient time in a land that bears close resemblance to Europe and it's numerous nations.

The previous novels in the series were divided into two trilogies: the first, narrated by Carey's first protagonist, Phèdre nò Delaunay de Montrève, a courtesan in a country called Terre d'Ange who is born marked by the gods and trained as a spy; it contains the novels: Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen and Kushiel's Avatar. In the second trilogy the narration is continued by Phèdre's foster son and third heir to the d'Angeline throne, Imriel nò Montrève de la Courcel (they do love the long names), the son of an infamous traitor to the nation. The second trilogy contains the novels Kushiel's Scion, Kushiel's Justice and Kushiel's Mercy. All the books contain political intrigue, romance (and sex!), epic journeys and large and small scale battles. They really do hold all the best elements of a good fantasy novel combined.

I was a little sad when I realized that this new third trilogy was not going to contain any of the previous characters. I had really grown attached to both Phèdre and Imriel and they are only historical footnotes in this new book, but I still had high hopes for it since Carey never seems to let me down. Naamah's Kiss is set several generations past the end of the last of the Kushiel books, with a protagonist, Moirin, who is a descendant of the royalty of two different nations but who is raised by her mother's people, a wild and secretive clan of magical folk who worship a god who takes the form of a brown bear. Moirin's father was a d'Angeline priest of Naamah (the goddess of pleasure, if you will) and early on in the books she sets off across the ocean to find him. I should note that it is pretty obvious in Carey's books which nation is mean to represent which European region and Terre D'Ange (the focus of all of the earlier books) is definitely France while Alba, Moiron's birthplace, is Great Britain. The previous books have contained voyages to Skaldia (Germany), Aragonia (Spain), Hellas (Greece), Caerdicca Unitas (Italy), Menekhet (Egypt) and Khebbel-Im-Akkad (parts of the Middle East) to name a few, but Moirin eventually leaves Terre d'Ange to journey to a place that has only previously been mentioned in passing, the land of Ch'in, meant to represent China and much of the east. It seemed that Carey was striving for a different tone to this new offshoot of the series. Gone is the dark eroticism of the Kushiel books and instead the focus leaned more heavily on a sort of divine mysticism and Moirin's quest to fulfill her spiritual destiny.

I have admit I wasn't sure if I was enjoying the book for the first few chapters but I quickly became absorbed. Carey continues to have a knack for storytelling in all her books and the epic scale of the adventures she pens hasn't changed one iota. I very much enjoyed the character of Moirin though she's quite different from her d'Angeline predecessors--her people have become part of myth, shrouded in secrecy and feared by many.

Moirin is a beautiful and sensitive girl with good intentions mostly, but she is capable of wielding unthinkable magical power and many other characters in the book fear her no matter what good she does. One of my favourite aspects of her character is the fact that before she was sixteen years old she had never been inside of a building, she and her mother lived in a cave and rarely came into contact with people. As a result, Moirin is not at ease unless outdoors and finds life in ordinary society to be repressive to an unbearable degree. She has her people's gift (or curse) of being able to sense her destiny in a very literal sense, and she is driven by the demands of the gods of both countries. You really care for this character, odd as she is. I don't know if I've ever read book told from the perspective of such a profoundly lonely person, completely apart from those around her and generally misunderstood by all. Moirin does make some loyal and true friends but even they do not always completely understand her. On the other hand, gods and demons seems to have a certain fondness for her that is rather inexplicable and at times unfortunate. This is a must read for any fantasy fan.

To read more about Jacqueline Carey's works you can find information on her website.

The next installment comes out June of next year and I can't wait.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Canadian First

So here is a quick review of another great Canadian contemporary novel that I recently finished (I promise to start on some New Orleans fiction soon). Mouthing the Words is the first novel written by Camilla Gibb, who has been shortlisted for her more recent works for the Scotiabank Giller Prize--the top National award for literature in Canada, for my American readers.

I haven't read any of Gibb's other work but Mouthing the Words is definitely an impressive first. I read a review in the New York Times Book Review that compared her style to that of Sylvia Plath and I couldn't agree more--think The Bell Jar with a slightly more modern twist to the prose.

The plot is of the oft-done 'girl grows up in abusive environment and dreams of escape' type, but Gibb's insight into her protagonist's deeply damaged psyche is unrivaled. Thelma, who we first meet as a child, withdraws into her own fantasy world to escape her sexually abusive father and her emotionally-absent mother, but loses track of the separation between fantasy and reality as she grows older. This eventual borderline personality disorder doesn't stop the brilliant Thelma from eventually pursuing her ambitions of a career in law.

This might sound like a very depressing story but in fact the book is often hilariously funny and engaging, with a constant cast of Thelma's imaginary companions who often have a lot to say on the state of things. Mouthing the Words will disturb you, anger you, and above all entertain you--glad to see that Ontario is still keeping up it's tradition of producing bright literary talent. Must read!

We trust that we know to be normal is normal simply because it is known to us. Worlds meet in collisions and the coherence of our histories crumbles. I feel it in the blank looks I tend to receive at dinner parties. When other people recount stories, I habitually interject with statements like, "Oh yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I used to feel just like that when my father held me over the bridge by my armpits." Eyes previously animated are suddenly staring soberly. "You know?" I might add hopefully. "That bridge over the Don River?" A gracious dinner party host might break the uncomfortable moment with some tactfully placed suggestion of more Stilton. And if I had a lover, this would be the perfect moment to give me a reassuring squeeze of the thigh under the table and whisper something in my ear like, "It's OK, dear. Just try not to talk."