As a long time fan of Jacqueline Carey's novels, I picked up the Naamah trilogy with high hopes. I have read both of the Kushiel Trilogies more times than I can count, and each novel. The intricate complexity, depth of character, and rich context of the novels were part of what drew me into Carey's writing, not to mention the way Carey uses sexuality in her books - not as a cheap gimmick to draw more readers, but as a genuine, pervasive plot element that enriches rather that detracts from the story. Unfortunately, the Naamah trilogy does not live up to the standards of the previous books. Before I continue, allow me to say that if your a true fan of Carey, as I am, you will still enjoy these books, but be aware that they simply don't compare to the Kushiel novels. I would recommend checking them out from a library, not paying for them. Now, as to why. Be aware that while I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, there may be few in the following paragraphs. There will definetely be spoilers from the previous novels, so go read those first if you haven't, they're much better anyways.
*SPOILERS AHEAD (POSSIBLY)*
The first and biggest reason that the Naamah trilogy falls short of the mark of the previous books is that when it all boils down, the plots of these books feels forced. One of the biggest attractions to me in Carey's previous novels was how well her plots flowed into each other. While they make take place in a super natural world, the characters in her books reacted, in my opinion, very realistically to the situations surrounding them. When hard decisions were to be made, the characters struggled, and sometimes chose wrong, with significant cost to those around them. When trouble came up, it did so through a believable means consistent with the story. When the characters prevailed, it was through hard work and often great cost to themselves, which made the victory all the more richer and drew the reader in even more. One could relate to Phedre and Joscelin, Imriel and Sidonie. Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for Moirin and Bao. A huge part of the reason for this is that Carey relies far to heavily on Moirin's diadh-anam as a plot-driving force in the book, to the point where it can be called nothing other that a deus ex machina. When Moirin has a hard decision to make, her diadh-anam tells her what to do. When she "falls in love" with Bao, it because her diadh-anam compeled her to. When she doesn't know what to do next, suprise, her diadh-anam draws her over another ocean. When shes in mortal danger, her diadh-anam manages to protect her somehow. It's just lazy, in my opinion. I remember Phedre spending *chapters* struggling over where to find Imriel, thorough investigations, impossible decision, emotional trauma. Now, it more like Moirin the puppet than Moirin the character. Phedre and Imriel followed Kushiel, yes, but they were still their independent selves, having to make their own decision. Kusheil's justice, not Kushiel's puppet. The other side to this is that the conflicts themselves are forced. Whenever Carey concludes one conflict-arc, she just pops another one up in some distant land, and has Moirin's diadh-anam pull her across the sea to some other stereotypical country with no connection whatsoever to the previous problem, and then starts all over again. Most troubling, perhaps, is that we never really see any real consequence for when Moirin makes the wrong decisions. Yes, something bad happens, and yes some people die, but there is never any real fear for the characters. Where is Phedre, hopelessly locked away in Darsanga, with nothing more that a shred of a plan to rely on? Where is Imriel, trudging across the Skaldic wilderness hunting Berlik, with nothing more that a memory of Sidonie keeping him alive? Its just not there.
Which brings me to my second reason, which is that, unlike the rich cultural differences and realistic national conflicts portrayed in the Kushiel series, every single county in the Naamah series feels one dimensional and stereotypical. Part of the problem is that Moirin doesn't spend enough time in any of them to really draw the reader in, but the bigger problem is that, once again, it seems Carey has gotten lazy again. Instead of the rich conflict with the Skaldi from first trilogy, with Phedre drawn into a distant culture with its own barbaric traditions, or even the lovable and more familiar Alba from the second trilogy, Carey seems to just pick some stereotype from each place Morin visits and focuses on that. In Chi'in, we see the five styles of breathing, and a dragon. IN Bhodostani, we see the typical Indian mudras, and the Hindu cast system. In the Amazon (I'm not going to attempt to write the names), we see Incan human sacrifices, and lots of deadly bugs. Big deal. If I wanted a fourth grade cultural lesson, I could wikipedia any of these cultures. Where's the depth? The conflict? The notion that perhaps, theres some truth to both sides? Furthermore, when it comes down to it, despite Carey's clear stereotyping, all the characters still essentially feel like they are built from the same mold. They speak different languages (which, by the way, never really seems to be a real problem in the books, unlike the previous trilogies), wear different clothes, have a tradition or two thats a little strange, but they all seem essentially European in the end, which is sad. Part of what I loved about Carey's previous books was her very ability to make multi-dimensional characters, and to show just how cultural differences could impact a conflict. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite carry over to this trilogy.
I could go on for another couple of paragraphs about the other problems with this trilogy, but the big ones are already listed above. Instead, I do want to also discuss the good aspects to this trilogy, because my point is not to dissuade you completely from reading it. I did read the entire trilogy, and I did enjoy it, just not as much as the previous novels. First, despite her flaws, Moirin is a lovable character. She may be a Phedre-lite, as others have put it, but that doesn't mean she isn't interesting. She has her own charm, and while it falls more along the fun lines than the relatable lines like Phedre, I still enjoyed her as a reader. Second, while somewhat disconnected, the action in the books is still good. and there are certainly several good page turners throughout the trilogy. The romance, while somewhat different that in the previous two series, is still good, and Moirin certainly doesn't fail to live up to her lineage as Naamah's child. The series also manages to tie up nicely questions left unanswered my the Imirel books, such as whether Imriel and Sidonie have children, and what happens to Alias, etc. Finally, for all its failings, the Naamah trilogy is still clearly a Carey series and contains much of what I loved about her previous books, albiet in lesser amounts. As I said earlier, if you're a Carey fan, find a library, read the books. You'll still enjoy them. If you want to help contribute to Carey and buy a book. buy the first one, its the best. Enjoy your reading, and love as thou wilt.