Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

Narrator: Anne Flosnik

Publisher:  Tantor Audio (2009)

Length:  26 hours 57 minutes

Series: Book 1 Naamah Trilogy

Author’s Page

Note: This is the first book in the third trilogy set in the Kushiel’s Legacy series. However, this last trilogy is set a few generations later and stands on it’s own so don’t be afraid to start here if this book intrigues you.

The Bear Witches of Alba are all but extinct but for those few that remain, they do possess small magics and the Great Bear does look out for her own. Moirin grows up in a cave in the depths of a forest and from these humble beginnings she will be tasked by her divine Bear to fulfill a destiny that lies over seas. First she travels to Terre D’Ange to find her D’Angeline relatives, including her father. A D’Angeline lord and healer is intrigued by her small gifts and she’s soon wrapped up in a semi-secret demon summoning circle. She also meets a Chi’in Master and his student/body guard Bao. Perhaps her destiny lies even further than she could imagine.

I read this for the second time as part of a group read and there were weekly discussions which hold plenty of detail on what I think of the book. Once again, I was wrapped up in Carey’s world building. I fell in love with the D’Angelines when I read Kushiel’s Dart so many years ago. I recall my first time reading this book and how it didn’t wow me as much as the first 6 books. However, knowing this round that this is Moirin’s tale, I gave it a better chance. Indeed, I did like this book quite a bit more the second time through. I think with the first read through, I was constantly looking for reflections of the characters I had come to know and love from the first 2 trilogies. Now with the second reading I was focused on Moirin.

I loved Moirin’s small magics. She’s inherited a few from her D’Angeline side as well as her Alban side. Each individual one is rather small, but as we see Moirin grow from a child to a young lady to a woman, she learns to use her powers to great effect. Carey does a most excellent job of showing the reader this growth as the story unfolds.

Moirin is of the Maghuin Dhonn, the Bear Witch people, which we learned a little about in earlier books in the series. I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the Maghuin Dhonn directly through Moirin. While much of Maghuin Dhonn live in near isolation, they are still a connected people and will come together in larger groups for certain occasions, such as Moirin’s coming of age ceremony. Moirin has to work hard to be acknowledged by the Bear Witch herself, but that acknowledgement comes at a steep price, one that I think we won’t fully understand until the end of this trilogy.

As usual with this series, there are several lovely sex scenes. Carey doesn’t skimp but she also doesn’t toss in throwaway love scenes. These interactions always reveal something more about the characters involved. I found this especially true in the later part of the book where there is a princess and a dragon. I won’t say anything further as I don’t want to be spoilery. Just know that it’s worthy.

I do have one quibble for this book. At the end, there is some drama and death and I did feel there was some deus ex machina involved. It involves the ultimate bad guy and why he wasn’t properly trussed up. Even with this one small criticism, I did enjoy how the ending leaves our heroes in a complicated place, setting us up for the next adventure.

The Narration: Anne Flosnik is a joy to listen to. She does such an excellent job with the multitude of accents needed for this book. She’s also great with a voice for Moirin that ages as she comes of age throughout the story. Her male voices are quite believable.

What I Liked: The cover art; great narration; Moirin in her own right; the quest to find one’s heritage; the desire to fulfill the Great Bear’s wishes; Bao as the main love interest; the dragon; from humble beginnings to world traveler!

What I Disliked: There was a bit of deus ex machina at the end.

What Others Think:

Eyrie

Book Smugglers

Dear Author

Fantasy Book Critic

A. V. Club

Fantasy Cafe

Strange Horizons

The Bibliosanctum

Books Without Any Pictures

Kushiel's Avatar by Jacqueline Carey

Claudie snoozing with a very good  book.
Claudie snoozing with a very good book.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Anne Flosnik

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2009)

Length: 31 hours 25 minutes

Series: Book 3 Kushiel’s Legacy

Author’s Page

Note: It is possible to read this book as a stand alone as relevant events from Book 1 and Book 2 are reflected upon in enough detail for a reader of Book 3 to grasp the point. However, I highly recommend reading the earlier books so that you get the most out of this book.

Set 10 years after Book 2, Kushiel’s Chosen, Phedre and Joscelin have had all that time to settle into their relationship. Both have made compromises to their wants in order to make room for their love. Phedre only takes two assignations a year in Naamah’s service while Joscelin has learned to let his sense of humor show here and there. But through this well-earned and hard-found bliss, Phedre has never forgotten Hyacinthe and his sacrifice for Terre D’Ange and herself. He still lives an isolated life out on the Three Sisters, learning the powers of the Master of the Straights. Then she receives an unexpected missive from an old enemy and one-time patron, Melisande. Phedre’s adventuring days are not over yet.

This is a re-read for me. I have enjoyed this series over and over again and it was awesome to revisit this book as part of a read along with several blogger friends. They brought new insights to this much beloved book. I have always found this book to be the darkest of the first trilogy. The entire series deals with consent in its many myriad forms. However, in this installment of the series we see how those lines can get blurred and shattered apart. This epic fantasy is not for the faint of heart.

There’s two plot lines for Joscelin and Phedre to solve in this book and one has always been more interesting to me than the other. First, as we know from Book 2, Melisande had a son who she somehow spirited away. Now, it is up to Phedre and Joscelin to track down this long-lost Prince of the Blood, Imriel. Second, the Master of the Straights has passed his powers on to Hyacinthe after a long 10-year apprenticeship. Phedre still searches for the key to free him and will never give up.

The search for Imriel is the one that has always held my attention. It deals with child slavery and the broken trust of a child and how, if ever, to recover that trust. Meanwhile, I have never gotten caught up fully in Hyacinthe’s plight. He went into the agreement with full knowledge as an adult. I know the life on the Three Sisters is a complete 180 for him, being trapped on these three isles with only his servants and the Master of the Straights for company. And yet…. Well, I always felt that he was moping about it, for ten years. He wasn’t trying to make the most of the situation. He wasn’t making an effort to embrace the few, yet awesomely powerful, perks of his new station in life and I think that is what dampened my feelings towards him. Meanwhile, Phedre was all in an anguish over him every other chapter and felt this great survivor’s guilt for not having been the one trapped on that isle instead of Hyacinthe. It’s totally in keeping with Phedre’s personality, and yet I still found it a little tiring.

So, setting aside that one tiny quibble, this is an excellent book to wrap up the first trilogy. Phedre’s gods ask her to take on a dangerous and most difficult task. The asking is subtle and I feel there’s plenty there for each reader to interpret their own way. The magic of Terre D’Ange is not often direct. Phedre’s deities will be tested by the dark powers that have taken up residence in Darsanga, a land far to the east of Terre D’Ange. Phedre and Joscelin won’t be able to count on any help from friends and allies. My heart really went out to Joscelin on this one. In the past books, Phedre’s actions have often tested Joscelin’s vows, but this is a new level. I think both Phedre and Joscelin lost a little bit of themselves.

There’s plenty of travel for Phedre and Joscelin in this story. New lands and new cultures are explored. The Yeshuites continue to play a part in this tale. Indeed, they have quite a significant role in part of the adventure. It’s easy to see how both Phedre and Joscelin have grown throughout the series in this book. They take on meeting new peoples in stride and adapting their own manners to be more accommodating to their hosts. In Book 1 and Book 2, Phedre can sometimes come off as a little conceited. I think she’s really grown out of that here in Book 3. She still observes differences, but she’s not longer simply comparing those differences to the ways of Terre D’Ange.

As with the first two books, the author doesn’t shy away from detailed sex scenes. They are always used to move the plot forward or show some aspect of the characters. One of the reasons that I adore these books is that they don’t ignore the fact that sex is a main driver for human behavior and that how we treat someone both outside and inside the bedroom is important (and sometimes is mightily different). This book contains one of my favorite sex scenes of all time. It involves fishing. The scene was moving, beautiful, arousing, loving, sensual, and meaningful.

Enough gushing. You know by now that I adore this book even if I find it the darkest of the three. I also find that it holds the most food for thought. The myriad of characters show their strengths, and try to hide their weaknesses, in a variety of ways. It’s not just swords and muscles that will win your way through this adventure. The ending was quite satisfying. Not everyone got everything they were hoping for, but everyone got enough.

 

The Narration: Once again, Anne Flosnik gives a stellar performance. The list of accents needed for this trilogy grows yet again with this installment. I can’t imagine the amount of research she had to put into this before she could begin the narration. Her character voices are always distinct and she holds this accent or that accent steady for each character. I love her little kid voice for Imriel. Great narration!

What I Liked: More adventuring; deals with some weightier issues; plenty of food for thought; Joscelin has figured out what to do with his sense of humor; the sex scenes; Imriel; the solution to Hyacinthe’s problem; a beautiful ending to this trilogy.

What I Disliked: My tiny quibble is that I sometimes found Hyacinthe’s plight a little tiring.

What Others Think:

Strange Horizons

Eyrie

Kirkus Reviews

SFF Book Reviews

Fantasy Book Review

Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey

Tofu kitty with a very good book.
Tofu kitty with a very good book.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Anne Flosnik

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2009)

Length: 27 hours 52 minutes

Series: Book 2 Kushiel’s Legacy

Author’s Page

Note: It is possible to read this book as a stand alone as relevant events from Book 1 are reflected upon in enough detail for a reader of Book 2 to grasp the point. However, I highly recommend reading Book 1 as it is just so damn good!

We return once again to the alternate history of Terre D’Ange (France) and the surrounding lands. Book 2 picks up several months after Book 1 ended. Melisande Sharhizai is still at large. However, very early in Book 2 our heroine Phedre receives a challenge of sorts from Melisande – her sangoire cloak is returned to her via a carrier from Caerdicca Unitas (Italy) and more specifically La Serenissima (Venice). Phedre truly believes that Terre D’Ange and the queen (Ysandre) are in danger so long as Melisande is free. The challenge sets in motion events that will change Phedre’s life forever.

Here we have another masterfully crafted book from Jacqueline Carey. Sometimes sequels aren’t near as good as the first in the series but this series holds it’s own weight as it progresses. I have read this book several times now and this is my second time listening to it. First, I love how the characters continue to grow and how the world continues to expand as Phedre’s travels take her further afield. Second, Melisande continues to make a most worthy opponent. Phedre definitely has her work cut out for her in this book!

Once again, we are told the story through Phedre’s eyes. She was raised in the Court of the Night Blooming flowers and being subservient and unseen (expect maybe as a pretty plaything) comes easily to her. She polished off her training in Anafiel Delaunay’s house where she learned history, politics, languages, and how to think in a rational manner. Both served her well in Book 1 and they do so again in Book 2. Yet this journey she comes to understand her powers a bit more – her will power to live, her ability to forgive, her strength to deny Melisande. That which yields, is not always weak (a quote from Kushiel’s Dart).

There were two interesting themes that twined throughout the novel: loyalty and grief. Again and again, we see Phedre and other characters having to figure out where their loyalties really lie – with queen and country? To the deities they serve? To family? I think Joscelin struggled the most with this one. Grief made an interesting thread throughout the book. What is a mortal’s grief compared to the grief of a goddess? How do you mourn the passing of something not of a physical nature, such as friendship or love? These were some big ideas to contemplate even as my mind was fully engaged in the day to day decisions of the characters.

This time through, I listened to the book as part of a read along. It was a great experience and let me see things about the book I had not seen before. For instance, I had not really noticed before that Phedre is, on occasion, a little bit of a snob. Now I see it in small things and I see how it ties to her upbringing and culture. This in turn let’s me see it in other Terre D’Ange characters. And this leads to a nuanced part of the plot of this book – how Terre D’Ange has been a bit xenophobic towards other cultures for too long and it has cost them in the larger arena of politics. This book (and the entire series) is awesome because you can reread it and take something new away each time.

As with Kushiel’s Dart, there is also plenty of sex and it is told in just as much detail as the rest of the story. You may blush a bit. The sex scenes serve to show certain aspects of the characters involved or to move the plot forward. I never feel that space is wasted on these scenes. Plus, some of them are rather educational in and of themselves. 😉

As with Book 1, I was completely swept up into Phedre’s world once again. Jacqueline Carey makes great use of languages to round out a culture. If you’re a bit of a linguistics geek, you will love this aspect of the series. It’s a rich world, a devilishly intriguing plot, and characters you will never forget. Reading it the 7th time was just as good as reading it the first time.

The Narration: Anne Flosnik is once again the voice of Phedre, and a great fit she is too! Phedre’s voice is how we experience the story and, hence, Phedre’s emotions come through the loudest. Flosnik did a great job imbuing the characters with emotions, but especially, Phedre. My heart broke and soared for her multiple times throughout the tale! The linguistics keep piling up in this series and Flosnik met the challenge magnificnetly.

What I Liked: The cover art; Phedre, of course; yeah! more travels!; pirates!; interesting exploration of grief; Joscelin and Phedre have to work on their relationship; Melisande is the evil that you love to hate; fantastic narration; the ending was satisfying but left the door open for Book 3.

What I Disliked: Nothing –  I adore this book.

What Others Think:

 

Megan Cashman

Fantasy Book Review

SF Site

 

Slated For Death by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Slinky helping with knitting
Slinky helping with knitting

Where I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Anne Flosnik

Publisher: Dreamscape Media (2015)

Length: 6 hours 59 minutes

Series: Book 6 Penny Brannigan

Author’s Page

 

Note: While this is Book 6 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone story.

Penny Brannigan is a transplanted Canadian that has adopted the North Wales town a Llanelen as her home. She and a good friend, Victoria, have started a beauty spa and their own line of beauty treatments. All is tranquil in this little town until a well-known figure, Glenda Roberts, is found dead in the local tourist slate mine.

While I would put this book in the cozy mystery section, I would also say it takes itself seriously. The characters are well formed and the plot holds steady throughout. While there are touches of light humor here and there, it is definitely not the main feature.

Penny is an amateur sleuth who has connections throughout the town, including a handsome police officer, Gareth. Their romance hasn’t taken off yet but they have mutual respect for each other and there’s a tag team of info gathering and problem solving between the two of them throughout the book. I really enjoyed their relationship. There’s some snappy dialogue between the two at times. We also get to spend a little time in Gareth’s head and we see how much he respects and yearns for Penny.

Glenda Roberts was a town event organizer. In fact, she was in the middle of organizing an orchestra event in the mine for St. David’s Day when she was discovered dead. As the police look into her life, they discover several people who didn’t particularly like her. Meanwhile, her sister runs a little market stall where various knock-offs are sold. This little family side business has also gained the sisters a few enemies. Even though Glenda is dead for nearly the entire book (excepting the little bit at the beginning before she is murdered), her character continues to gain aspects as the story moves forward and the police dig into her life. I really liked this as it kept Glenda around as an active and essential part of the story.

This book had several clever twists. At first, I thought this murder mystery would be pretty straight forward. I was engaged by the characters and by the setting but wasn’t expecting too much from the plot. But then we had one twist and then another and then a much bigger one. It was all well done and each little twist kept sucking me into the story further and further.

The last half of the book, I listened to all in one sitting. I simply didn’t want to put it away as I could feel the story heading towards a big reveal. I had a guess as to how the mystery would finally unravel, but I couldn’t quite piece it all together. It was a joy to see how the author wrapped the events of the past mining generation to the present generation.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Anne Flosnik was a good fit for Penny. She has a great talent for accents and in this book the Welsh words pop up everywhere. I especially liked her voice for Victoria and for the alcoholic orchestra leader. 

What I Liked: The cover art; the Welsh setting; learned a little about slate mines; Penny is a charming amateur sleuth; the twists and turns kept me thinking; the ending was well done.

What I Disliked: Nothing – I really enjoyed this book.