My most recent listen was actually the second book in a series, and the third series set in the world of Terre d'Ange, an alternate/fantastical history series by Jacqueline Carey. I'll own upfront that I love the setting and the series so far, and was quite looking forward to this one. This is the first book in the series that I listened to on audio, however - and it did not disappoint.
Carey's books are beautiful and also very sexual in nature, but often also capture a high adventure feel without the ridiculousness of high fantasy. The setting of Terre d'Ange's world is one very like our own, even in the geography, religions, and languages - it's very clear that Terre d'Ange is meant to be France, Alba is Britain, and so forth. The difference is that in this world, the gods have a much more active and direct presence in the lives of the people, and magic is real - though not in the high fantasy style, with all it's fun yet unbelievable showiness. Instead, the magic in this setting tends to be subtle and quiet. Which is why I was surprised at first that this newest series follows the adventures of a bear-witch of Alba, with druid-like powers including the ability to make plants grow and to vanish into a magical Twilight. That said, this series still manages to capture the subtle, low-magic and high-wonder feel of the previous two in this setting.
Going into this book, I wasn't sure what to expect next. The main character, Moirin, was swept into a strange series of events in the last book that left me somewhat less engaged than usual for Carey's writing. I hoped this book would take a turn back to the gripping, page-turning interest that previous installments had provoked in me, and I wasn't disappointed. I think the main difference was that things were very personal for Moirin from the beginning of this story. In the previous book, she took it upon herself to help a Chinese princess who was possessed by a dragon, but it wasn't really about Moirin herself. In this book, she begins by searching for her love Bao, and is dragged through all sorts of hardships in order to reunite with him, meeting a horde of interesting and engaging characters along the way.
As usual, Carey takes us on a journey through many lands and religions, showcasing a fundamental Christian Russia, the nomadic Tartars, and both Hindu and Buddhist Indians. We see a much darker side of Christianity than was shown in previous books, when Moirin is captured and persecuted as a witch in Russia - but as usual, Carey's reverent treatment of all faiths brings the message that while some people may bend religion to suit their not-so-noble purposes, the gods themselves are full of love an acceptance. Through it all I was very impressed that while Moirin was a woman of strong beliefs, her personal fears and desires still often compelled her to make rash or unwise decisions, rather than becoming a glorified moral mouthpiece for the author.
The narration of the audio format for this novel fit the story well. Anne Flosnik, the narrator, was able to bring characterization to Moirin that I had been unable to feel from Carey's writing alone. When I read the first book, while I knew on the surface that Moirin was quite different from Carey's first heroine Phedre, I couldn't help but hear the story in my head in what I'd come to think of as Phedre's voice. Flosnik immediately remedies this with a pleasant Scottish accent that crystallizes Moirin's voice in my mind, and manages to pull off a Chinese and Indian accent where appropriate in the books. She performed voices for most characters, though many sounded rather similar, in particular the men's voices. Despite this, her reading is precise, elegant, and very suitable to the style of the book.
Should you listen?
Assuming you enjoy romantic (okay let's not kid ourselves, borderline erotica) fantasy, you can't go wrong with Carey's work, and this book is no exception. The audio format is clear and does not distract from the story. Better in my opinion than its predecessor Naamah's Kiss, readers of the Terre d'Ange series definitely won't be disappointed. If you haven't picked up anything by Carey before, I do recommend starting with Kushiel's Dart, the first chronologically in both the setting time period and in Carey's career. However, if you prefer a bit more magic (and a bit less S&M) in your reading, Naamah's Kiss (the first in the more recent series following the bear-witch Moirin) may suit your interest.
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