Jacqueline Carey on Naamah's Blessing, the Terre d'Ange world and what comes next
Fans of fantasy are probably already familiar with Jacqueline Carey, who's just completed the third book in her third New York Times-best-selling trilogy revolving around the world of Terre D'Ange and gods and goddesses intervening in mortal life; the latest novel, Naamah's Kiss, continues the story of Moirin, who's facing her destiny on the recently discovered continent of Terra Nova. We caught up with Carey to talk about how Terre D'Ange is related to our own world, the challenges of writing about human sacrifice, and what we can expect to see on shelves next.
Westword: How would you explain the connection between the world of Terre D'Ange and our own world?
Jacqueline Carey: I usually just kind of shorthand it and call it an alternate history. When pressed, I'll use a term one of my readers came up with, which is "cafeteria-style alternate history," because often when writers are talking about alternate history, they'll take one turn of events as a starting point. What if the Allies had not won World War II? What if the South had won the Civil War? Whereas mine is more going through the cafeteria line and saying, "All right, I'm going to resurrect Carthage."
In Naamah's Kiss, you have the beginnings of firearms -- and then you have Moirin absorbing all that knowledge and taking it out of the equation. Could that be considered a turning point for humanity?
That was another cafeteria-style choice. As I was bringing the timeline forward, I thought, "Do I want to introduce artillery?" And I thought, "I really don't -- so how in the world can I rationalize that?" And that kind of became a major plot point around which to build a novel.
Can we expect to see Moirin traveling to Terra Nova in this book? You seem to indicate she might ...
Yeah, I did. And I telegraphed in the early phases of the first book, when her first love, Cillian, is all about the discovery of the new land.
Can you tell us a little bit about what happens to her there?
The biggest plot line is one I had not decided in the beginning: That when the spirits in mockery give the Circle of Shalomon the gift of the language of ants, we arrive in the jungles eventually to find out that Rafael de Mereliot has gone full-on Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, and now controls an army of ravening ants.
Can you talk about the connection between Moirin and Morwen from the Imriel series -- and how she relates to the daughter Imriel and Morwen might have had together?
It's not really meant to be a direct connection so much as sort of an echo, which is why I altered the name a little. But I envisioned that scenario as it might have played out in Imriel's timeline -- but that she would be a reconciling figure -- and I think that's something that Moirin does wherever she's gone. She has been sort of a bridge between elements of conflict. Can you talk about where you came up with the concept for Terre D'Ange's gods -- Blessed Elua and his Companions?
One of my favorite anecdotes about where ideas come from was in an Ursula K. LeGuin short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas." I had an anthology with a forward by her in which she said that one of the odd little things she does is read road signs backward -- in leaving Salem, Oregon, she read "Omelas." "Elua" came from mis-remembering an entry in a book called the Dictionary of Angels. I really loved the shape of the word and the way it derived from the essential El. When I looked it up, I was completely mistaken. But I'd been doing a lot of research at the time for a coffee-table book I was working on -- I was reading a lot of Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha and reading the stories there. Basically, I got paid for doing research for what became the world-building for Terre D'Ange. All the names of the companions themselves have a basis in angelology. I tried to go with names that didn't already have a whole lot of baggage. Some are quite obscure. And it's tough to find names for females; there aren't a lot of female angels.
What about the lost pages of the Book of Raziel? Will we see those again, or did Phedre and her crew hide them too well?
To be honest, I can't really answer that question with certainty. At this point, I would say no, but I kind of tossed that out there as a playing piece that I could pick up at some point if I chose. So as I say often, "Never say never." But I'm not planning to.
Are you going to follow this up with another trilogy about the next generation -- maybe Desiree, Jehanne's daughter?
It's the last time definitely for a while. That's another never-say-never, but I suspect if I do return to Terre D'Ange, it won't be to pick up the thread generationally, but to see what it looks like in the future.
What are some of the challenges of making those leaps through time?
One of the challenges, obviously, is making those cafeteria-style choices and figuring out how to rationalize them and how to incorporate them. I read Guns, Germs, and Steel, about how these things altered the course of history, and I was sort of surprised to find that the impact of guns was not as much; germs was proportionately much higher. So I would imagine that the further you advance and the more technology you have to deal with, the more choices you have to make. In terms of characters and generations, by the time I got to the end of Imriel's trilogy, I was wrestling such a really big chunk of backstory that it becomes difficult to incorporate in a fluid way, which is why I wanted to skip forward and let those characters become legends.
On another note, are you working on a followup to Santa Olivia?
I am indeed. The sequel is called Saints Astray, and it's scheduled for release in November. And this is kind of -- it's a lot more lighthearted than the first book. It took two very inexperienced, sheltered in some ways, street-wise in others, teenage girls, and turned them loose on the world.
Does Loup get to meet others like her?
There aren't many. We do get to meet her cousins. But she still remains pretty anomalous in her own terms.
It's such a great story. I'm embarrassed to admit to you how many times I've read it.
I love that book, too. After all of the extremely ornate prose of the Kushiel books, it was really refreshing to write something that had a much more muscular lyricism, and it's surprisingly fun to write a character who's not terribly articulate.
Can you talk a little bit about what it's like to switch first-person characters like that?
Obviously, with Imriel and his angsty, tortured past, he was going to be completely different from Phedre, and also writing a male character from the first person. There's something very genuine about Moirin that I always find engaging. in one of the earliest scenes in the first book of her trilogy, somebody's left a basket of eggs in the heart of the cave, and she picks one up and licks it to see what it tastes and feels like, and that was for me kind of a metaphor for her character.
What happens with the Maghuin Dhonn? Are they somehow absolved as a people after Moirin's adventures?
I'm actually really pleased with the resolution. There's nothing overt, like they get the gift of shapechanging back. It felt more apt to me that it should remain lost. But it's actually a hard one for me to describe.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
One of the things I've said most about this last book -- and I think you not being able to blow through 600 pages in a single night wouldn't have gotten here -- but dealing with the element of human sacrifice in writing about the Central and South American cultures, and particularly Aztec culture -- while some accounts of it may be exaggerated, it was pretty undeniably a significant element of the culture. That was one of the hardest things to wrap my head around and gain some insight into. When I finally had a breakthrough, it came from reading translations of Aztec poetry. There was a really rich poetic tradition, a lot of floral imagery and the equation of the transient nature of flowers -- beauty -- equated with the ephemeral nature of human life. That was kind of my aha! moment, and I ended up building on that imagery.
Naamah's Blessing hits stores tomorrow.