Pagan Portals: The Morrigan

I really appreciate that this book was written by an Irish reconstructionist. There’s a certain level of academic adherence in the reconstructionists that puts me at ease. I don’t feel like I have to take everything with a grain of salt and question their research methods and wonder if they’re adding artistic license to their interpretations.

Celtic history and lore is tough. The simple fact is that we won’t ever know for sure what things were like, back then. Time and other cultures have done a lot to erase anything that might have survived from that era. And in some way, I have to think that’s okay. Maybe it’s up to the neopagans and reconstructionists to try to get to the heart of the beliefs and practices of that time period.

I’m obviously not a reconstructionist myself, so maybe this lack of historical record is far more frustrating for the actual recons. 🙂

Regardless, I really enjoyed this book. I feel like it gave a good overview of the historical references we are sure of when it comes to the Morrigan. It’s going to be tricky to nail down a shapeshifting sometimes-trickster goddess in the best of times. Of course there’s going to be ambiguity in a lot of the references to her.

I feel like I have a better understanding of her after reading this book, and I think that was the author’s goal. There’s also some nice personal anecdotes and interpretations in the book which are interesting and always clearly labeled. I appreciate seeing how others interact with and worship the Morrigan.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Morrigan or just curious about her historical references.

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Naamah’s Blessing

The final installment of the Moirin trilogy takes our favorite characters even farther than they’ve already been. All the way to the shores of what we would think of as South America.

Moirin interacts with the equivalency of Aztec and Incan people, in a long, dangerous journey she has to undertake to right a wrong. In a way she is making penance for earlier mistakes, and the story comes around full circle to involve characters who were at the forefront in the first book of the trilogy.

The environments are beautifully crafted and described. Carey has immense talent in bringing culture to life through her settings and characters. Somehow, Moirin moves through all the different cultures she encounters with grace and innocent purity.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a partnership quite as compelling as Moirin and Bao’s. They shouldn’t fit together at all. In the Phedre trilogy, Carey delighted in pairing two characters who are the exact opposite of the right fit for each other—and their relationship is inevitable, epic, and beautiful. Here, Moirin and Bao aren’t opposites. They are almost at right angles to each other. It shouldn’t ever work. But they end up with the strongest, most complementing partnership I’ve ever read. It’s a beautiful example of how mutual, unfailing love and respect in a partnership can create a foundation from which each individual can be completely themselves, and yet *more so* with the support of their partner uplifting them. #Relationshipgoals, well and truly.

It’s probably a good thing that this is the final book in the trilogy, because I’m running out of complimentary adjectives and have already used the same ones many times. I can’t speak highly enough of this trilogy. Fans of strong female characters, confident in their sexuality and unwavering in their loyalty to friends, will adore this trilogy and should read it straight through. I might like the second book more than the third, but since they’re all five stars in my book that isn’t much of a distinction to make. 🙂

Naamah’s Curse

I’ve never read a more beautiful, terrifying story.

If you know me, you know that a basically Pagan Celtic protagonist driven by her soul’s passion to form meaningful connections with people is…well, me. Reading characters that so closely mirror ourselves can be an interesting exercise. You learn a lot about yourself.

In reading this book—which is now my #2 favorite book of all time (second only to The Amber Spyglass—I learned so much about myself through the emotions that the story woke in me.

Moirin has an untouched innocence. She can be naive at times, sure, but I’m speaking more of the purity of someone born from Nature, unspoiled by civilization. Her heart has no bounds, and her travels lead her to make meaningful connections again and again and again. It’s lovely.

This volume in the trilogy takes us to the northern fields above Ch’in, and then west to Vralia, where a religion parallel to reality’s Christianity is on the rise. Then we travel all the way south to Bhodistan, which represents India.

The events in Vralia hit home for me. There’s a particular brand of horror out there for everyone—one thing that you are soul-deep afraid of, more than anything else. This portion of the book plucked that chord for me. I won’t give away the exact circumstances, but what Moirin faces there was so terrifying to me that I seriously considered putting down the book despite the gorgeous writing quality and how much I love the characters. I’ll say only that my religion is sacred to me, and I had to question whether I would possess the same strength as Moirin, or whether I would break under those circumstances. It’s a valuable thing, coming up against your true limits and finding out what’s on the other side. I did it with my pregnancy. I hope I would come out whole on the other side of what Moirin goes through in this section.

Then, offered almost as a balm for the terror-filled ache caused by the preceding events, Moirin’s time in Bhodistan is so moving and beautiful that I cried happy tears. She meets wonderful characters, and Carey proves yet again how strong and resilient her characters can be.

Ideally we would live in a world where strong, complex female characters were flooding the market. Since that isn’t quite the case, I’ll say that Carey’s fiction is a welcome respite from the harsh realities of a world where the political landscape makes you feel less than lucky to have been born a woman. Carey’s heroines are everything a young girl would want to aspire to, and her heroes are representations of truly equal men who aren’t threatened by powerful women, but seek to support them. The pairings in these novels are beautiful, and each partner seeks to complement the other. True equality, as it is meant to be lived.

This trilogy touches my heart and soul. Every bit of it resonates with me. I would recommend it most highly to anyone who wants to get to know me better, and aside from that any fans of Carey’s writing will love these. Fans of speculative fiction flavored with mythology and alternate history would enjoy these immensely, and anyone looking for female role models should definitely read them.

Naamah’s Kiss

I thought I wouldn’t be as interested in Moirin’s trilogy after I heard that it takes place so long after Phedre and Joscelin and Imriel’s time. I was wrong.

There’s an entirely different approach to this one. It’s the same in that the story starts with Moirin as a young girl, and we watch her grow up and grow into herself. Rather than being tutored in espionage and pulled into intrigue, though, Moirin is called by her goddess to leave the comfort of everything she’s ever known, and seek her destiny.

It sounds vague, right? Seek her destiny. But that’s part of the charm. It keeps you turning the pages. And there’s so much delightful misdirection! Moirin herself is fumbling around, trying to be true to herself and figure out her destiny and hopelessly drawn to sex with the most inopportune persons of state and importance. It’s silly at times, but in a lovely, innocent way.

If you read the Imriel trilogy, you’ll understand more about Amaranthe’s character than you did before by reading about Moirin. She’s a descendant of Amaranthe, and called again and again to fulfill the same type of companion role. It’s beautiful, how much perfect love one person can hold in their heart for different people.

I love that Moirin comes from the forests, from Nature. She’s naive in a deep, magical way. Her heart is more pure, her wisdom more true, because of it. And yet the complications of modern society work to complicate her life again and again, and she’s irresistibly drawn in each time.

I don’t want to give anything away, but Carey fulfills expectations by taking us to a far country we haven’t seen before in her books. AND she folds magic and mythology into this tale as seamless as ever. Without giving any spoilers, there is one rather—different—character who I have a great fondness for. And I have a lot of respect for the other players in Moirin’s tale. Each one is complex and beautifully-wrought, their desires often at odds or just at a slight angle to Moirin’s. It makes for a gripping tale, and realistic relationships. I can’t wait to pick up the second book in this trilogy.

Celtic Magic

I feel like DJ Conway and I have similar tastes in pantheons and magick systems, so it was a no-brainer to read this book. I really enjoy the simple and accessible format, and the information that she included.

I think the most valuable component of this book for me was the sample ritual components, which I’m excited to adopt and adapt for various uses.

I don’t agree with everything she says, and the correspondences are useful but there are more extensive resources out there. I particularly disagreed with the idea that the Morrigan and Cerridwen are just Irish/Welsh versions of the same goddess. But, that’s the beauty of Paganism—everyone gets to have their own approach and interpretations.

I would recommend this book to any Pagan interested in Celtic styles of religious worship. I can’t speak for or against the historical accuracy of anything in the book, but it’s a fun, quick, and useful read.

Immortal Fire

YOU GUYS.

OH MY GODS.

This book is better than I expected. Considering how much I absolutely LOVED the first and second ones, I was already expecting a lot.

Yes, the action is well-paced, the story structure is one of the most masterful I’ve read in ages. The characters are interesting and complex and so, so worthy of all the praise ever. But the arcs, you guys. The character arcs. The things they learn. The things that happen to them!

I seriously could never do this book justice, talking about it. When I’m this excited about a book, people tend to think I’m exaggerating or just being dramatic for kicks. So I’ll stop overselling this one and just say that it absolutely enriched my life to read it, and gave me all the achingly sweet and painful and inspiring feels. Read it or you’re missing out.

Red Winter

Oh my. I didn’t have any expectations going into this book, because I hadn’t heard much about it. I found it on some lists of YA books with snow in them. Seriously. (Research for my current novel.)

I am so glad that this book came onto my radar. I think it started out a tiny bit slow—Emi’s character takes a while to build, and I didn’t empathize with her at first. She seemed a little stuck up, a little cold. I switched the audiobook to 1.4x speed pretty soon in, and then things went a little faster. I wasn’t expecting to get a quarter of the way through and *not want to stop listening*, though.

Let’s be real. I stayed up super late last night finishing this book (yes, I had work today, too).

When the action picks up, it really picks up. I just wanted to keep going! Basically as soon as Shiro enters the picture, that’s it for me. I’m lost in this story.

Marie manages to create what feels like a really good anime in the form of a YA novel with a cool female protagonist. Strong doesn’t really describe her well—it’s more like, “powerful.” For reasons that you’ll understand when you read the book. The settings are beautifully drawn, very engaging and visually stunning. The title is super clever, because fresh blood on fallen snow is an image you can’t shake. There’s plenty of suspense, both in the plot and in individual action sequences. There’s a definite ticking clock, especially for our protagonists.

By the time I finished this one, I was already looking up the next book in the trilogy. I think I’ll try Annette Marie’s other series, as well, because I am enjoying this one so much.

Fans of fantasy YA, fantasy anime shows, female YA protagonists, Japanese demon mythology, and fast-paced action will all love this book. It really blew me away, and I’ve already recommended it to several people just in the last 24 hours. Do yourself a favor and go read it. 🙂

“Do you promise?” *swoons*

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology is a delightful collection of re-tellings, in Gaiman’s unique and unparalleled voice. He lays things out clearly, so that you don’t see all the ambiguity of ancient myths passed down in a hundred different versions via oral traditions. You see the bones of the stories, and you get to understand the Norse mythos more completely. After reading these, I actually understand a friend of mine who is a Pagan devotee of Thor much more!

I enjoyed all these stories in their varied subject matters. My favorite was the final chapter, which talks about Ragnarok, an end and a beginning. The stories are told in an inspirational way that made me want to go write. Anyone who enjoys mythology should read these. Any writer looking for a little mythic inspiration should definitely read these.

Thanks for doing it again, Neil Gaiman. The world would be a darker place without your prose.

Kushiel’s Mercy

Imriel’s great quest in the wilds on his own is over—but Carey’s stories are never that simple. He’s made great sacrifices, and terrible mistakes. And now he has to win the right to be with the woman he loves.

You feel sorry for him. No one should have to endure the amount of travesty and pain that Imriel has faced in his life. And you admire him, because he continues to rise to the occasion when he’s called to.

In the first two books of the series we see Terre D’Ange, Alba, Lucca, Tiberium, the Flatlands, and Vralia. This time, we get to see Carthage and Aragonia. The focus isn’t so much on the distances, and the different cultures, but on a quest to overcome dire magic. Imriel agrees to be subject to magic himself, and the spells wrought are intriguing. To Carey’s credit, she handles the transition of narrative voice requisite because of one of the spells very well.

Ultimately, if you’ve read the first and second book of this trilogy, you’re going to read this final one. How can you not? Imriel and Sidonie are fascinating. They cater to a slightly different fanbase than Phedre and Joscelin did. They’re a little bit more relatable, because they make mistakes and are very human. That isn’t to say that Phedre and Joscelin aren’t still my favorite (they are—though Moirin from the next trilogy is beginning to challenge that). Imriel and Sidonie are wonderful in their own way.

I wish I’d read these books a long time ago. There’s some really fabulous stuff in here that could spark valuable conversations about consent. No one talked about consent when I was young—we all knew what rape was, of course, but no one tried to flesh out the nuances of actual vs. implied consent. I was lucky to have found my religious beliefs before I became interested in sex—Paganism taught me to view sex as sacred, an act to be approached with reverence and respect. That was my roundabout education on consent, since no one actually used the word consent with me ever. I could have benefitted from having read these books in high school.

I think I enjoy the sex between Imriel and Sidonie a lot more than what is between Phedre and Joscelin. They are different manifestations of perfect love and perfect trust, to be sure. These books are fabulous, and I can’t get enough of Carey’s writing and storytelling, which is why I immediately moved on to Moirin’s trilogy after finishing my second run-through of this trilogy. 🙂

Kushiel’s Justice

This is the second book in the Imriel trilogy, and it’s just so darn sad! In the best way possible, because I’m beginning to think that Carey’s incapable of writing anything bad. But I definitely cried while reading this book. I actually was reading a particularly weighty scene during a pumping break at work (still breastfeeding at the time I wrote this book review…which was a while ago), and had to wipe away the tears and pretend like nothing had happened when I went back to my desk afterward. Silly.

The title of this book is apropos. The message would basically be: no one is exempt from the karma the gods wish to exact. Imriel does something a little stupid, that has huge consequences. A good chunk of this book happens in Alba, which we went to before in Kushiel’s Dart with Phedre and Joscelin, of course. This is different, though. We see more of the customs there, more of the day-to-day life. We meet new characters and learn to love them just as much as the others we’re already fond of. And terrible, horrible things happen to Imriel, which propel him on a quest that takes him to the flatlands, Skaldia, and as far north as Vralia, which is basically an approximation of Russia, where a fanatical group of religious extremists are gearing up to start their own Crusades.

By the time Imriel comes home, he’s completely changed. He’s finished growing up, through tragic circumstances. He’s earned this reader’s love, admiration, and respect. Usually when a character is brooding and immature you don’t see them do a complete 180. Imriel does, though. He finds his strength during all his trials to start demanding his own happiness, instead of waiting to see if he’s worthy of it. I like that sort of journey for a character. I think it’s smart, and I think Carey does it really well.

You’ll have to read the book to see what I mean, and to experience the sad parts, and the beautiful parts, and the heart-wrenching parts involving the karmic justice enacted by the gods. It’s really quite well-wrought.

If you enjoyed the first Imriel book, you’ll love this one even more. If you didn’t really like the first Imriel book, that’s okay—you’ll love this one more.