Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin


The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
Published: Orbit, 2012
Series: Book 1 Dreamblood Duology

The Book:

In Gujaareh, the dream goddess Hananja is highly revered.  Her priests gather the four humors from the dreams of tithebearers to heal their people’s hearts and minds.  The most feared and respected of these priests are the Gatherers.  They kill to collect dreamblood, but they also make certain that the souls of their targets rest happily in a sweet afterlife of dreams.

Gatherers bring peace to the terminally sick and elderly, but they also seek out and destroy corruption.  When Gatherer Ehiru and his apprentice Nijiri learn that there is a corrupt Gatherer, called a Reaper, murdering innocent people in their city, they are forced into action.  The corruption that allowed such an abomination to come into existence is more far-reaching and insidious than they could have imagined, and they must follow a difficult path to cleanse it from Gujaareh.” ~Allie

The Killing Moon is the second novel I’ve read by N.K. Jemisin, and I chose it due to Calico Reaction’s Theme Park Challenge.  The first novel I read by Jemisin was her debut, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which kicked off her Inheritance Trilogy.  I read it just before starting this blog, so I sadly don’t have a review to look back to.  I did enjoy the novel, but I didn’t feel strongly enough about it to continue the trilogy.  After The Killing Moon, though, I’m quite eager to grab a copy of the second Dreamblood book, The Shadowed Sun, which is already out.  

The Book:

The Killing Moon is set in a fictional world intelligently inspired by ancient Egypt.  Some of the influences from Egyptian culture were clear, but Jemisin did much more than simply copy history.  The history, politics, class systems, gender relations, religion and dream magic of Gujaareh and its sister nation of Kisua fit together to make a fictional world that felt organic and believable.  One major fantastical feature of the world is dream magic, and I appreciated how well this was incorporated into the fabric of the two societies and their religious mythology.  Gujaareh houses a priesthood of dream magic practitioners, who use their skill to heal the weak and kill the corrupt.  Kisua, on the other hand, completely rejects dream magic as an abomination, while still revering the dream goddess Hananja.  Throughout the story, the idea of dream magic is examined from many sides, and it is clearly shown how potentially beneficial yet extremely dangerous the practice can be.  I loved the complexity and internal consistency of the world, and I look forward to returning to seeing more of it in the future.  

Though I enjoyed the world-building, I am not sure if I entirely loved the way some information was grafted into the novel. Each chapter started with a short excerpt from “Law” or “Wisdom”, explaining a point of law or culture that was typically related to dream magic. While I loved learning more about the world, I sometimes wished the information dispersal could have been more incorporated into the flow of the story.  There was also a series of interludes, where an unknown narrator explained some of the history and mythology of the two main nations.  The interludes were interesting, but they didn’t seem necessary to the main plot.  If the identity of the narrator had been revealed earlier, I think it might have given more of an emotional impact to a later plot twist.  As it was, I didn’t really get why they were included, and I’m hoping that it will become clear in the second novel.

In addition to the world-building, the novel boasted three compelling main characters and an exciting, well-paced plot.  The three characters—Gatherer Ehiru, his apprentice Nijiri, and the Kisuati spy/diplomat Sunandi—represented very different views on dream magic.  They were also delightfully flawed characters with very different, well-developed personalities.  I was particularly interested by the unusual relationship between Nijiri and Ehiru, which affects much of the story. Nijiri is completely in love with Ehiru, so strongly it clouds his judgment.  Ehiru does not return the same kind of love, but he relies on Nijiri to support him through psychologically difficult times.  The book does not shy away from the selfish nature of their love for one another, but neither does it discredit their bond.     

The plot was largely driven by the desires of the characters, and it kept me engrossed from start to finish. I appreciated that the story contained a lot of moral ambiguity, especially relating to the act of Gathering, and that even the characters that were clearly villains had understandable motives.  Some of the plot twists were easy to see coming, but the reveals still managed to be effective.  Small parts of the central mystery became clear throughout the story, but I don’t think I grasped the entirety of it until the very end.  The story seemed to move very rapidly, and it was full of intrigue and violence in addition to the characters’ internal conflicts.  If this book is a good representation of Jemisin’s recent work, then I want to read more of it!

My Rating: 4/5

The Killing Moon is an exciting story set in a fantastical world inspired by ancient Egypt.  In the main nation of Gujaareh, Jemisin has crafted a fascinating, complex society that makes sense internally, and that incorporates the interesting idea of dream magic in a seemingly natural way.  I found the three main characters—spy/diplomat Sunandi, Gatherer Ehiru, and his apprentice Nijiri—to be both sympathetic and interestingly flawed, and I liked that even the villains had justifications for their actions.  I thought that the insertion of info-dumps through Law/Wisdom excerpts and Interlude chapters seemed slightly awkward, but I was still eager to learn the information about the world that they imparted.  I’m not sure where the story will go after the conclusion of The Killing Moon, but I can’t wait to find out!

5 comments:

  1. I've also only read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Now you've got me really torn over whether I should continue that series or start this one first... I enjoyed the same moral ambiguity in Kingdoms so I imagine I'd enjoy it here too. I'm only nervous about the info-dumpy part. It seems like she is better than that. What gives I wonder?

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    1. I may have overstated the annoyance of the info-dumps... I believe there are 4 interludes in the novel, and the chapter headings are usually only a few sentences. It mostly just seemed strangely clumsy for a book that was pretty excellent otherwise! I will probably read the rest of the Inheritance Trilogy at some point, since I've heard it gets even better in the second two books. After reading the first book of each series, though, I think I'm going to focus on Dreamblood first.

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    2. You are only making it harder for me to decide! :)

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  2. Thanks for the review, Allie. After reading it I'm going to add this one to my list for the WOGF reading challenge on WWEnd! It looks neat and different.

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :)

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