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The Killing Moon is the first installment of the Dreamblood duology by New York-based fantasy author N. K. Jemisin. Set in a completely different world from that featured in her earlier Inheritance Trilogy, The Killing Moon is set in a powerful desert city state called Gujaareh, where priests of the dream goddess (known as ‘Gatherers’) wield powerful magic fueled by dreams.
Much of a Gatherer’s work involves harvesting ‘dream humors’ from the city’s sleeping denizens, which in turn can be used to heal. But Gatherers are also called upon to end people’s lives and send them on to the dreamworld of Ina-Karekh. While this is often done with the person’s consent, it can be done unilaterally when someone is judged corrupt by the officials of the dream goddess’ temple.
At the beginning of the novel, Ehiru, one of the city’s most experienced Gatherers, botches the Gathering of a trader, sending the hapless man’s soul to the shadowlands rather than Ina-Karekh. Even worse, Ehiru’s intended victim leaves him with a frightening prophecy: “they’re using you.”
Later on, Ehiru is given a commission to Gather Sunandi Jeh Kalawe, the supposedly corrupt Kisuati ambassador. She resists his attempt on her life, and hints at a conspiracy whose roots go deep into the dream goddess’ temple. Eventually, Ehiru and his apprentice Nijiri agree to help her unravel a conspiracy that threatens to plunge the entire world into war.
Jemisin’s world is loosely based on ancient Egypt, which makes it a welcome respite from the loads of fantasy novels set in a pastiche of medieval Britain. Just as she did with the Inheritance Trilogy, Jemisin does an excellent job of conveying the nuances of her creation without forcing the reader to endure a bunch of data dumps. The little snippets of lore that begin each chapter were particularly effective in drawing the reader in.
One of Jemisin’s greatest strengths as a writer is her ability to deal with social issues in a serious manner without preaching. The Killing Moon provides a sophisticated meditation on matters of religion and empire, yet the reader never feels like they are being harangued.
Jemisin also does an excellent job of creating nuanced characters. She does a masterful job of depicting Ehiru and Nijiri’s conflicted emotions as they struggle to come to terms with the corruption that has taken root in the dream goddess’ temple. Sunandi is notable too, for she is a strong female character who has not been reduced to the caricature of a strident virago.
The book’s only substantial flaw is the ending. The climactic battle feels rushed, which makes the conclusion feel unsatisfying. It would have been nice if such an important scene had had a bit more ‘oomph.’ But this is a minor gripe, and it hardly ruins the overall experience.
Following up on the success of the Inheritance Trilogy was a tall order, but Jemisin remains at the top of her game. She has set up a vibrant, exciting new world that readers will love to explore, and they will no doubt be eager to see what happens in The Shadowed Sun.
Image Courtesy of Cat Sparx