N. K. Jemisin – The Killing Moon
Length: 440 pages
Started: 01 August 2012
Finished: 05 August 2012
Where did it come from? The LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
Why do I have it? I was interested in seeing what Jemisin could do outside of the Inheritance Trilogy.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 18 May 2012.
Dreams have power, but
it’s living nightmares that you
should worry about.
Summary: Gujaareh is a city that runs on dreams. To maintain the peace, an elite caste of priests known as Gatherers are responsible for harvesting the magical dreamblood from the mind and soul of those who are sick, suffering, or deemed corrupt and dangerous to the peace. Ehiru, one of the Gatherers, has just taken a new apprentice, and their first assignment is to Gather a young ambassador from the southern kingdom of Kisua who has been judged by the officials as corrupt. But she wakes before the process can begin, and what she has to say turns Ehiru’s world upside-down. Because she has knowledge of a corruption deep in the heart of Gujaareh, corruption that will turn Ehiru against everyone he’s ever trusted, corruption that has allowed an ancient terror to stalk the streets of Gujaareh… corruption that seems to lead inexorably to war.
Review: There’s been a lot of buzz about Jemisin in the past few years – the blurb on the front of this book calls her “one of the most important new writers in fantasy today.” And after reading her Inheritance Trilogy, while I could certainly see her skill as a writer, I never quite connected on an emotional level with her books, which left me feeling like there was something about the buzz that I just wasn’t getting. I’m pleased to say, however, that with The Killing Moon, I (finally) get it. I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and felt more connected to the characters than I did in any of Jemisin’s previous work. I may not be converted into her number one fan yet, but at least now, I get it.
This book has a lot going for it. The writing is strong and clear as ever, but the characters are what really saved it for me. Ehiru is complex and strong yet fallible, and the relationship between him and his apprentice Nijiri was powerful and beautiful and heart-breaking. I don’t know that I can do it justice in a review, although I can say that elements of the story – in particular that relationship – at times reminded me of Guy Gavriel Kay, which is high, high praise indeed. Sunandi (the Kisuan ambassador) wasn’t as well-developed as the two male leads, but she was still interesting, and her interactions with the man who might decide to kill her at any time were tense and layered and pitched exactly right.
The worldbuilding was a little bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, I absolutely loved the pseudo-Egyptian setting, and thought it was refreshingly original – and Jemisin did an excellent job bringing it to life. On the other hand, I wondered at times if the world she was building, and the magic system in particular, was somewhat over-complicated (or under-explained). I’m fine with an author knowing more about their world than they show to the readers. That’s perfectly fine, and makes for richer stories. But even once I was well into the book, I wasn’t entirely clear on how the magical system worked; I understand what Gatherers did well enough, but I don’t know that I could have articulated it particularly clearly, or explained the “why” behind it. Normally if a book has an index at the back, I skim it or skip it entirely, because it doesn’t contain much I hadn’t already gathered from reading. In this case, though, I actually learned something from the index… which is not, to my mind, the ideal place for doing your worldbuilding.
On the whole, however, I really enjoyed this book. It’s dense enough that you can’t blow through it, but there are some wonderful elements that make it an absolutely worthwhile read. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I’d recommend this one for fans of original and mature fantasy, particularly ones who prefer their settings be inspired by something other than medieval Europe.
First Line: In the dark of waking, a soul has died.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 128: “It had been brief, using the blocky pictorals of a semiliterate rather than the more elegant hieratics taught to higher castes.” – noting or pertaining to a form of ancient Egyptian writing consisting of abridged forms of hieroglyphics, used by the priests in their records.
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