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N. K. Jemisin – The Killing Moon

August 15, 2012

LibraryThing Early Reviewers86. The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin (2012)
Dreamblood, book 1

Length: 440 pages
Genre: Fantasy

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.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Fantasy Cafe, The Wertzone
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

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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16 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2012 7:35 am

    I tired one of her other books and realized why I don’t read fantasy.

    • August 16, 2012 4:27 pm

      Kathy – Oh, that’s a shame. Fantasy’s such a hugely varied genre that no one author is typical, and I’d say Jemisin is less typical than most.

  2. August 15, 2012 9:39 am

    I can’t wait to read this one. I saw Jemisin do a reading of part of the sequel and was immediately drawn into her world. I love it when fantasy can break away from Tolkeinish conventions and create something original.

    • August 16, 2012 4:28 pm

      Grace – I’ve read plenty of Tolkienish stuff that I loved, but I do absolutely appreciate a well-built and original fantasy world too.

      • August 17, 2012 8:15 am

        Exactly. I love fantasy in all of its varieties, but lately the ones that stand out the most are the ones that step away from tradition. Brandon Sanderson comes to mind with his magic systems as well.

        I’m currently in the middle of the first book of Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy and am loving it so far.

  3. August 15, 2012 4:53 pm

    Pseudo-egyptian setting? UM WHAT? Sigh me up.

    I really liked The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms but based on all I’ve read about The Killing Moon, I think I will like it even more.

    • August 16, 2012 4:29 pm

      April – I don’t know that I’d have gone “Aha! Egyptian!” if I hadn’t read the author’s note first, but once I knew it, the influences are very apparent.

  4. August 15, 2012 7:17 pm

    >>particularly ones who prefer their settings be inspired by something other than medieval Europe.

    Hahahaha, oh Lord, this. This is one of the main draws of NK Jemisin for me — I liked her first two books (still haven’t read the third in the trilogy), didn’t connect so much with the characters, but loved the fact that the world she was writing in felt fresh. I love fantasy but GOD I get tired of medieval Europey settings.

    • August 16, 2012 4:31 pm

      Jenny – The third book in the Inheritance Trilogy was my least favorite of the three, and this one is the one of Jemisin’s books that I’ve liked best. But in all cases, her worlds are just so complex and interesting (and non-medieval Europey).

  5. medievalbookworm permalink
    August 17, 2012 2:11 pm

    I kind of agree with you on the world-building. I know her world is more complex than she says – she obviously has tons behind what ends up in the book – and I didn’t go for the glossary, but it did take a while to actually grasp what was going on. And I don’t think I could properly explain the magic system either. But her ideas are, as others have said, so fresh and new, and I really loved these characters, so I’m looking forward to carrying on with the second of this series.

    • August 29, 2012 10:03 am

      Megan – The glossary was mostly useful for stuff like “Oh, so *that’s* what dreambile does!”

  6. August 24, 2012 2:33 am

    I really need to finish her other trilogy so I can try this book…

    • August 29, 2012 10:03 am

      Kailana – Indeed! Although I thought this book was substantially better than the third book of the trilogy.

  7. February 2, 2013 4:26 pm

    Just finished this – it’s my first exposure to Jemisin. I am definitely a fan, and I agree with your assessment that you could sense shades of Kay – I had that thought a couple of times during the novel. I will definitely be interested to see what she does next.


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