The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin
The Killing Moon (Dreamblood)
With as many authors producing quality fiction as there are these days, it’s rare to “get in on the ground floor” and follow an author from their first novel. N. K. Jemisin is one of the few whom I’ve been reading from their initial publication, and her stories are ones that I look forward to with excitement. Now that her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms tale has concluded, she’s moving on to new things with a duology that begins with The Killing Moon, a story set in a land inspired by ancient Egypt.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.
But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh’s great temple, Ehiru – the most famous of the city’s Gatherers – must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess’ name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh’s alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill – or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.”
I find it refreshing to see a novel set in a reflection of Egypt that does not focus on the old animal headed gods favored by the ancients. While novels that use this element are still good, turning to other aspects certainly stands out among the crowd. This story does have the element of the divine, make no mistake; however, Jemisin creates her own mythos to use in her fictional culture, and it works better than trying to shoehorn Anubis and Horus into a setting where they don’t belong.
Another very interesting choice was to take that divine element and make it into something akin to the concept of the collective unconscious as posited by Freud. The Gatherers collect energy from different types of dreams and use it to heal various ills and injuries, as well as to power the Gatherers themselves if they are required to end someone’s life as a judgment for crimes committed. I felt that this had some echoes of the idea that we all have some divinity within us, as well as a connection to the mysteries that lie outside of ourselves.
As one of the characters wrestles with the issue of botching a Gathering, his purpose slowly begins to corrupt, and it seems to paint a picture of how a poisonous thought or idea can eat away at someone from within. How many times have you gotten stuck on a thought or a slight from someone and worried at it mentally until you were grumpy? This novel shows something like that taken to the extreme—throw magic into the mix and you get an idea of what might happen to someone tuned more directly into that aspect of the self.
I might be reading more into this than what is actually there, but when the author goes to the trouble of answering questions about the book in the “extras” section, it usually gets me to thinking.
The characters are well drawn, but I was most interested in Nijiri, the apprentice of Ehiru. In many ways, he’s a study in contrasts—struggling for the peace that Gatherers are supposed to bring and yet one of the strongest and most competently trained—and at the same time, he’s probably the steadiest of everyone in the novel. His devotion to Ehiru is actually touching, even though such devotion will come with a terrible price attached. I almost feel like he and Ehiru are meant to be seen as two faces of the same coin, where one looks unbalanced but is steady, while the other is supposed to be the rock and yet is crumbling from within.
I have one small complaint about the book: I found that I had a little trouble in the earliest chapters figuring out what was going on. I think this is because I’m more used to Jemisin’s other books, where the main characters are outsiders coming into situations in their cultures (think Yeine arriving in the Arameri stronghold) and therefore we as readers are making discoveries along with them. Here, Ehiru and Nijiri, and even the ambassador Sunandi, are solidly a part of the cultures in which we find them; therefore, they’re acting with the knowledge of where they are and how to proceed. It threw me a little bit, and I struggled for a short time trying to piece together the plot. I will admit, though, that I read this novel while sick with the flu, and I’m willing to concede that my concentration may not have been what it should have been during that time. Jemisin is a skilled writer, so I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Once the plot got firmly established and began picking up momentum, it became difficult to put down, and it has all the detail and exquisite worldbuilding that I’ve come to expect from this author. I’m glad that the sequel, The Shadowed Sun, won’t be long in arriving on the shelves, because I really want to see where she takes this story.The Killing Moon proves once again that N. K. Jemisin is an author to watch. If you’re a fan of fantasy novels, her books should be required reading and have a place of honor on your shelves.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on April 17, 2012.