The Killing Moon
by N. K. Jemsisin
Rating: 5+ Stars
‘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 innocent 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’ve been saying for months that I needed to read some Jemisin. There was so much praise surrounding her latest release – The Fifth Season – but I was having trouble getting my hands on the first books for either of her completed series. Thanks to Lancashire Libraries Reservation system I managed to get my mitts on the first book in the Dreamblood Series – The Killing Moon and happily jumped in.
Like a lot of Jemison’s work it sounded right up my street: a non-western fantasy setting, some great character development and intricately layered plotting. I can honestly say that it succeeds on all these levels and more: sheer delight.
I don’t want to give much away in terms of plot, the blurb is fairly vague and I was glad of that. I was initially concerned that there was going to be some sort of doomed love affair between Ehiru and Sanandi a la many bad action films. But I had no need to worry – Jemisin creates human relationships with much more depth and complexity to them than just this.
The plot unfolds very organically and it just completely swept me up in the story. I really didn’t know how events were going to develop from one scene to the next and the ending hit an utterly perfect note.
There are three main characters, all of whom are driven by very different motivations and find themselves forming an uneasy alliance. Whilst the plot as a whole has far-reaching consequences, it’s the intensely personal interactions that are the driving force in this novel.
In a book-market currently flooded with assassins, Ehiru is a very unique character. He’s a highly revered priest who performs what his culture views as mercy-killings in a communally shared dreamworld. Sometimes these deaths are a form of euthanasia for the terminally ill, others are a form of execution for citizens deemed irrevocably corrupt. As his carefully ordered world starts to unravel he’s forced to choose between the easy way out and the right thing to do. It didn’t take me long to become very invested in his fate. He was one of those very rare characters who I honestly wouldn’t have blamed for choosing the path of least resistance.
Sanandi is an envoy from another country with a very different belief system, a lot of the interesting points of this book are the cultural interaction between the two countries. Both have different attitudes to what is good and what is corrupt, her slow understanding of the peace that is at the centre of Gujaresh culture is one of the real pleasures of this book.
But I think my favourite character by far was Nijiri, a student who has only recently reached his goal of becoming an apprentice. He’s much less clear cut than Ehiru and his motives are very murky. It was really interesting to read sections in his POV alongside two other very different perspectives on his personality. His relationship to his mentor is also very layered, there’s a lot of backstory there to explore.
A wonderful book: delicately plotted, with intensely complex relationships, characters with very human motives and a highly unusual plot.
Jemisin operates outside of the standard fantasy tropes. You will find no stock characters here, no well trodden plotlines, her writing is fresh and original. The culture of Gujaareh bears a passing resemblance to ancient Egypt (a desert setting with a Nile-esque floodplain) but this novel takes place on a completely different planet with it’s own unique mythologies. The world building is staggering and I can’t wait to see what she has built in her other series.