Saturday, April 06, 2013

"The Killing Moon," by N.K. Jemisin

The Primary Cast:

Ehiru: Gujaareh's top Gatherer - a priest who collects people's dreams while sending them into a peaceful afterlife. He is devoted to his calling and trusts his superiors implicitly - but what if that trust is misplaced?

Nihiri: A young apprentice Gatherer who has been in love with Ehiru for most of his life. But when his master starts acting strangely and their priesthood turns against him, whose side should he take - the priesthood's, or Ehiru's?

Sunandi: An ambassador from the nation of Kisua who is investigating corruption among the highest levels of the Gujaareh nobility.

Fantasy Convention Checklist
  • 2 Morally Shady Superiors
  • 1 Ultra Complicated Magic System
  • Several Devoured Souls
  • 1 Bro-Verging-On-Actual-Ro-Mance
  • Several Rounds of Politiking
The Word: Now, I'm a fan of N.K. Jemisin. I really enjoyed the first two novels of her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series (and appreciated how the final one ended even though it was still a hot ass mess). She has a deft hand with world building, female characters, gay characters, and Hot Immortal Sex God characters.

The Killing Moon, while not as romantic as the Kingdoms trilogy, nevertheless creates an immersive experience in an extremely original fantasy setting. The story takes place in the kingdom of Gujaareh (based on ancient Egypt): a kingdom of peace, honour, and plenty. All of its citizens are cared for, there are no conflicts or major crimes, and all but the most serious illnesses and injuries can be easily cured.

All of this is thanks to the unique magic of the priesthood of the Dreaming Goddess, Hananja, and more specifically, the sect of priests known as Gatherers. Gatherers are capable of siphoning dreams from people and converting them into magic for healing and stability - all the while shepherding their charges' souls into a blissful afterlife. While Gatherers frequently visit the elderly and the sick who willingly give their dreams to their country in return for a joyful death, they also serve as Gujaareh's judges - by eliminating criminals and those deemed corrupt.

But what if the priesthood itself becomes corrupt? Sunandi is an ambassador-cum-spy for the neighbouring kingdom of Kisua who is in Gujaareh to discreetly investigate the mysterious death of her mentor and several other contacts who all look to have died (rather unpleasantly) in their sleep. Conveniently enough, once she uncovers some pretty shady info about Gujaareh's Prince, she receives a nocturnal visit from Ehiru, one of Gujaareh's most dedicated Gatherers, as well as his devoted apprentice Nihiri.

Ehiru believes wholeheartedly in his vocation as a Gatherer and takes it extremely seriously. He doesn't understand why people fear his sect - Gathering is painless and even the corrupt are ushered into a joyful afterlife with their Goddess. However, when his intended target wakes up before he can do the deed and accuses the priesthood of being used as political assassins, Ehiru cannot brush off those accusations lightly. He decides to delay Sunandi's judgement until he gets more information - and in the process, Sunandi, Ehiru, and Nihiri all get more than they bargained for.

While I connected intellectually with this book, I had a hard time connecting emotionally with it. The world building is intense and extremely dense (particularly in the first few chapters of the book), and I found myself flipping to the Entirely Necessary Glossary at the back of the book to figure out what they were talking about.

As well, the worldbuilding, while intricate, seemed a bit uneven - some aspects of the magic, traditions and settings were extremely detailed, perhaps more than they needed to be (in the sense that these aspects weren't really relevant to the immediate storyline), while other aspects were barely touched on, leaving, if not plot holes, than some pretty cumbersome questions that were never answered.

As for the characters, while they were solid, believable, and relatively likeable, I didn't feel they were as fleshed-out as they could have been. Sunandi is described as this incredibly competent spy but she continually makes monumental errors and rash, emotional decisions. Nihiri is a bit one-note - an aggressive, reckless youth who is wildly in love with Ehiru. Ehiru is probably the best developed of the three - devout, righteous, certain in his vocation even as he grows increasingly uncertain about his superiors and their motives in directing his vocation.

All in all, while The Killing Moon was enjoyable and creative, it didn't really "click" with me as an emotional reader. If you love original fantasy elements and excellent worldbuilding, however, I would definitely recommend it.

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