Review by: Anna Gibson
N.K. Jemisin’s 4th
novel, The Killing Moon,
serves as the first book of her critically acclaimed Dreamblood Series
precursor to the critically acclaimed The Shadowed Sun
takes place in the mythical land of Gujaareh. On her website Epiphany 2.0, Jemisin reveals Gujaareh is loosely based upon Egyptian and Middle Eastern customs, ideology and mythos. Gujaareh is a city brimming with Game of Thrones
yet far more subtle.
political intrigue, magic, and controversy reminiscent of the George R.R. Martin’s
In Gujaareh, the inhabitants worship Hananja, the Goddess of the Dreaming Moon. The priesthood of Hananja has a sect called the Gatherers, an order of assassins the inhabitants of Gujaareh routinely pay to to mercifully kill relatives, friends, and other inhabitants in their dreams.
The story centers upon senior Gatherer Ehiru; and begins with a ‘gathering’ that goes terribly wrong.One of his ‘tithe-bearers’ (the title given to people marked to be killed by the priesthood) resists his Gathering and is turned into a demon before it’s completed. Following this event, Ehiru’s faith in the Priesthood of Hananja is called into question. Juxtaposed against Ehiru’s disciplined demeanor is his junior apprentice Nijiri. Nijiri is in love with Ehiru, and the complex nature of their relationship is tested as the story unfolds. In the background of the novel, Ehiru’s blotched Gathering is part of larger political scheme involving (not to give anything away) various political players in Gujaareh. Needless to say, not all is well under the Dreaming Moon.
N.K Jemisin’s writing style is both lush and descriptive. The entire landscape of Gujaareh is well fleshed out, even down to the nuanced customs of the inhabitants of Gujaareh (for instance, the fact that Ehiru moved stealthily through the crowd and wears an earring in one ear so as not to stand out for his next Gathering). One of the most compelling aspects of The Killing Moon is the diversity of characters and how multi-faceted each of them are. Ehiru isn’t simply the stoic, self-disciplined priest. His various layers show him as both kind and sometimes, as naïve as a child. As we shall see, his ceaseless devotion to Hananja may have consequences that lead him to the mercy of forces beyond his control. Nijiri also has an a number of fascinating character traits from his deep love and over protectiveness of Ehiru, to his gradual understanding of Gujaarian politics.
Another quality that sets Jemisin apart is her portrayal of LGBTQ relationships. In both The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun, it’s implied that Ehiru and Nijiri’s relationship goes far beyond simply ‘master’ and ‘apprentice’, though this isn’t overtly demonstrated. Jemisin has commented numerous times on both her blog and various interviews that Gujaareh is supposed to be a city including various models of open love. The subtle way she weaves this into the story adds a layer of depth to the political landscape of both Gujaareh and neighboring cities in ways that I haven’t seen replicated yet.
Overall, The Killing Moon is a compelling foray into an alternate universe, specifically if you’re interested in reading a book filled with intrigue, warfare, and the gradually unfolding mysteries of Gujaareh. The sci-fi and fantasy genre is well known for its lack of diversity. While The Killing Moon is a book that everyone will enjoy, If you’re a person of color looking for a novel where you’re well represented, or even an ‘in’ into the sci-fi genre, The Killing Moon is an excellent place to start.