‘The Killing Moon’ by N.K. Jemisin is a touching coming of age story embedded in a novel of magic, power and political intrigue.
Ehiru is a gatherer, a priest of Hananja who collects dreamblood from the dying. This practice serves two purposes. The process of gathering sends the intended to sleep and they die in a pleasant dream rather than the agony of illness or regret of old age. The gathered dreamblood is then shared with other priests to aid the community in many ways, one of which is healing. Nijiri is his apprentice, a young man on the cusp of adulthood; ready to face the trial of his first gathering, perhaps less prepared to assist Ehiru with his final test. Sunandi is a Speaker (a diplomat) from the neighbouring kingdom who hopes to prevent a war.
Ehiru is tasked with gathering Sunandi’s dreamblood. He is given the excuse she is corrupted and must be put to rest. The corruption in his own kingdom and the Hetawa, the Church of Hananja, will prove the greater danger, however. He and Nijiri become Sunandi’s unexpected allies as the truth begins to unravel, but it seems there is little two priests can accomplish in the face of a mad prince who wields power and corruption as if it was his right.
Beneath the story of war and power is the tale of Nijiri’s approach to adulthood and an exploration of the meaning of family and love. These themes involved and enrich every character and weight the novel with tangible emotion. There are many touching moments.
Jemisin has created an interesting and intriguing world with a vaguely Egyptian feel, a welcome difference from the usual fantasy setting. Her author’s note apologises for the names she has made up for her characters, in case they translate offensively or unfavourably, which made me giggle. We all have that fear, I think, when making up words and names. What I did notice is that all the foreign words in this novel are wonderfully easy to pronounce. They flowed from my mental tongue. The magic system, known as narcomancy and how it is practiced through a quasi-religion is absolutely fascinating.
The story flows steadily, like a river, if you’ll excuse the comparison. The current of the narrative is shared by three principle characters, but we catch a disconcerting eddy or side view now and again. The history and lore of the author’s world is slowly revealed as the plot builds, so that by the time we reach the conclusion, the implications of war and the prince’s ambitions are all the more horrifying.
Finally, the edition I read was packed with all sorts of enticing extras. The author’s note, a handy glossary of terms, as a reviewer, I always appreciate these, an interview with the author and a preview of book two in the ‘Dreamblood series’. I already have book two, ‘The Shadowed Sun’, on my shelf and I look forward to reading it.
(pub: Orbit. 415 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK), $11.02 (US). ISBN: 978-0-356-50076-8)
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- Review: The Killing Moon | A Step Sideways | March 4, 2013