Review: The Killing Moon (N.K. Jemisin)

killing moonGreetings my beloved readers. So, true to my vow to read a few more contemporary offerings, I just finished The Killing Moon. Only one problem that when I say ‘contemporary’, this actually came out in May 2012. Still, it’ll serve as something to talk about while I’m waiting out the Easter Holidays.

So, what’s it about? With a tip of the hat to ancient Eygpt, the story (mostly) takes place in the city of Gujaareh and concerns itself with three main characters.

First we meet Ehiru, the Gatherer. He radiates calm, is devout in his belief and is as stealthy as any assassin. His job is to harvest magical essense via the euthansia of either the old and infirm, or of those judged ‘corrupt’. This essence is then used for healing by other members of his order whose overall task is to maintain a city wide state of peacefulness.

But then Ehiru and his apprentice Nijiri are tasked with ‘gathering’ a Kisuan ambassador, a spy by the name of Sunandi. Together they are drawn into the deeper political machinations of Gujaareh’s Prince and the secrets of the Gatherer’s religious order, the Hetawa, who serve the dreaming goddess Hanaja. It seems that the peace of the city is about to be broken by a war that’s brewing.

And if that wasn’t bad enough for them, there’s a soul sucking demon on the loose too……

So, on the whole I really enjoyed this book. It’s not overly long, and not overly dense. It presents a rich, interesting world with a refreshingly unique culture, but it never lets the world building bog down the story beyond the reader needing to familiarise themselves with the terminology. By the time you’ve read the first couple of chapters you’ll have got to grips with the names for the two Moons, the use of four as a symbolic number, and the various references to tribes, insitutions and magic (plus there’s a glossary if you really need it).

The characters were well drawn, and the interplay worked well between the Gatherer’s and their faith vis-a-vis the ambassador and her mission: the common ground between them never eliminates their mutual differences, but they must resolve the greater conflicts by cooperation. Meanwhile there is the mutual admiration between master and pupil that plays a bigger role in how the two deal with their respective changes.

In terms of plot the story moves along at a steady pace, revealing deeper layers of histories and motives, and even the demon is granted a certain pathos as you come to understand it’s role in the story. Gradually everything moves towards what might not be the most mind blowing conclusion, but one that ties everything together nicely. You will, at least, have become invested enough to suspend your inner critic from ruining it.

Of course, no book is ever perfect but it’s hard to see how The Killing Moon might have been improved beyond the nitpicks and niggles that are always going to crop up. It is also, apparently, one of the author’s earlier works that was picked up subsequent to her success, but I don’t think that detracts from the quality.

It’s also a great example of how fantasy has the potential to represent the diversity of human societies instead of sticking to the typical and formulaic European feudal setting of guys with swords. While it might not be a million miles away with it’s royalty, priests and merchants, the ‘feel’ of the society is sufficiently at odds with traditional fantasy to give this a unique flavour which I thoroughly enjoyed.

All in all it’s not going to be to everyone’s liking, but if you’re open minded and looking for something a bit different then The Killing Moon offers something rich and intriguing while not being overly long or complex.

Definitely worth checking out, and I’ll certainly be entertaining a notion of reading the sequel, The Shadowed Sun.


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