The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

First in a duology by Jemisin who we know I love. Like the Broken Earth and Inheritance trilogies, this is set in a world that in some ways resembles our own and in some ways departs from it. We deal with a continent and, mostly, two city-states upon it. One is Gujaareh, where peace is the highest virtue and priority and the people worship the goddess Hananja above all; she is goddess of dreams, death and the afterlife. Gujaareen priests follow four paths, and we spend most of our time with one of them: the Gatherers, whose job it is to peacefully “gather” the final tithe of dreams from a person at the end of their life. (They share this dream tithe with their temple, and it is used by Sharers to heal and soothe other people in a sort of public health service.) In other cultures, it might also be said that Gatherers “kill” people. Ideally, this is done with consent, but not always. So, here is our first cultural relativism. Gatherers are pious, devout priests; they reject the idea that they are killers.

We also follow a woman from the city-state of Kisua. Sunandi is a Speaker, sort of an ambassador, in Gujaareh. She is not a big fan of the system nor of Gatherers, but finds herself thrown into awkward cooperation with some of Gujaareh’s most faithful when she uncovers a plot to drive their two powers into war against each other.

In this novel, I appreciated (as ever) Jemisin’s world-building: the details, like the special kind of stone that is used in dream magic, or the tethers to one’s soul; the pantheon of Sun, Dreaming Moon, Waking Moon, their children, the gods that are worshipped in various city-states, and the kinds of homage and behaviors demanded of Hananja’s followers. I loved that this land – Gujaareh, Kisua and the other powers in between – is multicultural, and their people treat each other with varying levels of respect and make assumptions based on appearance and clothing (etc.) in ways that felt familiar. In other words, Jemisin excels at creating a world that is different and inventive but also makes sense to a reader from this world. Although, I will also say: of all Jemisin’s novels, I think this is the one where the glossary may be most helpful in understanding the story as you go. I wish readers were more aware on page 1 that there is a glossary. Make use of it – it’s an excellent tool, if you find it.

I will head into book two as soon as I can make the time, because that’s how I feel about Jemisin and this world; but I’m also feeling good just now sitting with what I’ve learned. It’s a book with good closure, not merely a book-one-of-two. Strongly recommend.

Rating: 8 ornaments.

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