Review: The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

Title: The Killing Moon

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Rating:

Publisher: Orbit

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:

The Killing Moon is my introduction to N.K. Jemisin and given the accolades it has received by reviewers, it became quickly apparent that I had to read this book. The novel takes place in the city-state of Gujaareh, where peace reigns. A religious order serves as the lawkeepers, sending out priestly Gatherers in the night to bring a dreaming death to corrupted citizens. In exchange for a peaceful death, the dreamers give up Dreamblood, a source of magic and power given to the goddess Hananja.

The story is told through three characters: Elihu, a faithful Gatherer; Nijiri, his apprentice; and Sinandi, a non-believing spy from a neighboring city-state who suspicious of the activities in Gujaareh. Elihu and Sinandi act with allegiance in their priestly duties, but their faith comes into question when suspicions of corruption within their order arises. Unfortunately, the only person to believe them is Nijiri, a woman who does not practice or believe in their ways.

Many of the previous reviews I saw were just in giving this book the praise it has received. First of all, the premise is entirely unique. Religion in speculative fiction is typically given a bad rap, but in Jemisin’s novel, the corruption is independent of the religious tenets and does not represent the body of its followers. It makes no claims to be moral or amoral, but serves as a cultural way of life for the people in Gujaareh. The result is peace and healing to its adherents.

The prose is gentle and descriptive — the reader sees a vivid world, lush with detail and  imagery. The characters depart from the typical casting in fantasy. Elihu and Nijiri are products of their culture and their morals are formed through it. Sinandi is a stronger character, a woman who advances her goals without compromise. She is independent, but not destitute and cold, like the gritty prostitute-turned-hero archetype that has become an almost humorous trope in modern fantasy.

As a reviewer, I like to provide tangible feedback on books, but I am really struggling to define what it is that prohibits me from giving The Killing Moon a perfect mark. While I found the premise, setting, and characters to be innovative and the writing to be stylistically well-written, I didn’t feel connected to the characters. Perhaps their departure from the typical archetypes left me with nothing to identify with. Jemisin writes with a lot of description and minimal dialog, which slows the pace of the book down slightly (although this is still a quick read). For those who find fantastical names and places a lot to grasp, a glossary was added to the back of the book (a discovery I made after reading it).

Overall, this is a quality, well-written novel with a unique plot and world. I don’t think it is a book for everyone and it isn’t my typical choice. I think readers who enjoy authors such as Elizabeth Bear (specifically her recent novel, Range of Ghosts), will find Jemisin’s work to be wholly satisfying.

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