Review: “The Killing Moon,” N.K. Jemisin

Pros: What a marvel of worldbuilding!
Cons: Mildly confusing at first
Rating: 5 out of 5

N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon is the first book in The Dreamblood Duology. Ehiru is a priest of Hananja, a Gatherer, who collects the tithe of Dreamblood and thus ushers the tithe-bearers into the afterlife, giving them peace. In his most recent Gathering, he accidentally mishandled a soul–and in the process, was told that he was being used somehow. When he and his apprentice, Nijiri, are sent to Gather the soul of a visitor from another nation, they find more evidence that someone is using the sacred charge of the Gatherers to political ends. They’re supposed to Gather from those who are dying and want peace, or from those whose souls are corrupt. But Sunandi, whom they’ve been sent to Gather, may not be corrupt as they’ve been told. The Prince of Gujaareh is up to something, and some of the Hetawa, those who serve Hananja, work with him for their own reasons. A Reaper–a Gatherer gone bad–is loose in the city, ripping souls from their bodies and devouring them whole. If Ehiru and Nijiri can’t puzzle out what’s going on, thousands upon thousands of people could die.

The worldbuilding comes at you fast and furious, and it confused me a little at first. Still, that doesn’t last long, so it’s a minor niggle at most. More important is the fact that the worldbuilding is highly original and creative. The religion of Hananja is complex, but we’re never subjected to monologues or info-dumps about all the details. Instead, the relevant bits of information are worked skillfully into the story. One of my favorite details is that plenty of people welcome the Gathering and the peace it brings. Not everyone is desperate to live just a moment or two longer. And yet, when we encounter people from Kisua, another land, they’re horrified by the idea of the Gathering. There’s a variety of reactions to the whole idea, and it’s a complex concept.

The characters are wonderful. Ehiru is a true believer in Hananja and his duties as a Gatherer, and he’s doing his best to impart these values to Nijiri. There are only two other Gatherers, both of whom–even though we only see them a scant amount–are very interesting (I’d like to see more of them). The characters are complex and layered, with their relationships changing and evolving as the story progresses. I definitely got attached to them, and shed a few tears toward the end of the book.

The plotting and pacing are delightful, although I can’t get into much discussion about them without spoiling details. I love the twists and turns the plot takes, and the tension ratchets up wonderfully as the book progresses.

I can’t wait to read the second (and final) book!

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