I feel like the plot summaries of fantasy novels often don’t really matter. There’s no way that I could possibly describe to you the complex world of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. I just couldn’t do it justice in a few short paragraphs what takes hundreds and hundreds of pages to build. Some plots can be described in a few sentences, but the plots of these two novels cannot. Instead I decided to answer a few questions that matter to me when I’m reading any novel, not just fantasy: Are these books engrossing? Do you care about the characters and the plot? Does it make sense? Is it consistent?
I’ll give you a very basic rundown, though. NK Jemisin’s Dreamblood series is a North African-based fantasy, meaning that a lot of the culture, language, and mythology are based loosely on North African cultures, especially Egyptian culture. In Gujaareh, peace is the ultimate law. Crimes are rarely committed because an elite class of priests called Gatherers investigate people’s dreams to determine if they are corrupt. The corrupt’s souls are then gathered and taken to the afterlife where their souls are judged by the goddess Hananja, the goddess of the Hetawa, the governing body that trains the Gatherers. Within the Hetawa there are also healers called Sharers.
The Killing Moon follows a Gatherer and his apprentice to try and stop corruption within Gujaareh and within the Hetawa itself. The Shadowed Sun follows the story of the first female Sharer, named Hanani, ten years after the events of The Killing Moon.
Now, onto the questions!
Are these books engrossing?
Yes! But… and there is a but. The Killing Moon takes a long time to get into. The world building in this novel is very complex and I really had to push myself to keep reading it. I knew that I liked the characters and once I got past the more overwhelming aspects of the world building, I was hooked. I read these books on a recommendation from Thea from the Book Smugglers and I trust her judgment. Maybe you will trust mine? Keep reading! The payoff is worth it.
With The Shadowed Sun, I didn’t have any of those problems. I already knew the world and the introduction of the new characters and time frame did nothing to slow me down. I positively devoured The Shadowed Sun. There were days when I nearly missed my subway stop because I was so interested in the story and I definitely kept reading it while I walked to work.
Do you care about the characters?
One of the strongest aspects of these books are the characters. I really cared for Ehiru and Nijiri, the Gatherer and his apprentice from The Killing Moon, but I was especially fond of Hanani and Wanahomen in The Shadowed Sun. All four characters are deeply flawed. They do good things and they do bad things, but they felt entirely real.
If I had any complaint, it is that the antagonists in these stories are a little too completely evil. Though there are often explanations for their evil, they are a little bit one note. That’s one of the reasons why I liked The Shadowed Sun a little bit more than The Killing Moon as well. Who the villain is ends up being a very complex matter.
Do you care about the plot?
These books, once they get moving, are very exciting. In both The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun disparate story lines come together. With this type of structure, there’s always the issue with one story line being more interesting than the other, and this does happen with both The Shadowed Sun and The Killing Moon, but eventually they come together and it doesn’t necessarily detract from either book.
One good thing about reading a fantasy series like this is that the world will only get more and more complex as more books are written. It’s something about fantasy that I miss when I’m reading other genres. Jemisin is clearly getting more and more comfortable in this world and I can’t wait to read more!
Does it make sense? Is it consistent?
Eventually, yes. Jemisin’s plotting and characterization are consistent and the magic system has a logic behind it. There is a dream world and a waking world and then there is a kind of empty limbo in between. Sharers and Gatherers collect dreamblood, which is produced by dreaming, from tithebarers, and that gives them the ability to see into a person’s dreams. Sharers heal by willing the body to repair itself, by sort of entering through the mind. There is a heavy prayer component to it as well, since it is all seen as being in service of the goddess Hananja.
Something I was interested in was the fact that not every culture described in the book has magic. Some of them are very distrustful of it and it made for an interesting dynamic. The three main cultures described, Gujaareh, Kisua, and Banbarra are very different and the relationship between the three is something that I’m hoping Jemisin focuses on in future novels. I will definitely be reading NK Jemisin again in the future and I’m excited for more Dreamblood books to come out. I hope it’s soon!
This post is a part of the week-long celebration of diversity in fantasy literature, hosted by Aarti at Booklust, called A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour. You can learn more about this event here, including a list of all the participants and the books they’re reading.
I hope you’ll be able to take a few minutes and click through the posts. Your TBR will certainly get a little bit longer if you do!