I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
Series: Dreamblood #1
Published: 2012 by Orbit
Source: the publisher
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Tired of fantasy set in some tired permutation of medieval Europe? The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin is the book for you! The story takes place in a fantasy world that is loosely based on ancient Egypt, but with some major differences. It’s not the stereotypical pharaohs and mummies and cat-gods and tombs, but rather it borrows the social structure itself. The city of Gujarreh has a king, and he’s the supreme power. However, there’s also a powerful priest class that keeps the king in check. These priests are called the Gatherers, and they perform a special function within society. They euthanize anyone deemed corrupt (ie. criminals, dissidents, or even just people who are ready to die), harvesting their Dreamblood, which is used to perform magic to heal the sick and promote general well-being. The Gatherers are respected and seen as peacekeepers, even though to an outsider, their work is chilling.
Ehiru is one such Gatherer. He’s a fervent idealist and truly believes that he is doing the work of the gods. Then Ehiru and his apprentice Nijiri discover that there is more to their city than meets the eye. There’s a dangerous creature called a Reaper on the loose. A Reaper is a Gatherer who has taken too much Dreamblood and has been transformed by its essence into a death-giving monstrosity, capable of harvesting the souls of hundreds of people at once. Generally the priest-class is able to prevent Reapers from coming into existence by carefully guarding their knowledge and regulating the actions of the Gatherers, using religious dogma to make sure that Dreamblood is gathered in a safe manner and that no individual Gatherer becomes addicted to the substance. The fact that a Reaper exists means that there has to be some manner of corruption within the organization that exists specifically to prevent it and to keep the peace. This is a major blow to Ehiru’s worldview, and in order to uphold their religious beliefs, he and Nijiri swear to find the evil at its source and destroy it.
One of the things that I loved about The Killing Moon was the moral ambiguity of the Gatherers. When Ehiru harvests the Dreamblood of his assigned targets, he’s simultaneously a well-trained assassin and a religious zealot. That combination is something I abhor, because it’s so easy for an individual like that to be taken advantage of and used for unsavory purposes. The idea of euthanizing people rather than believing in second chances seems to me uncivilized, because I live in 21st century America, where the idea of individual choice is highly valued. Jemisin doesn’t give her protagonists the same cultural baggage, and it’s fascinating.. When you see the world through their eyes, they really are creating a better world, even if their methods offend our own moral sensibilities. They are preventing war, crime, and destruction, and their making sure that each person has a peaceful death and that their souls make their way peacefully into the afterlife. They are respected and seen as essential to society, and they view other societies that are more like our own as barbaric because of the chaos that takes place every day in any major city.
When I first discovered N.K. Jemisin through her Inheritance Trilogy, I was blown away by her writing and by the worlds that she created. The Killing Moon surpassed all of my expectations, and is easily my favorite of her books thus far.