Set in a fantasy world inspired by Ancient Egypt, 'The Killing Moon' creates a fresh and intriguing magic system where dreams are the source of power. The Gatherers of the city Gujaareh serve the Goddess of Dreams, Hananja, by harvesting one of the four Dream-Humours that act as medicines. This is no easy medicine to gather: for it is Dreamblood, the remnants of a soul which has been cut from its mortal body and eased into the afterlife of dreams. The novel's protagonist, Gatherer Ehiru, has always maintained an unyielding faith in the purity of his mission to end the lives of the corrupt, thereby acquiring precious dreamblood from their dying dreams. From the perspective of the Hetawa Temple where he and his brother Gatherers reside, Gujaareh is seen as a peaceful and moral society. But when Ehiru botches a Gathering and descends into a whirlwind of guilt, events start occurring that test his faith in the holiness of his duty.
This book tackles many interesting themes, through which the fantasy genre is the perfect vessel to explore. Like many fantasy novels, NK Jemisin's work studies hierachical societies (through a Caste system and the presentation of a royal family), uneasy relationships between different kingdoms, and the intertwining of power, religion, and corruption. There is a lot of political intrigue alongside some interesting world-building, and I enjoyed the way Jemisin weaved different characters' perspectives together to create a three-dimensional view of the world and its issues. Particularly, Sunandi's chapters (a character who comes from Kisua, a country at unease with Gujaareh, and is ambassador for her homeland) challenged the ingrained ideas of Gujaareh's culture. This resonates with our world on Earth, where every culture has its own unique perspectives and wars are seeded by diverging opinions. Like any good fantasy novel, Jemisin's book not only provides entertainment and escapism, but analyses the political, cultural and societal problems of our own world.
The fantasy world was well-evoked, although I felt the exposition at the beginning of the novel was a little clunky and not integrated into the text particularly well. This slowed down the pace of the novel, and I was only gripped by the book half way through. Although I liked the main characters, I didn't feel particularly attached to them emotionally. The closest I felt to truly caring for a character was Nijiri, the devoted apprentice to Ehiru. His wide-eyed reaction to the world outside of Gujaareh gave the reader an outsider's perspective on which to latch on to and learn along with. However, the most interesting character, the ravenous Reaper who feasts on souls, did not get as much development as I hoped they would. They remained a tragic, yet under-used monster who I wished to see more of, although I appreciate the scenes where they appeared. Ehiru is a tortured soul grappling with guilt, duty and the elusive notion of redemption, yet he was not the stand-out character for all his extensive narration. Neither was Sunandi. Jemisin's characters are interesting creations, but are definitely not the strongest aspect of the novel. Her focus on world-building and her innovative yet historically-based magic system, alongside the politically-charged themes, were where the book shone.
Overall, 'The Killing Moon' was a very solid fantasy novel which definitely improved during the latter half of the book. I read the last hundred pages whilst on a free period during college, and many a time my friends tried to get my attention but to no avail, for I was completely sucked into the story! They took pictures of me reading without me knowing, and although I didn't see them, I'm sure I had some embarrassing facial expression like my mouth hanging open in excitement or something. But it was worth it for the fun I had reading the conclusion to the book.