‘The Killing Moon’ by N K Jemisin
I’ve not read anything by this writer before, but I enjoyed this well crafted, smoothly written fantasy enough to consider seeking out her other books.
The world described is fully developed: beautiful, opulent, clearly pictured and, most importantly, consistent. It’s based on ancient Egypt rather than the more common mediæval Europe, but still incorporates the usual fantasy elements of an old-fashioned society with strict social classes (or castes in this case), political and military intrigue, magic and a good deal of fighting and assassination.
Two of the main characters, Ehiru, a male Gatherer (a kind of priest) from the city state of Gujaareh and Sunandi a female ambassador from Kisua, Gujaareh’s potential enemy, both discover that there is deep corruption at all levels of Gujaareh’s government. War is on the horizon, despite the fact that peace in all its forms is the basis of Gujaareh’s law and religion.
To stop the war and root out the corruption Ehiru and Sunandi must risk their own lives, and even their souls. They are accompanied and assisted by the other main character – Ehiru’s boy apprentice, Nijiri.
These characters are complex and realistic as is the person who turns out to be their main enemy. The story contains numerous minor players, varied and vivid enough to add interest to the plot.
My main criticism is something others may not dislike. We get so far inside the skins of the point of view characters that we are told a huge amount about their meditations and emotions. I know this is realistic – we all think and feel all the time, but I find it tiring to have almost every action or speech accompanied by how the actor or speaker feels. I also felt that it slows the forward movement of the plot. There’s plenty of action – travel, fighting, a bit of sex, arguments, conspiracy, as well as story specific activities like Gathering, tithe-bearing and afterlife creation – but I felt we could have done with a bit less psychological hand-wringing and a bit more movement.
The novel is the first of a series called Dreamblood, but its ending is satisfactory and complete enough to allow it to stand alone. However, I will be interested to see what the other books in the series are like.
Cover art from Goodreads.