Book Review: The Dreamblood

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  • The Killing Moon
  • Book 1 of The Dreamblood
  • by N.K. Jemisin
  • Orbit (2012)

The Killing Moon begins another unique fantasy tale by one of my new favorite authors, N. K. Jemisin. Like her earlier work (The Inheritance Trilogy), The Killing Moon is set in a world alien to much of the fantasy genre that often clones a medievalesque society and a quest-driven plot. The cultures that Jemisin paints in The Dreamblood are unlike any others that I have experienced, and that is one of the reasons why The Killing Moon works so well.

In the city-state of Gujaareh, Hananja’s law reigns over all aspects of life, organized through the central temple, the Hetawa. Hananja is the goddess of dreams, and peace is of utmost importance among her followers, with corruption punishable by death. Ehiru, priest of the Hetawa, is many things. Foremost, he serves the goddess as a Gatherer by attending to the ill and elderly, ending their lives and guiding their souls into joyful dreams in Ina-Karekh. He gathers their dreamblood which is tithed to the Hetawa and used to bring peace to supplicants of Hananja. This same death also awaits those deemed corrupt, and outside of Gujaareh, Gatherers are heralded as gualoh – demons.

The narrative follows three characters – Ehiru, his apprentice Nijiri, and Sunandi, ambassador from the rival city-state of Kisua. When Ehiru completes a routine commission on a corrupt foreign merchant, the magic goes awry. The man’s soul is ripped free and lost in nightmare. As Ehiru leaves, he glimpses another figure on the rooftops, but this other man radiates malevolence in the instant before he disappears from view.

Sunandi maneuvers the delicate political field in the aftermath of her mentor, Kinja’s, suspicious death. Immediately after she discovers proof that Kinja was murdered, Ehiru and Nijiri ghost into her chambers. Sunandi has been judged corrupt by the Hetawa, and the Gatherers have arrived to bring her Hananja’s eternal peace. But when the ambassador confronts her would-be killers, she is able to cast doubt upon the accusations. She believes that Gujaareh’s Prince seeks an excuse for war, and the Gatherers desist because they cannot allow anyone to subvert the will of Hananja.

The story sprints between attempts to unravel the truth about the Prince, the Hetawa, and that evil figure spotted atop the city’s homes. Rumors say that a Reaper has come to Gujaareh, an abomination of Hananja’s dream magic, and a creature so powerful that its presence threatens all of the city’s peace.

The Killing Moon is the first book in The Dreamblood duology, but is a stand-alone novel. All of the plot threads are tied up in the conclusion and you won’t be left in the lurch if you don’t have the second book on hand. I had minor difficulty orienting myself to the magic and how it worked. The way in which the Gatherers operated was spelled out clearly since they featured as two of the three main point-of-view characters. There were other aspects of dream magic which were fascinating, but as they had no direct role in this book’s plot, it was tough to intuit much about them.

The Killing Moon was nominated for a 2012 Nebula Award.

The Shadowed Sun
Book 2 of The Dreamblood
by N.K. Jemisin
Orbit (2012)

  • The Shadowed Sun
  • Book 2 of The Dreamblood
  • by N.K. Jemisin
  • Orbit (2012)

In The Shadowed Sun, we are returned to the world of The Dreamblood, in which priests of the Hetawa practice the goddess Hananja’s dream magic. This time, the city-state of Gujaareh is under Kisuati control, occupied and overseen by the opposing city-state after its former Prince’s failed attempt at war. Since the primary tenet of Hananja’s Law is peace, the people of Gujaareh have submitted to foreign rule with only silent outrage.

Not all the land is calm, however, and the desert barbarian tribes are becoming more daring in their raids, stealing trade goods from Gujaareh. When Apprentice Hanani heals a soldier injured in one of these attacks, she weaves his torn body back together using the various humors collected from dreams in an attempt to pass her Sharer-trial. Her healing efforts are successful, but in the aftermath, a terrible discovery is made. One of the acolytes who served her, along with the tithebearer providing the humors, has died horribly. No cause can be immediately ascertained, so Hanani is indirectly blamed and is forbidden from practicing any further narcomancy.

Wanahomen, son to the ousted Prince, and heir to the Sunset Lineage of Gujaareh has made a place for himself among those barbarian tribes, rising to a position of influence among the Banbarra. With his father’s former general at his side, he struggles to convince the desert people to help him oust the Kisuati and regain his city.

The deaths laid at Hanani’s feet were not the last, and a plague of dream-driven fatalities spreads through the city. Anyone who tries to investigate the nightmare of those afflicted also becomes trapped by it. As unrest and violence churn within Gujaareh, Hanani is cleared of fault in the mysterious deaths. Despite this, her skills are still in question by some among the Hetawa because she is the first woman ever admitted into training as a Sharer. A new trial is set, and Hanani and her mentor, Mhi-inh, are offered up to the Banbarra tribe by Gatherer Nijiri, a prominent character from the first book.

This is a more complicated and longer volume than the first (The Killing Moon), and I liked it better for those reasons. The dream magic used by the Hetawa is an intriguing concept, and I felt more familiar with its practice in this book. I suppose this second installment could be read without having first read The Killing Moon, but I think it would be more enjoyable read in the intended order. I don’t know what the author has planned for her future work, but I would be eager to read more stories set in the Dreamblood world.

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Clare Deming

About Clare Deming

Clare L. Deming lives in New Jersey and once applied to be an astronaut. She works her day job at night and writes fiction and book reviews by day. Her short stories have appeared in Perihelion SF and the Universe Horribilis anthology, and received an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. Follow her on twitter @ClareDeming.