Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin

Under Blue Moon I saw you... okay, presumably this book has nothing to do with Echo & The Bunnymen. What is it about?

Ehiru is a priest in the city of Gujaareh with powers over dreams; he can draw magic from them, use them to heal - use them to kill. Sunandi is a spy and diplomat from neighbouring Kisua, suspicious and fearful of Gujaareh's intentions - and Ehiru's magic. The uneasy relationship between the two as war looms over Kisua and Gujaareh is the driving force of this tale of mystery, magic and murder set in a quasi-ancient Egyptian setting.

Sounds nifty.

It is very nifty in a lot of ways. This was my first read of Jemisin's work and it is very easy to see what the fuss is about. Her prose is sumptuous. Her world building is bare bones, but what bones there allows the active imagination to build all sorts of detail around. Take for example the ancient ancestral relationship between Gujaareh and Kisua; not only did it make the world feel real to me, but I built a picture of Kisua without really seeing based on that single fact and Gujaareh. The relationship between Gujaareh's various power blocs was also painted vividly in really not that many words.

However... while I admire the hell out of The Killing Moon, I didn't love it. And I'll be honest, trying to figure out why and how to write the review about it was a big reason behind the recent drought, as I just didn't know how.

But you do know right? What is it?

I'm not sure I actually do; just sometimes you have to bite the bullet and put out what you have, even if it isn't good enough.

What I do understand is tied to what CC Finlay calls "narrative momentum" - the combination of pacing and engagement to the characters and stakes. I didn't get that. The pacing is fine, the characters thoughtfully drawn, but neither had me turning pages. Why? I can't really go deeper than that. The Killing Moon worked really well for me as a piece of writing, but as a piece of story it was the sort of date where you have a pleasant chat and go home thinking of other things.

It is possible, thinking of The Killing Moon in comparison with my last review, that I'd have taken more to the characters if I'd seen more of them with other characters they shared deep roots with. I think that draws me in more. This book had some of that, but not enough.

There was little sense of self-discovery either to my mind. And plot wise, the transition from city-based intrigue to trials in the desert and an open threat didn't quite work for me.

So who will love it?

The Killing Moon will appeal strongly to those who place a high emphasis on prose, mystery, and worldbuilding. Bonus marks for those actively seeking settings different from Europe. Gore and humour, not so much. The big question is whether people will like the story and characters better than I did, and I daresay many will. They're well drawn. They're good. Just not quite for me.

And that's really quite annoying. There's been a lot of popular books by popular authors that I'm just not that into. And that's okay. But there's not many such books where I've found them good but just not quite as great as everyone else seems to think. But that's just me. Everyone else should see for themselves.


  1. Many people say this is her weakest series (there's just 2 books in this one), but I quite enjoyed it.
    I'd say, go straight to The Fifth Season, as that trilogy is really amazing.
    Out of the first trilogy, my favourite is book 2 (and those can almost be read as stand-alones as each book focuses on a different character, with the others, who were the main ones in other books, as support)

    1. So everyone tells me Bea! Alas, the problem is that I really don't like present tense in fiction, and that's how The Fifth Season starts. I guess one day I'll get over it, but no time soon.