Novelist N.K. Jemisin believes in setting the hook when it comes to world building. Take The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first book in Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. Released in February 2010, her debut novel barely had time to land on reviewers’ desks (and garner a host of impressive award nominations) before the second book, The Broken Kingdoms, was released in November. (The third book, The Kingdom of Gods, came out a year later.)
Jemisin (or more to the point, her publisher) must have liked how that worked out—her next two books (aka The Dreamblood Duet) are being released in consecutive months. In the first, The Killing Moon, Jemisin again demonstrates why her fans have every reason to enjoy the Anti-George R.R. Martin pace of it all.
The Killing Moon introduces us to the desert city-state of Gujaareh, whose peace is presided over by the servants of the Dream-Goddess, Hananja. Foremost among these servants are the Gatherers, priests who practice a form of magic called narcomancy and “take final tithes” from the old, sick and maimed, as well as from those deemed corrupt. (Less enlightened cultures might just call the Gatherers “assassins,” though compassionate ones.)
The Killing Moon focuses on two members of this sect. The first, Ehiru, is an established Gatherer who, as the novel opens, has his faith in himself and his order disturbed when a routine “gathering” goes wrong. The second, Nijiri, is an acolyte and then apprentice of Ehiru. Together, the two try to at first unravel and then survive a plot that threatens their order, their city and their lives.
By Jemisin’s own admission, Gujaareh and its heal-and-kill order of monks are loosely modeled on Ancient Egyptian society, religion and medicine. But “loosely” is the key word here, since ancient cultures are just one of the building materials—along with Jungian psychotherapy—Jemisin uses to build the world of The Killing Moon. Just as not every tree trunk must be part of a log cabin nor every block of stone a castle, Jemisin quickly moves away from “inspired by” to establish a world where only the dedicated Egyptologists out there will still be seeing Gujaareh through pharaoh-colored glasses.
Above all, the pages turn, and they turn quickly. The dramatic reveals are suitably dramatic, and the characters believable, likable and worthy of respect, be they protagonist or antagonist, main player or extra. It can be tricky introducing a new system of magic—the average fantasy reader has seen most every flavor—let alone yet another iteration on monks and assassins. Yet, taken together, Jemisin’s Gatherers and their narcomancy feel fresh. The series is young, but the Gatherers seem a worthy addition to both monk lit (the Bloodguard of Stephen R. Donaldson) and assassin lit (the Dragaera books of Steven Brust).
Best of all, there’s only a month’s wait until the release of the second book, The Shadowed Sun. Hook, set and match.