Completed 6/13/2020, Reviewed 6/13/2020
I loved this book immensely, more so than The Killing Moon, it’s predecessor. It tackles deeper, darker issues, such as incest, abuse, and rape. It’s not a direct sequel; it takes place ten years after Moon and a few of the characters recur in this volume. It’s the same universe, though, with the same dreaming magic for healing and ending life. The city-state where the action took place in Moon has been conquered by the city-state it intended to conquer. There are all sorts of political machinations among the conquerors and the conquered. And somehow through the darkness and politics, I found myself completely enrapt in the lives of the main characters. It’s a shame this book wasn’t nominated for awards, as its predecessor was. I thought it was written better and the magic used and described better, though this latter part is probably because I didn’t need the first half of the book to learn it as I did in Moon.
Hanani is the first woman who has become an apprentice Sharer, in fact she is the first woman ever accepted into the Hetawa, the organization that deals with dreaming magic. As a Sharer, her primary focus is healing through dreams. She and her mentor Mni-inh are assigned to a squad that goes out to the desert to try to engage with Wanahomen, the heir apparent to the throne, and the barbarian tribe he’s come to lead, to overthrow the city’s occupiers. In the meantime, there is a dreaming plague taking over the city. It kills people while they are asleep as well as the Sharer, or apprentice, or acolyte who is working their dreams. The cause is not known but the casualties keep mounting. This causes fear among the general population which is already near the tipping point of revolution against the invaders.
I thought Hanani was an awesome character. As the first woman in the Hetawa, she is constantly up against sexism to such a degree that she must dress and act like a man to perform her functions. She is doubted by the Superior and many of her colleagues. Only her mentor gives her the support she needs, becoming like a father to her. When she goes on the mission to the desert, she is kept there, as sort of a hostage, to show good faith and trust between the Hetawa and Wanahomen. There she has all sorts of difficult encounters with the barbarians, the selfish Prince, death, destruction, and her own heart and mind. Through all this, her character development is so good, I became completely enmeshed in her emotions and frustrations.
Wanahomen was another great character. As the heir apparent, he is full of bile over the death of his father by the Hetawa. Thus, he hates them. However, he is soon won over to their side. That process is really well developed. Telling any more gives too much away. I also really liked Mni-inh, Hanani’s mentor, and Yanassa, Wanahomen’s first lover and the mother of his child. Yanassa is smart, sassy, and helps Hanani cope with being the woman that the Hetawa had repressed.
The violence towards women is very difficult to read. It is not gratuitous violence as in a regular action novel. It is all very necessary to character development and the plot. The book acknowledges it, discusses it, subverts it, and most importantly, does it in a way that does not perpetuate it (this is almost a direct quote from NK Jemisin’s blog on sexual violence from 2012). I thought it was very well done and very provocative.
I had to give this book five stars out of five. It really grabbed me. It had me reading the last third of this five hundred page book very late into the night. I simply had to find out how Hanani would come to be at peace after all the troubles she had to bear. This is an excellent book, but as with everything I’ve read of Jemisin, it is very dark. She may have won the Hugo and Nebula for The Broken Earth series, but her previous books are also excellent. I have to say that Jemisin has become one of my favorite authors.