The stuff of dreams
N. K. Jemisin’s debut book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was one of the most acclaimed debut novels in recent years. She won the Locus Award for Best First Novel for 2011. Her book was also nominated for the Nebula, the Hugo, and the World Fantasy Award that year.
I’d never heard of her.
All of this information comes from the cover of the galley copy of her newest book The Killing Moon. A galley proof is a prepublication copy of a book that publishers send out to booksellers and other bookish people, hoping for feedback and dust jacket quotes. Our bookstore gets stacks of them from publishers. We are encouraged to read and respond to the books, sending comments to the marketing department on a postcard they usually include. I’ve always loved the stack of free books in the break room. It provides a great opportunity to read a new author or genre without investing any money on what may be a dud.
N. K. Jemisin’s newest book stood out from this stack of galleys for one very important reason. It was sent to me. Not to the store, not to a coworker who didn’t want it, not included in a box from a publishing rep. It came in a beautiful brown envelope with my name on it. I’m on a magical list somewhere and Hachette Book Group is sending me books. I did a little happy dance, made even happier when I saw that it was a sci-fi book and not something horrifying like a romance.
I read it right away, putting all the other books I was halfway through on hold (Sorry Tana French).
Set in a world with geography and society similar to ancient Egypt, the author warns to any armchair Egyptologists that she is not trying to recreate ancient Egyptian society, just draw inspiration from it, especially in the naming of characters and places. She admits that trying to loosely base a fictional culture on a “real (if bygone) culture” is difficult. I think she succeeds admirably, but on my best day I am one of those horrible Americans who has trouble pointing out a lot of other countries on a globe. Any cultural faux pas aside, the plot unfolds quickly. I always like when a book sucks me in from the first few lines.
The overview is this: The city-state of Gujaareh has deeply held beliefs in the magic of dreams. Gatherers collect the “final tithe” from the dying, effectively killing the tithebearer to gather the dreamblood released in the moment of death. The deaths are calm and in most circumstances requested (think euthanasia). They give the dreamblood, powerful stuff, to Sharers who use it to heal the sick, bring peace to the fearful, regrow limbs, etc. The Gatherers receive some of the dreamblood themselves — they are collecting it after all — and it nourishes their soul in addition to giving them a small high.
The Hananjan religion rules Gujaareh. People give Dreamichor (“culled from ordinary ‘nonsense’ dreams, it is most useful for repairing damage to the body” — Thanks for the glossary Ms. Jeminsin!) as their form of prayer. They worship the dream goddess Hananja and are lead by the priests centered in the Hetawa plaza. They have a Prince who is a figurehead, living in beautiful palaces and inspiring the people to live well and peacefully, but the priests are really in charge here.
Our main character, and the best Gatherer, is Ehiru. He unwillingly learns that his beloved religion is not all that it seems. He and other Gatherers are being used to kill — not lovingly putting someone to their final rest at the dying’s request, but murdering as covert agents. Ehiru and his apprentice Nijiri are pulled away from their peaceful city across the desert to the southern city-state of Kisua. The original founders of Gujaareh left Kisua when they discovered the powers of dream magic and were no longer welcome in their own city. The two city-states have had tense relations ever since.
Powerful forces are at work. Ehiru battles demons, both within himself and without. Nijiri’s young eyes sometimes see more than Ehiru can see, but are just as often clouded by his love and devotion to his master. I had many sleepless nights along with Ehiru as I read into the early morning hours.
And I haven’t even mentioned the best part. Well, second best part — the best part is obviously the awesomeness of having a publisher send a galley proof directly to me. This book and its sequel, The Shadowed Sun, are being published in consecutive months. The Killing Moon comes out for all of you this May. Book number two comes out in June. I love the idea of having a sequel published so quickly after the first book comes out. It gives people the opportunity to enjoy two books by the same amazing author without the danger of forgetting about the first book because they had to wait a year.
Since I only got the first book, I am forever grateful to N. K. Jemisin for not leaving a cliffhanger ending. Many plot lines are neatly wrapped up in The Killing Moon so I’m not going to be on edge for the next few months. I am excited to find out how things progress in The Shadowed Sun though. Is it June yet?
While I wait, I guess I’ll just have to go back and read her critically acclaimed first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I’ll also have to figure out what to write on the postcard Orbit, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, sent me along with the book. I’ll have far less room there than I do here to tout the magnificent writing and detailed characterization of this book. Maybe I’ll just write down the link to this post.