The author has done something pretty cool here. The second book of the Dreamblood duology is set in the same world as “The Killing Moon.” It features some of the same characters. It requires all the set up that amazing first book provided to work. But it reads like something completely different, going in its own unique direction. “The Killing Moon” was focused on what makes right and wrong, the price of peace, and saving the city; “The Shadowed Sun” is more focused on roles of people within the society, taking place after the city could already be lost.
While two main characters from the first book, Nijiri and Sunandi, do have prominent roles, most of the story revolves around two new characters, Hanani and Wanahomen. Hanani is the first women to be admitted to the Sharers, a sort of magical healer. Though change has been made necessary due to the occupation of Gujaareh, she is still looked upon with suspicion even from those she is meant to help. Wanahomen is the exiled son of the now dead Prince of Gujaareh, and thus heir to a city under occupation. The people of the city are not content to stay occupied, and most of the book deals with several plans to bring Wanahomen back to the throne.
So the attempt to retake the city makes up the main story, but much its predecessor this book is impossible to define by one plotline. A magical sickness is affecting people in the city indiscriminately, and curing it may shake people’s since of right and wrong. The author seems to be pushing against traditional fantasy a bit in this book; looking a little deeper at the caste society she has built, and showing people with completely different reactions to acts and threats of sexual violence. And just to keep it interesting, a rather sweet love story is built through the second half of the book.
I liked most of the new characters. Wanahomen was built to be a Gujaareh prince, and as such struggled between doing right by his conscience and doing right by his people. We first meet him as a leader of desert nomads who must consistently prove he is not an outsider to them, despite eventual plans to leave them. A strong secondary character was a woman who in a typical fantasy book would have been cast as the jealous ex who makes the new girl miserable; in this book she was the woman who eventually earned the trust and confidence of Hanani.
“The Killing Moon” had some darkness to it, but most the violence took place in dreaming. Scary, but rarely was it hard to read. For the squeamish this book may be a bit harder to get through. As the peace has been shattered by the occupation there is much more bloodshed. A fathers unnatural love, a violently stopped assault, and particularly painful to read about dismemberment should drive home that this isn’t a children’s story.
I can’t say that I liked the book as much as its companion. While still very good, more things bothered me this time around. The truly unique world was still present, but until the second half the story could have taken place in almost any world; it was a more generic occupation story. Also, outside of Sunandi the occupying forces seemed comically inept; at no point did it seem they had a handle on the town they controlled. In this case the “secondary” story lines were much more interesting to me than the main one.
Still, it was a great conclusion to the two book series, and I am so glad to have found the Dreamblood set. I hope lots of people read Jemisin, because I can’t wait to see what other stories she has to tell.