I spent my last weekend in bed, with beers in a cooler a few inches away, and NK Jemisin’s The Killing Moon in hand. I’ve read few page-turners these last few months. But I devoured The Killing Moon in four days. (I would’ve finished it sooner, but the beers made it hard to read.)
Set in an Egyptian-styled city named Gujaareh, it’s a tale of politics, war, brotherhood, unconventional love, and a fresh and engaging magic system. I loved most of it, but the characters were where the book shined.
Unlike many modern day fantasy novels, The Killing Moon zeroed in on a core set of characters: Ehiru, Nijiri, and Sunandi. Among them, I found Nijiri to be the most compelling.
As always, prepare for light spoilers.
The Proud Apprentice
Magic is the foundation of this book. Within Gujaareh, Gatherers put people to sleep. The old, the sick, the corrupt; Gatherers force them asleep, remove their essence (sort of like dream-fairy goo that’s used to heal people), and send them to a merry afterlife. Ehiru is the most respected Gatherer.
Nijiri is Ehiru’s apprentice. The book shifts perspectives between the two, and initially it seems Ehiru is the MC. But through Nijiri, we see how complex Ehiru is. We see his fears reflected in Nijiri, and we see how Ehiru must’ve been as a Gatherer apprentice himself.
An apprentice is an apprentice however, and Nijiri is not above making mistakes and making them often. He may be talented, but within the first few chapters, he screws up more and more. Later on, his pride gets in the way of his duties, and he bungles further. It’s only through Ehiru’s calming presence that Nijiri is able to advance as he does.
Eventually it’s his pride in Ehiru lets Nijiri carry the burden bestowed upon them. Though the point of being a Gatherer is to have a calm, inner peace, thanks to Nijiri, we see just how human these warrior priests are.
The Unrequited Lover
Nijiri is not without his temptations. The biggest one? Ehiru. Ehiru took Nijiri in as a child, and though the apprentice sees the master as a father figure, he’s also attracted to him.
This is a problem, because Gatherers are supposed to be pure. Nijiri knows he can’t have Ehiru, but his devotion to the man remains strong. Ehiru feels a connection with Nijiri as well, but it’s paternal.
This is real love, not simple physical attraction. They are willing to go to great lengths for each other. They risk their lives, but more importantly, they risk their faith.
It’s an original love, and one that is resolved, but not in the happiest way.
By the end, Nijiri has surpassed Ehiru, become a full Gatherer, and completed his quest. He does not have everything he wants, but he does have something resembling an inner peace. It’s the kind that comes from having a purpose. Though he knows things he isn’t supposed to know, he’s content his existence will help the people of Gujaareh.
Though it will be hard for him, he’ll do his duty. Nijiri’s story serves as a reminder that we can’t have everything we want, but our lives can still have meaning if we let them.
I’m assuming the sequel, A Shadowed Sun, continues Nijiri’s story. I may have only focused on him for this article, but the rest of The Killing Moon is just as fun and fascinating. If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and check it out.