Author: N. K. Jemisin
Genre: Fantasy, PoC
Publication date: June 7 2012
Paperback: 464 pages
Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. And nightmares: a mysterious and deadly plague haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Trapped between dark dreams and cruel overlords, the people yearn to rise up—but Gujaareh has known peace for too long.
Someone must show them the way.
Hope lies with two outcasts: the first woman ever allowed to join the dream goddess’ priesthood, and an exiled prince who longs to reclaim his birthright. Together, they must resist the Kisuati occupation and uncover the source of the killing dreams… before Gujaareh is lost forever.
Stand alone or series: Book 2 of the Dreamblood duology, sequel to The Killing Moon
How did we get this book: Review copies from the publisher
Why did we read this book: We are major fans of Jemisin’s work and we loved the first book SO MUCH. There was never question that we would read this.
Warning: this review contains inevitable spoilers for book 1, The Killing Moon. Avoid if you haven’t read that book and don’t wish to be spoiled! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Trigger Warning: Rape
To me, one of the greatest pleasures in life is to read a great book and then proceed to write a gushy review of said book. This is going to be one of those. Interestingly, the last time I wrote one of those no-holds-barred, OMG- I –LOVED- THIS- BOOK reviews, the book in question was The Killing Moon by the very same N.K.Jemisin. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.
The Shadowed Sun is set 10 years after the events at the end of The Killing Moon took place. The great city of Gujaareh has fallen under the rule of the Kisuati protectorate and now knows oppression and misery. The Hetawa temple – the religious heart of Gujaareh – has expunged the corrupt from its folds and still holds some power but the loss of Gujaareh’s Prince has left a vacuum of leadership. But revolt is fomenting not only amongst the people but also from above and the priests of the Hetawa temple are ready to overthrown the new government as long as it done in the name of ultimate peace. So when word comes that Wanahomen, the son of the fallen Prince is not only alive but rallying allies to retake his City, the Hetawa is more than ready to parley. But the Prince has hated the Hetawa ever since Gatherers have killed his father and so Gatherer Nijiri sends Hanani, the first and only female Sharer to become his hostage until the city is taken.
But in the meantime, the unthinkable is happening: within the walls of Gujaareh – a killing nightmare plague is attacking its citizens, all the way to the top and no one knows who this powerful dreamer is. The only thing the Hetawa knows is that it must be stopped at all costs or the mighty city of Gujaareeh might not survive long enough for Wanahomen’s return.
So now that I described what happens in terms of plot within the pages of this book, I ask you to forget all about it. Because in spite of the fact that these things do happen and the story is executed brilliantly, the beauty of The Shadowed Sun lies in the development of the world in terms of its thematic core and in the characters’ arc.
The events in The Killing Moon have basically set Gujaareh’s world upside down as deep-seated corruption have shown its ugly face from within its political and religious ranks and a place that once only cared about peace is ready to make war in the name of said peace. Now, in The Shadowed Sun, there is an attempt to set things right and return things to their rightful place. But a lot has changed since then. And what I find abso-fucking-lutely brilliant is how N. J. Jemisin has created and developed this beautiful, vast world down to very small detail only to include within its own narrative thoughtful questioning and attempts to subvert it. Not to destroy it but to make it better. It is in the treatment of servants or slaves (depending where you stem from) or the treatment of women: for the Gujaareh, women are goddesses and unlike men they don’t even need the help from priests to cross to the land of dream. But even if they are “goddesses” they are mollycoddled, have no freedom to choose what they wish to do, nor are they allowed to join 3 of the main religious houses of the Hetawa. If in The Killing Moon the questioning happened by comparison (when an outsider observed those rules), in The Shadowed Sun the questioning happens from within and alongside the questioning of religious/political motives and the way they are constructed historically.
As if that wasn’t enough to make me love this book already, then there come the characters. The Killing Moon’s Nijiri and Sunandi show up in secondary roles which was great but OH MY GOD, the two main characters here, Wanahomen and Hanani, blew my mind away with their respective arcs (separate and together). I felt this deep emotional connection with these two characters to the point where I felt they were real. I usually question characters’ motivations from a writing perspective and observe their arcs trying to understand what the author is attempting to do, how and why. Never once did I do this here, Wana and Hanani felt like real people to me and I understood them and how they acted. I actually hated Wana to start with but he evolved into this awesomely complex character with the bad and good from someone in his position, that I ended up loving him. But Hanani’s arc was even more complex and amazing. Her arc taps into themes of female identity, of power, of belonging, of family, of ways of worshiping and ways of surviving and dealing with trauma. The relationship between the two characters also develops beautifully.
There is also an important third character who sometimes shares the narrative’s point of view. This is a really troubled character and one whose arc was difficult to read and nearly broke my heart. It is a woman who has been consistently abused by her own father and this abuse is portrayed thoughtfully and carefully. And it shows the effects it has on this character as well someone close to her and in their psyche which is so important for this world, because it impacts in the way they dream.
Every character has a role to play and every small detail is taken into consideration. The historical aspect of the order, the way the Gujaareh worship women, how peace is ensured no matter what, all ties in beautifully in the end. Because dreams are so important, you also have all sort of archetypical stuff reforming, reshaping people and the world around them in many ways. This is a world that is not static and doesn’t happen in a vacuum and in the end it has evolved just like its characters. Beautifully done.
This to me, is N.K. Jemisin’s best and most emotional book to date. I can’t think of one thing to criticise. It is one of the best I read this year, it will be on my top 10 (along with The Killing Moon) and I think it deserves a 10 from me. Loved it. LOVED IT.
Well, folks, it’s officially another love-fest over here at Book Smugglers HQ – because I, too, LOVED this book.
As Ana says, The Shadowed Sun picks up 10 years after the close of The Killing Moon, with Gujaareh a changed place. We see familiar faces from the first book in the duology, as Nijiri has become the head of the Hetawa and Kisuati ambassador Sunandi has become the political governing force in the city’s occupation. While things are not happy in Gujaareh, with the ever-present Kisuati soldiers roaming the streets, Sunandi’s watch is far less terrible than it could be – but with trouble brewing, increased raids, and rebellion stirring, tensions peak in Hananja’s City. At the heart of this unrest are three characters:
Wanahomen, son of the mad king Eninket, is the Prince that vows to retake his city and prise it free from the grips of the Hetawa and Kisuati, both groups he hates passionately.
Hanani, the first and only female member of the Hetawa as a Sharer-Apprentice, gifted with the ability to heal and to kill.
Tiaanet, a Shunha noblewoman whose beauty is beyond compare, but guards a terrible secret and endures the horrific, repeated abuse of her father.
Hanani is an amazing protagonist and easily my favorite character of the book – strong, earnest, and dedicated to her life as a Sharer, Hanani grows so much over the course of The Shadowed Sun as she realizes, fully, what she wants. And yes, as Ana says (I’m going to be doing that a lot in this review), Hanani’s character also examines female identity, of power and its uses and abuses, and she learns to reconcile her own beliefs with those of her own Gujaareen society, and those beliefs of others (particularly the Banbarra). On that note, I loved the closer look at the different tensions and societies within the world of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun – while the first book laid out the delicate tensions between Gujaareh and the Kisuati, this second novel also examines the desert tribes of the Banbarra, enemies of the Gujaareen but banded together to achieve a common goal.
Then, of course, there’s Wanahomen – a character that I am not a huge personal fan of, but whose arc I can only admire because of Jemisin’s skill in creating such a fully realized, genuine person in the form of this exiled, headstrong Prince. Like Hanani, Wana grows and changes over the course of the book (no small part due to his interactions with Hanani and their burgeoning relationship), and I admire that it all happens organically, believably. Even though I’m a little tiny bit bummed out that the romance overall – only because it felt slightly predictable – both of these characters are standouts, and the way in which their relationship plays out is undeniably well done.
Which brings me to Tiaanet. While the main protagonists of the piece are Hanani and Wana, Tiaanet’s role in the story is pivotal and utterly heartbreaking. The horror that she has had to endure, the manner in which she withdraws from emotion, the truth of Tantufi…it is poignant stuff. Tiaanet’s life and all that she endures at the hands of her despicable father, in the hands of a less skilled writer could have been exploitative or so poorly done. As horrific as Tiaanet’s arc is, Jemisin treats her, and these very serious issues of abuse and the impact of prolonged abuse, with the utmost thought, sensitivity, and importance. Tiaanet plays an integral part of this novel, and as hard as some parts of her story are to read, hers is a story that should be read.
I don’t know what else I can say about The Shadowed Sun. This is a truly wonderful book, and closes the duology on a sweet, pitch-perfect note. While I still think that The Killing Moon is my favorite of the two books, The Shadowed Sun is without a doubt one of the finest fantasy novels I have (or likely will) read this year.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
Chapter 1: The Sharer’s Test
There were two hundred and fifty-six places where a man could hide within his own flesh. The soldier dying beneath Hanani’s hands had fled to someplace deep. She had searched his heart and brain and gut, though the soul visited those organs less often than layfolk thought. She had examined his mouth and eyes, the latter with special care. At last, behind a lobe of his liver, she found his soul’s trail and followed it into a dream of shadowed ruins.
Piles of rubble loomed out of the twilit mists—crumbling structures so titanic that each single brick would dwarf a man, so foreign in design that she could not fathom their purpose. A palace? A temple? Camouflage, regardless. Beneath her feet the dust gleamed, something more than mica: each step displaced a million stars. She took care to put them all back in her wake.
To find the soldier, Hanani would have to first deal with the setting. It was simple enough to will the ruins into order, which she did by crouching to touch the ground. Threads of dreamichor, yellow-bright and gleaming, laced from her fingertips and etched the ground for a moment before vanishing into it. A breath later, the dust skittered up to seal cracked stone; the harbinger of change. Then the earth split and the ground shook as great bricks righted themselves and flew through the air, clattering together to form columns and walls. All around her, had she chosen to watch, the outlines of a monstrous city took shape against the gradient sky. But when the city was whole, she rose and moved on without looking. There was far more important work to be done.[“This takes longer than it should.”
“The injury is healing.”
“That does no good if he dies.”
“He won’t. She has him. Watch.”]
After first passing a stone archway, Hanani paused and turned back to examine it. The arch was man-height, the only thing of normal proportions in the dreamscape. Beyond the arch lay the same shadows that shrouded all — no. The shadows were thicker here.
Prowling carefully closer, Hanani attempted to step through the archway.
The shadows pressed back.
She imagined illumination.
The shadows grew thicker.
You can read the full chapter online at N.K. Jemisin’s website HERE.
Ana: 10 – Perfection
Thea: 8 – TRULY excellent and leaning heavily towards a 9 (and only really missing out on a 9 because The Killing Moon was just a smidge better – and remains my favorite novel of 2012 thus far)
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