The Killing Moon
After reading Eva’s post for A More Diverse Universe about how much she likes N.K. Jemisin books, I was reminded of why I’ve had The Killing Moon sitting on my shelf for a while, and got it down. I found it a bit of a slow read, and it ended up on my bedside table, which was the right place for a fantasy tale about a world with Egyptian flavor in which devotees of one of the extremely weird gods of this fantasy land learn how to steal into peoples’ dreams in order to kill them, but only if they’ve been judged “corrupt” by those the devotees serve (which may not always be the god, it seems).
One of my favorite moments of reading came about 11 pm one cold, November night, as the cats lay draped over my legs and my eyes were getting heavy-lidded while flickering from the end of one chapter to an “interlude” in italics on the opposite page. I was deciding whether to read on as I read this:
“Now that you have heard the greater stories I must begin the lesser—for I see that you have grown weary and distracted. No, don’t apologize. We are men of the Hetawa, after all; sleep is no hindrance. There, take the couch. Sleep if you wish. I’ll weave the tale into your dreams.”
So I closed the book and went to sleep, although as it turned out, my dreams were not as interesting as the brightly-colored world of the book, and I woke to gray Ohio.
Basically, this is a travel story, with two Gatherers, servants of Hananja, going along with a foreign spy who has talked them out of “gathering” her in order to find out who is giving the orders in their own land. Part of the cleverness of this narrative structure is that the foreign spy, Sunandi, has the same kind of horror of their calling, Gathering, that a modern reader will, at first: “she resisted the urge to swallow at the menace in his tone. He still intended—no. He still believed wholly in the rightness of killing her.”
It takes an old foreign woman to whom the older Gatherer intends kindness to tell him what is obvious to those outside his country and his peculiar devotion to Hananja:
“I can see how they made you,” she said, her voice soft despite its hoarseness. “They took away everything that mattered to you, che? Upended your whole world and left you alone. And now you think love blooms in a breath and silencing pain is a kindness….I could let you kill me now, lovely man, and have peace and good dreams forever. But who knows what I get instead, if I stay?”
The Gatherers, Ehiru and Nijiri, learn the price of their power if the devotion of every single one of their brothers is not pure—they can become “reapers,” who can kill almost effortlessly, reaching into a person’s mind from a distance, without caring why or how. They must become less cloistered and even, to some extent, political to solve the mystery of who has been using them, along with all the followers of Hananja. By the end, it’s clear that it will be another long age before their Gatherer descendants allow their power to be used by any single person.
At the end of the book, it seems our dreams are safe. Mine were more entertaining and memorable than usual while I read The Killing Moon. I dreamed someone gave me a baby, and woke feeling the way she clung to me and how much I wanted her. I dreamed I came into a room with Nathan Fillion and said to everyone there, “stop that!” and then “Hey, Nathan Fillion wants you to stop that!” which, of course, made them immediately stop and look up.
My mother always told me that if you tell a dream before breakfast, it will come true. I think it’s because that makes you remember it, or maybe she just didn’t want to have to listen to long dream-tales every morning of my childhood. We try to listen to dreams at my house, most of the time. Does anyone listen to yours? Have you had a good one lately?