Jemisin’s talent continues to impress. Epic in scope–the retaking of a city–and intimate in focus–faith and self doubt–The Shadowed Sun was a satisfying read. The second in the Dreamblood series, it starts some ten years after The Killing Moon and while three or four characters return, I would think it would work as a standalone book.
A quick sum-up isn’t easy. It is at heart three stories: love between an unlikely pair, an internal values conflict, and a tale about retaking a city built on peace. Loosely based on Egyptian culture, the setting shifts between the city of Gujaareh and the desert cliffs of the semi-nomadic Banbarra tribe. Gujaareh has been made a protectorate of the Kausi people after the previous king was deposed by the priest-sect. Hanani is a farm-caste woman who was given to the priests, the Hetawa, and became the first woman Sharer, or healer. Prince Wanahomen has been exiled after his mad father was removed from the throne by the Hetawa, and he longs to retake the city. In a show of faith, Hanani and her mentor are given as hostages to the Prince and his allies, the Banbarra, as they plot to retake the city. Threading through these plots is the realm of dreams, and the strange dream that seems to transfer from one sleeper to the next, leaving the sleeper in pain until they die, lost in the dream.
Narrative shifts around between Hanani, the young female healer; the Prince; Sunandi, the Ambassador-become-governor; and a merchant woman, Tiaanet, whose father is attempting to play his own role in the city’s politics. Narrative shifts done well enough to convey the many-layered plots of politics, and is especially useful when it can demonstrate opposing plans, and how conflict is created from different working assumptions and perspectives. Jemisin does interesting parallels between chapters, having her characters experience challenges at the same time.
Jemisin is an impressive writer and takes a number of interesting character risks. The Prince is a ruthless and an ass more than once, but she gives enough perspective that he doesn’t become the man you love to hate. And while the word “love” is uttered, it is not in devotion, or the middle of passion, but as part of a discussion about comfort. There is a rape and incest. Then she raises questions of what it means to be a woman, from the priest-sect, to the nomadic tribes, to the city women, and it all means something different. Its woven into the story in a very harmonious way, and avoids moralizing or preaching.
I enjoy Jemisin’s writing. Engrossing and detailed, I enjoy her wordsmithing and vision. It was exceedingly readable, with occasionally beautiful turns of phrase:
“In the wake of that, Sunandi could do nothing but allow a moment of proper Gujaareen silence. There was something to the custom, she had decided some years ago, of letting a brief passage of time cleanse the air, after dangerous words and thoughts had tainted it.”
Challenges for me came from a need for a little more world-building, and a desire for a little more creativity. Though it hadn’t been long since I read the first book in the series, I would have benefited from a little more context in the beginning, especially during narrative shifts. The narrative streamlines towards the middle, and it becomes much easier to read. Likewise, the denouncement at the end is not as satisfying, because the (spoiler) representatives of the Protectorate are minimally characterized and contextualized.
While I absolutely loved the first book in the series, the Killing Moon (review here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/…), I confess that this did not amaze me quite as deeply with its creativity. The plot of a challenge to personal faith is quite similar, so while the new angle was interesting, I felt Jemisin was capable of more. A second plot involves a rather standard opposites-attract romance; again, although she did it well, I wanted something more than her little twist at the end and her musings on womanhood. The last major plot line was the retaking of the city, and while it was interesting… I don’t know. It reminded me of the occupation of the Dwarven city in one of the Shannara books. Stop! I know–it wasn’t that bad. I’m just saying it wasn’t remarkable. How not remarkable? On the second read, I was reminded more than a little of Robin McKinley‘s The Blue Sword. Lonely young woman–check. Desert–check. Occupiers–check. Young woman forced to join band of desert nomads–check. Impresses nomads while learning to appreciate their culture–check. However, the twist of the contagious dream was wonderful.
Overall, it’s enjoyable, a cut above the average fantasy, and has enough sophistication that a reread was satisfying.
“There was no peace in continuing to do what had already proven unworkable. Sometimes tradition itself disrupted peace, and only newness could smooth the way.”