In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe – and kill those judged corrupt.
I have read many fantasy books and yet I’ve never read anything quite like this. This book feels very modern, and by that I mean it focuses on some very modern issues even though it is set in what is supposed to be an ancient world.
First thing, I really like how the magic works in this. Magic is created by the citizens of Gujaareh in their dreams. This magic is taken to the Hetawa which is the main temple of the Hananjan faith (the religion in this book) where it is used to heal the sick. However the Hetawa have to uphold Hananja’s Law, the principal tenant of which is peace. This means they are able to judge whether a person is corrupt and if so send out a Gatherer who will take the person’s Dreamblood (magic) and send them on to Ina-Karekh (heaven, basically). A Gatherer is also able to do this to a person if they are so sick that they are unable to recover, in a sense giving them a good death. However this now raises a moral question, should the Hetawa be allowed to kill anyone they choose for the sake of all who live in the city.
I loved the characters, they feel like real people struggling with their ethics, history and sexuality among other things. Not only that but we have this very interesting affection between the two main male characters Nijiri and Ehiru. This isn’t a sexual thing more of a mentor/mentee relationship, but you get to see how the affection changes and grows throughout the course of the book. We also get to see some fantastically strong female characters and though it is only mentioned in passing (read the sequel for more) we have a very interesting way that women are viewed in this world. In that they are seen as goddesses and don’t need a Gatherer’s help to get to Ina-Karekh and yet are treated as subservient to men.
One thing I did have a problem with is that Jemisin jumps straight into the plot, no info-dumps or exposition. However this means that you really need to concentrate and possibly even re-read the first 100 pages, this is the unfortunate problem with having a fantasy setting with very foreign names and places. There is a glossary at the back of the book but that only helps to an extent.
Another thing is that we know this setting is based loosely on Egypt, I would have liked a map so I could better understand where everything is, however after checking the author’s blog it seems that she has a problem with maps in fantasy books. In fact it seems she thinks that if she didn’t need a map while writing the book, the reader won’t need a map either. Now I personally think this is a little arrogant considering the author created the world and is expecting the reader to see it the same way she does in her head. But that’s just me.
I cannot recommend this book enough, seriously if you enjoy fantasy read this. This is in fact one of the only books where I have been disappointed with a sequel because it did not lead on directly from where the first book finished. I had an epic book hangover after this that even reading all of N. K. Jemisin’s other published works did not fix. I enjoyed this book so much that it is very possible I will name is as my favourite book of 2015 (even though I technically read it in 2014).