Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin

The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin
Published : Orbit, 2012
Series : Book 2 of the Dreamblood series

Since this is the second book of a series, some spoilers of the first book will be included from this point on.

The Book :
“After the events of The Killing Moon, Gujaareh has been taken over by the Kisuati Protectorate.  The Hetawa, the powerful priesthood of the dream goddess Hananja, supports this occupation—for now. Hananja’s city follows Hananja’s law, and its priests follow the swiftest path to peace and the elimination of corruption, whatever the cost. 

Under the Kisuati, Gujaareh is now anything but peaceful.  Within the city, the people face the corruption of the Kisuati occupying forces, as well as a mysterious plague of nightmares that drags sufferers down into death.  Out in the desert, the surviving son of the former ruler bides his time, eager to take back his father’s throne.  In these troubled days, the young Sharer-apprentice Hanani, the first woman to ever bear that title, is given a dangerous task: to free Gujaareh.” ~Allie

This is the second half of the Dreamblood series. While some characters from the previous novel appear, it focuses on the stories of a new set of characters.  I think it would be possible to read this novel as a standalone, but it is probably best appreciated with the context provided by The Killing Moon. The Shadowed Sun is my third review for Once Upon a Time VII.  It looks like I will not make five novels before the 21st, sadly, but I think three is not bad given the circumstances. I had imagined I would bounce back with loads of book reviews after finishing my thesis.  In the end, I actually just kind of collapsed. I think I'm back on track now, though!

My Thoughts :

I enjoyed the world of The Killing Moon, so it’s no surprise that this is also the case for The Shadowed Sun. The first novel carried the brunt of introducing the world, its history, and its mythology, which allowed for more details to be worked smoothly into the story in the second novel. I was very interested in the dream magic of the first novel, and was delighted to see it further explained and expanded in The Shadowed Sun. There was more of a focus on the Sharer path, which involved gathering dream humors and healing, and of the training of the dreaming gift.  There was also a bit more information about Gujaareh, and the culture of the Banbarra desert tribe is introduced.  A lot of the story involved cultural differences between Kisua, Gujaareh, and the Banbarra, and there was a significant focus on issues of gender and class within different societies.

Sexism may not have played a large role in The Killing Moon, but it is a major factor in the story of The Shadowed Sun. One aspect of the portrayal of sexism that I found particularly interesting was that those who perpetuated it typically believed that they loved and respected women. In Gujaareh, for instance, the idea was that women were goddesses, and should therefore not be treated like human beings. Among many other things, this was used as a justification to refuse to train women in the use of dream magic, causing some women to be driven insane by their dreaming gifts. In the Banbarra tribe, the gender relations seemed more complicated, involving more issues of class, wealth, and cultural values that differed from those of Gujaareh. It was frustrating, though believable, that the members of these cultures refused to discard their gender stereotypes, even when faced with proof of their actual origins.

Following from this, I should warn that this novel contained a pretty large amount of sexual violence, rape, and child abuse. While this appeared throughout the novel, it was most concentrated in the story of the character Tiaanet, an incomparably beautiful women who was continually abused by her father.  I felt that the depictions of abuse and the victims were for the most part thoughtfully done, and the long-term suffering caused by the abusers was not diminished.   However, there were still a few things in the treatment of these topics that bothered me. The first was the portrayal of Tiaanet as breathtakingly beautiful, and the implication that this was a reason that her father molested her.  I was also not entirely happy with the conclusion of the story, due to the fates of the characters that had suffered the most.

The other main characters of the story are the Sharer-apprentice Hanani and the prince-in-exile Wanahomen. Hanani was the first female to serve Hananja as a Sharer, a highly competent young woman who struggled with being assertive. I pretty much adored her immediately in the beginning of the book, but I was not completely thrilled with the direction her story took. Wanahomen was a pretty standard character type—the exiled prince seeking to regain his rightful throne. Despite his standard-fantasy motivations, he was a pretty complex and believable character who grew and changed throughout the novel.  Their personal stories involved the plan to retake the throne, and a fairly predictable romance.  I’m not really a fan of romance at the best of times, and this one didn’t really convince me. However, there was so much else going on, and the characters were so individually interesting, that the story was highly engaging from start to finish.

My Rating : 4/5

The Shadowed Sun will not replace The Killing Moon as my favorite of N.K. Jemisin’s novels, but it was a satisfying sequel.  Though Nijiri and Sunandi show up briefly, the story primarily follows female Sharer-Apprentice Hanani, the exiled Prince Wanahomen, and the beautiful Tiaanet. I thought it was interesting to see the comparison of different cultures and their ideas concerning gender, and to see more explanation on the Hetawa’s dream magic.  However, the inclusion of a pretty large amount of rape and sexual violence made the story sometimes uncomfortable to read.  I am also not much of a romance fan, and I was not really won over by the romantic turns of the plot.  Overall, The Shadowed Sun was an engaging story featuring complex characters, and I thought that it was a fitting sequel to The Killing Moon.

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