Sleeping Beauties

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You may have noticed that I do not generally review books by very, very popular authors. I mean, do you really come here for me to tell you that Stephen King is worth reading? Likely not, but what about Owen King? Personally, I’ve never read anything by Owen, but I love his father’s and brother’s (Joe Hill) works a lot, so I thought why not give him a try?

A pandemic affecting only women quickly makes its way across the globe. This disease puts all of the human female population into a strange sleeping state and covers their bodies in a fluffy cocoon. If anyone tries to wake them or take the cocoon off, the women suddenly wake and become murderous. But there is one female prisoner in a small American town who seems to be immune, and she also claims to know what this disease is as well as how to stop it. When others in the town hear of her existence, two groups form: one that wants to protect and listen to this strange woman and one that wants to kill her, hoping that her death ends this terrible curse upon their women.

I actually put off reading this novel last year because I didn’t think I could read a book about a pandemic during a pandemic without hurting my mental health, and I’m glad I made that decision. This book was published in 2017, apparently, but it felt like a reimagining of 2020-2021. Aside from the obvious– a pandemic– and the way everyone in the world lost their common sense because of it, it was also the politicization of the tragedy and just general greed and power grabbing in a time of crisis that made it extremely difficult not to draw parallels to the past year or so. After living through the past year I can say that the plot itself as well as the way the cast dealt with the disease is definitely realistic, which made it even more chilling.

This book is…. expansive. The main plot point is the global outbreak of disease, so there are a lot of people involved in the plot and the effects of the disease throw a wrench in all aspects of modern life. I mean, think about it. If all of the women in the world were suddenly in an unending sleep, how many ways would the world change? With such a large cast and a plot that affects the whole world, I could see how this might be a hard book to keep focused and to end satisfyingly. I definitely felt like the book could have been trimmed down. The ending was imperfect and slightly anticlimactic. However, I always find satisfying endings difficult for books that deal with world-changing stakes, so I forgive it. It felt like there were some unnecessary scenes that could have been dropped to make the plot feel tighter, but I feel like I am nitpicking at this point. The book was simply a fun read to get lost in.

I love Stephen King’s characters and the way he dives into the depths of their fictional minds in such a way that makes them realistic, relatable, and slightly unsettling. However, I didn’t feel quite the same magic with the characters in Sleeping Beauties, perhaps because of the sheer number of characters, or perhaps because it wasn’t entirely King Sr.’s writing since it was a joint project. There is also some controversy about whether a book written by two white men does its feminist themes justice. I’m female but no expert on what being a good feminist or ally means, but I didn’t find the novel offensive to me as a woman.

As I said, this was fun… or as fun as a book on this topic can be. I feel like it was an interesting thought experiment that makes for a lot of good discussion. It wasn’t the best King/Hill book I’ve read, but it has my recommendation as a slightly creepy, often violent, but smart read.

The Devil and the Dark Water

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Apologies for missing my regular upload date for a few weeks! This has been a hectic year for me, and my reading overall has suffered, but let’s get back to business, shall we?

I read, reviewed, and really liked Stuart Turton’s previous novel, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, so I planned to read his newest novel as soon as I saw it was in production. Stuart Turton has stated that one of his inspirations was Agatha Cristie, and I can definitely see that. This novel and his previous were both “closed mysteries,” meaning there is a limited number of suspects, often because of the setting. In this novel it is because we’re on a ship.

This mystery novel takes place on a ship in the 1600’s that is heading to Amsterdam. The ship is filled to the brim with interesting characters. There are some upper class men, women and children, crewmembers who may or may not be murderous criminals, and a famous investigator currently accused of a crime and his assistant/body guard to name a few. As the ship sets sail a leper warns everyone of something terrible (and possibly demonic) on board before killing himself. The leper event grabs the attention of Arent, the assistant to the famous investigator, and Sara, the inquisitive wife of the Governor-General. Together they try to get to the bottom of the possibly occult happenings before someone gets hurt or killed.

Arent is a very stiff character, especially in the first half of the novel, but I liked that he started to come out of his shell as an investigator and as a friend to Sara. I also liked Sara. She is a high class lady, but she is much more than that when the overbearing men in her life aren’t around. Sara is inquisitive, intelligent, and quite brave. She also has some interesting secrets of her own. There were a handful of side characters I also enjoyed, like Arent’s friend/boss the famous investigator and Sara’s friend and daughter. As for the suspects, there are quite a few, and many have decent motives for causing the (possibly demonic) mischief on the ship.

I’m really not sure if it was just me at this point, because many reviewers seemed to really enjoy this novel, but I was not very invested in the plot. I’ve read a few books set on ships, and I didn’t like them, so perhaps I have something against stories set on the high seas? (I need to read something pirate-y now to prove/disprove this theory, because I do like the idea of a pirate novel…) Setting aside, I didn’t feel as much urgency from the plot in the beginning as the story seemed to want me to. Arent and Sara have a limited amount of time to get to the bottom of things because eventually they will reach Amsterdam and leave the ship and/or the ship may be destroyed on the way if there’s really a dangerous presence on the ship. Eventually the pace ramps up and the stakes become higher, but I was a little disappointed in the ending. And, like with The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, I felt like the world that the author built had a lot more to give. As with his previous novel, I wouldn’t mind seeing another book set in this world/time period.

The Devil and the Dark Water was a fun story with several twists and surprises in the mystery and a good cast of characters, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. However, I would highly recommend picking it up if you loved the author previous work or if you think it might be right up your alley instead.

The Overstory

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is an odd one. I would describe it as environmental fiction with a touch of magical realism and real-life science. The first third or so of the novel follows several different characters through their lives. Each person’s introduction is like a short story or vignette. We learn about the person and their family, perhaps see that they have some connection to nature, and then we go to the next person’s story. Some stories span multiple generations, and it is their descendants that become the main characters. Whatever the case, the main characters that come out of the vignettes eventually link up together in some way by the end. Each character has their own skills, ideals, and histories that lead them to fight for old growth forests that are being chopped down at an alarming rate. There’s an engineer, a reborn prophetess, an artist, actors, a lawyer, etc. Each has a unique story and a unique way to help the natural world once they discover it.

Overall, I would say that the character development is a bit stronger than the plot, but there are a lot of main characters (9? 10?) to keep track of. As I said, in some cases, a few generations are introduced with only the final descendant(s) playing a major role in the main the plotline. I had a little trouble keeping everyone’s history, names, and motivations straight, but I also read this entirely via audiobook. While the audiobook is quite good, I think I personally would have benefitted from seeing the names of the characters in print. For some reason that tends to help me when I’m dealing with a large cast, but you may be different. Each character goes on their own almost spiritual journey. Sometimes meeting another character in the large cast is the catalyst for this change of heart toward nature, but other times it is something entirely different, and sometimes seemingly insignificant, that causes the characters to act. I’m sure this would be an excellent book to use in a book club because hours could be spent discussing and dissecting each character, their stance, and their inspiration for taking on their journey. The cast is also quite diverse, including people of different skin colors, different religions, immigrants, disabilities, and sexualities. I didn’t think that any of these aspects were overused or included just for the sake of diversity, which is always a good thing.

The plot is where I have a few critiques. I really loved the major themes in the novel, of course. There is a sense of urgency even after the last page is turned because the issues talked about in the novel are real, and mother nature does need our help. I liked that the book also seemed to be saying that no matter who you are, what you do, where you are, or how able-bodied you are, you can always find a way to help a cause you care for. The writing is also beautiful. While I wouldn’t call it overly flowery, the author’s words painted a beautiful picture of a personified natural world. The lengthy introductions to each character are so foundational to the characters’ growth and actions, but things became a little more muddled as the book went on. I felt like the plot’s direction wasn’t entirely clear. For example, perhaps 75% into the novel there is a major face off, which I thought would be the climax, but then the book goes on for another at least 100-150 pages tying up some loose ends and expands on what I thought would be the ending. A few characters not included in the major event felt a bit forgotten when we finally got back to them. During the midpoint the plot does seem to meander a bit, but it was the ending that could have been tighter in my opinion.

I feel like I can’t say too much about the book without being very wordy or explaining it in a way that probably doesn’t make sense, or worse, gives too much away. With all of that said, I gave The Overstory very close to five stars.

The Midnight Library

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Nora is going through a rough patch in life. She is fired from her job, she has a bad relationship with her brother, her cat died, her depression is worsening, and no one appears to even need her. She also has a long list of regrets that she has never come to terms with. So, one night she decides to end it all and attempts suicide. But she doesn’t die. Instead, she wakes up in the Midnight Library, surrounded by books that contain the lives she could have lived if she made different choices. Nora can choose any of the books on the shelves, and once she begins to read a book, she is transported into another life. In some lives she is famous and in others she is worse off than in her root life. Nora can ultimately choose to continue in existing in any life she chooses as long as it is the one perfectly suited to her, but is any life truly perfect?

I loved this book, but I wouldn’t recommend it to readers currently struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts. While it does have a hopeful ending, it can bring up some dark thoughts along the way. For instance, I consider my life and mental health to be quite stable right now, but I have struggled with depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety a lot in my life. Reading this book reminded me of many dark times. Although this is my first time reading from this author (and I don’t know much about him), I think it is clear that he has a very good understanding of how depression feels, which makes Nora a very realistic and relatable character, but it could disturb some readers.

Having read some book with a similar theme, I guessed where the ending was going, but it is the journey that matters. I enjoyed seeing Nora’s possible lives, and it of course made me wonder how my own life would be if I made slightly different decisions. The book makes the reader reflect a lot, so my enjoyment did not only come from the text itself but also the way the book made me think about my life. Nora learns some hard lessons through her journey through her lives, and she sees the good in bad in herself, her choices, and in other people. It is a really beautiful and heartfelt story that was difficult to put down. I mourned and celebrated alongside Nora’s losses, accomplishments, and discoveries.

Speaking of Nora, she is a great character. She is well developed and shows growth over the course of the novel, but as the reader I found it easy to sort of insert myself into the story as I reflected on the choices I would have made in my own life. It was a delicate balance, but I thought it was done well. It was also fun to see Nora’s friends and family through her different lives. These different perspectives made it easier for Nora (and the reader) to see different aspects of their personalities as well as their flaws and redeeming qualities. So, even if her brother was cruel in one life, she saw reasons for his actions in another life, and piecing the iterations of him together gave Nora and the reader a clearer picture of who he really was, which I thought was a brilliant way of creating character development.

I gave The Midnight Library five out five stars because I can’t fault it. I related to it so much and it gave me so much to think about. It made me laugh, cry, and think. I can’t ask for much more than that from a book. So, as long as you can handle the conversations on mental health, I would recommend it to just about anyone. It made me appreciate the life I am living a bit more than I did before.

The Revenant

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I grew up watching old Westerns on TV with my dad, and I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the stories about the gold rush and the fur trade in the U.S. It fascinates me that there was a period of time in which much of this country was unknown to settlers and danger lurked everywhere. Once in a while I enjoy media that portrays the wild, untamed land and the (often violent and unfair) treatment of the Native Americans realistically. I believe that The Revenant does this quite well, though I am no expert on the accuracies of the novel.

The Revenant is based on the real-life account of Hugh Glass, a trapper in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, though the author admits to being creative with Glass’s story when the recorded history of his life gets fuzzy. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company was trapping beaver and avoiding hostile Native American tribes when suddenly Glass was attacked by a mother bear. Glass was mauled into unconsciousness. His fellow trappers tried to take care of him and revive him, but it became clear that carrying Glass around was slowing the group down and winter was on their heels. When it was clear that Glass was not recovering, the leader of the group tasked two trappers with staying behind with Glass until he died so that they could bury him with dignity. However, that doesn’t happen, and the two men leave Glass to die in the forest. Glass miraculously survived and began a quest of seeking revenge on the men who betrayed him.

At the end of the day, this is truly a story of revenge. Glass could have survived and went about the rest of his life in peace, but he didn’t. He risked his life to chase down the two men that betrayed him. While that may not be the smartest decision for his continued wellbeing, it makes for a very interesting tale. The book is violent, obviously. The land itself does not have any mercy. Glass and his group fight against wildlife, the elements, and hostile tribes. And of course the white men themselves always find a reason to fight one another. Although not every part of the plot may be the truth, the author weaved together his research of this man and time period to make an engaging story. The novel’s pacing was dynamic. One moment everything would be peaceful and then sudden violence would break out. Other moments would have slowly building tension with a satisfying climax. I liked many of the characters in the novel and thought the author did a great job of brining them to life on the page. However, I wouldn’t get too attached to any one of them… it’s a harsh existence!

One aspect I didn’t like was that a lot of Glass’s past before joining the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was glossed over in a “tell instead of show” way, but I can forgive this because going into too much detail would distract from the main plotline, yet leaving it out completely would leave Glass’s characterization lacking. At the end of the novel the author suggests books for further reading about Hugh Glass, which I appreciated. I also found the ending to be less than satisfying after the long journey that Glass had. Still, this is also something I have to forgive since most of the book is written from historical accounts, and real life doesn’t always end up the way we think it should.

I gave The Revenant four out of five stars. It was a lot of fun and had me on the edge of my seat. I haven’t watched the movie based on the book yet, but I hope to do so soon.

My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thank you to Turner Publishing for providing a free ARC for my review.

I was given this book for review several weeks ago, but I got a bit too busy, so I’m breaking my “every other Sunday” schedule to get this review out a bit sooner.

The setting is 1920 on Ellis Island. Immigrants are pouring into New York Harbor with just the clothes on their backs and dreams of a new life. World War I is over, but the world is still feeling the aftereffects, and as we all know, old hatreds and fears die very slowly. Stephen Robbins has a special talent for finding people, and when his mysterious contact shows up at his workplace with the story of a pregnant Irish girl gone missing, he somewhat reluctantly takes on the task of finding her because he is dealing with his life issues. Stephen stumbles upon not just one strange vanishing but several. He, along with Lucy Paul, one of the nurses on Ellis Island, work together to get to the bottom of the disappearances.

I’m not a big fan of books that deal with the World Wars, but this book focuses on the aftermath of WWI, which I found to be a more unique perspective. In the 1920’s (like now, and probably like always) racist, classist, ableist, and of course religious tensions divided people, and this tension is a major theme of the novel. Some of the characters working on Ellis Island have strong opinions about who should be considered an American. In many ways the book felt timeless because we’re still dealing with these prejudices today (which is also depressing– do we ever learn from history?). The antagonists in the novel are disturbing because their motivation is so realistic, especially considering the arguments regarding immigration we have seen in the past few years. I’ve always found that the most chilling “bad guys” are not fantastical monsters; instead they are regular people with monstrous motives.

I also enjoyed the protagonists. Stephen is certainly an interesting character. He appears in the novel with a specific job to do, but it is clear that he has development off the page that fleshes him out more. The same can be said for Lucy. Lucy and Stephen worked together well, and I liked that their respective talents were utilized throughout the plot. It felt like one could not have solved the mysteries without the other. There is a bit of a romance within the novel, and though it wasn’t a major point of interest to me, it didn’t take over the plot and it felt genuine if perhaps a bit quick for my taste. But keep in mind I’m not a big fan of romances in general, so your mileage may vary.

The plot was interesting, and though I saw a few events coming, I wouldn’t call it predictable. Even when I thought I knew where the story was going, I still had questions about exactly how these things would play out, and I was surprised by some of the answers. I wasn’t entirely on board with the plot’s pacing though. There was a very dramatic event around halfway through the book, and after it happened, I was surprised that there was so much of the book left because it felt like things could wrap up rather quickly afterwards. After this tense event there was a lull in the pacing and the book left the mystery/thriller genre and started to feel like a courtroom drama, which I’m not as into. However, there were a lot of reveals during this time. Then tension built up again, and the sort of “second climax” at the end of the novel wrapped up quickly.

I found My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black to be a very solid historical mystery that had me turning the pages fast once I got into it. I gave it three and a half stars out of five.

Sharp Objects

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Camille Preaker’s Chicago newspaper tasks her with reporting on a string of child murders happening in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri. During her visit, Camille stays with her controlling mother, Adora; her quiet stepfather, Alan; and her beautiful and wild half-sister, Amma. As Camille seeks to unravel the mystery brewing in her small hometown she also battles her own demons, including her mental health and the memories of the death of her other little sister. The grisly details around the Wind Gap murders cast suspicion on many of the town’s residents, but the most puzzling detail is the removal of the victims’ teeth.

There are many female characters in this book, but they aren’t the stereotypical female characters you often see in these dark thrillers. Camille is headstrong, vulnerable, and flawed. I disagreed with many of her choices, but most of them felt realistic given her personality and history. Though at one point I was internally yelling at Camille, “Why would you do that?!” The book takes place in a small Midwest town before cell phones were widespread, and it isn’t surprising that the men in the story all seem to have an idea of what a lady should be, but very few of the female characters fit into this “box.” This is one reason why I really like Gillian Flynn’s novels. She knows how to write very complex and realistic female characters that defy tropes, and she doesn’t flinch away from portraying the dark or un-lady-like sides of life. Specially, I liked that her female characters used sex in ways that male characters often do; for example, as a sort of selfish release without strings attached and as a transactional act. The characters in this book– even the “good” ones– do morally questionable things. Many of the characters are morally gray, which adds realism to the cast.

Coming from a small Midwest town myself, I thought Flynn’s portrayal of the people and culture was mostly spot on. For example, the rich families get away with a lot, the residents are wary of outsiders, the kids are more wild than their parents realize, and though a small town may look charming on the outside, covered up crimes and hidden addictions are below the surface. I felt immersed in the story because of the mystery itself, the characters’ secrets, and the overall dark atmosphere.

A lot of messed up things happen during the plot of the novel. Aside from the actual murdering of young girls, there are many descriptions of sex, drug use by minors, self harm, child abuse, and prescription drug abuse to name a few. The pacing is fast and tense, with most of the events happening within a span of a few days, perhaps a week. Thrillers are known for their twists, but I could see some of the plot points coming. However, I believe this was Gillian Flynn’s first book, so it is clear that she has since made her writing even less predictable. Also, this book was published in 2006, so there have been many newer books that have overused some tropes and it may be a bit unfair to judge an older thriller for such things. Despite that, some of the twists near the latter half of the novel still took me by surprise.

Though it may not be Gillian Flynn’s best novel, it still had me hooked from the first chapter, and especially if you’re a fan of hers and haven’t read this one, I would recommend it as long as the darker parts don’t bother you too much. This is certainly a solid mystery/thriller for those who enjoy the genre. I’d give Sharp Objects somewhere between 3.5 to 4 stars.

The Winter People

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m going to try to switch my review posting date from every other Saturday to every other Sunday. It seems like I have been finishing up books on the weekends, so this gives me an extra day off of work to finish reading and write up a review. It feels weird since I have uploaded on Saturdays for years, but let’s see how it goes! Hopefully I will miss less upload dates this way.

Now, to the review of The Winter People. There are two timelines in this book. One timeline takes place in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s following Sara Harrison Shea. Sara shares her perspectives on the people and events in her childhood and during her young married life through her journal. However, Sara’s death was very odd. Some say she went mad after the death of her daughter, and in Sara’s journal she claims that her daughter came back from the dead. Sara’s journal was published and became part the area’s local legend. In the present day, 19-year-old Ruthie stumbles upon Sara’s journal after her mother disappears, which leads Ruthie down a rabbit hole of other mysteries. As Ruthie and her little sister, Fawn, search for their missing mother, they uncover family secrets and discover things that perhaps would be better left buried.

The characters didn’t do a lot for me, sadly. Sara and Ruthie (arguably the main characters though there are sections from a few other characters’ perspectives as well) were just fine. I preferred reading from Sara’s sections because I found her childhood and adult experiences more interesting. As a side note, I think I might have also enjoyed a book solely based on Sara’s life. Since we read from Sara’s journal, it makes you wonder just how reliable she is as a narrator, which is something I often enjoy. And with a few chapters from her husband’s perspective mixed in, this adds to the reader questioning Sara’s stability. Ruthie and the present day sections were interesting enough, and they add a whole other layer to Sara’s story, but I didn’t find the present-day characters or storyline quite as engaging. There are a few other women tangled up in the mystery of Ruthie’s missing mother, but I found them forgettable beyond their role of advancing the plot.

For me, the best parts of the book were the plot and atmosphere. Sometimes multiple perspectives and timelines can make a plot feel muddled or confusing, and sometimes one timeline/perspective is clearly stronger or more interesting, which makes the narrative feel unbalanced and/or makes the reader bored with one side of the story. I liked the way they were integrated here though. Despite having a preference for Sara’s perspective, the alternating timelines built tension, and when one gave me a new answer about something, it would often raise more questions, which made the book a very fast read. The twists are fun, but I guessed several reveals in the latter half of the novel. The author is quite good at setting up tense moments. I read this via audiobook though, so the narration probably also helped increase the tension via tone and pacing. I was hooked until the end, yet I don’t think that I will remember this book a year or two from now.

In the end, I gave The Winter People 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was a quick, entertaining read that made me think about grief and loss, but in my opinion, it didn’t do enough to set itself apart from other, similar stories I have read.

The Turn of the Key

stars3.5TToTKbyRW

It has been a quite while since I read a thriller, but I usually get in the mood for them around this time of year. A couple of years ago I read Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. I certainly didn’t hate that novel, but I thought it had some imperfections that bothered me. Since then I have heard many people rave about Ware’s other books, so I thought I would take a second look at the author’s work by reading one of her newer books that appealed to me.

The Elincourts purchased Heatherbrae House, an old home in the Scottish countryside with a violent and mysterious history. They have used their architectural and technological knowledge to make it into a “smart home.” All they need now is a reliable nanny to take care of their four children while they are busy with their demanding careers. They have actually had several nannies, but each one has made a hasty exit after experiencing odd, possibly supernatural, experiences within the home. With the high salary and a chance at a new life, Rowan Caine decides to apply to be their newest nanny. What could possibly go wrong?

The novel opens with Rowan writing to a lawyer who might be able to get her out of prison. She is in prison because she has been accused of killing one of the Elincourt’s children, but she claims she is innocent. Throughout the novel she narrates her tenure as the family’s nanny. If you do not enjoy an epistolary format, don’t worry. It is very easy to forget that Rowan is writing the story for someone else. She only addresses the lawyer by name a few times in the beginning and a handful of times throughout the rest of book.

I love a good haunted house story, and not only does Heatherbrae House have a mysterious history but it being a smart house makes for even more unsettling situations. The rooms being filled with security cameras, everything being controlled by a phone app, and being able to talk to people in different rooms via the speaker system all lead to many crazy and creepy happenings. In my opinion, the best parts of this novel were the atmospheric and suspenseful scenes. The author is talented at drawing you in and making you question everything, including the narrator herself.

However, as with The Woman in Cabin 10, I sometimes got annoyed at the main character’s decision making. Admittedly, Rowan isn’t nearly as frustratingly stupid as The Woman in Cabin 10‘s lead, but there were still a couple of instances that made me angry at Rowan. I also noticed that both main characters in Ware’s novels turned to alcohol or made mistakes because of alcohol, which sometimes felt like a lazy plot device in my opinion. Maybe just don’t drink on the job?

Anyway, one other thing I disliked was the way the novel wrapped up. I’m a big fan of thrillers where it is unclear if a supernatural force is really there or not, and I actually love when the novel doesn’t answer whether it is there or not at the end. This novel makes a clear distinction about the cause of the strange occurrences, which is fine, but the twist is somewhat easy to guess and wasn’t a twist I particularly liked. I didn’t quite understand Rowan’s motivation for taking the nanny position by the end, and I felt that the conclusion wasn’t as interesting as the journey. I know that is rather vague and subjective, so I definitely encourage you to pick up the novel and form your own opinions.

Despite my gripes, this was a fun, atmospheric, and fast-paced book that I ultimately enjoyed reading. Three and a half stars out of five for The Turn of the Key.

Series Review: The Dreamblood Duology

stars4.5TDBDbyNKJ

The Dreamblood Duology consists of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun by N. K. Jemisin, who is one of my favorite authors. The duology takes place in the fictional city of Gujaareh where peace takes precedence over all else. Within this city are priests that serve the goddess Hananja who rules over the realm of dreaming. These priests harvest dream ichors to both heal and harm citizens in order to keep peace in the city. This series is marketed as an Egyptian-inspired fantasy, and though I agree that this is a loose way to explain it, the world building and magic system are themselves very unique.

In The Killing Moon we follow the Gatherer Ehiru, his apprentice Nijiri, and Sunandi, a diplomat of a neighboring city-state. Gatherer Ehiru is tasked with eliminating those in Gujaareh who are deemed corrupt. But although Sunandi is judged as corrupt, Ehiru finds that the two of them actually have similar goals, and in fact there may be corruption within Gujaareh itself instead. The characters struggle between what they feel is right for themselves and the city and what is their duty.

The Shadowed Sun takes place about a decade after the events in The Killing Moon. Readers get to see the aftermath of the changes in Gujaareh from book one, which is something you do not see too often in fantasy, and it made the world feel more realistic because things are always changing. In the sequel we travel the lands beyond Gujaareh’s walls, explore other paths in the worship of Hananja, and see more of the magic that the priests wield. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this book deals with more political maneuvering in Gujaareh as well as a mysterious dreaming sickness that is spreading around the city.

These books are some of Jemisin’s earlier works, but you can clearly see she excels in both world building and character building even at this point in her career. The world and the magic system are very unique and well developed. I could see the Egyptian influence, but I quickly forgot about it and enjoyed the culture and magic as separate, new entities. To me, she perfectly built off of real life ideas and histories but made them stand on their own. Too often I see authors draw too much or not enough from their influences, but Jemisin hits the balance here perfectly.

Although I love her characters in The Broken Earth Trilogy because they are truly human and jump off of the page with personality, The Dreamblood Duology shows her progress in character development. I have seen several reviewers say that they preferred The Shadowed Sun to The Killing Moon, but I would disagree. I just found the characters in The Killing Moon easier to connect with and enjoyed their personalities and stories more. However, in both novels the characters make believable mistakes and grow from them. Many have grey moral areas, and being true to life, not everyone survives the trials they face.

I fell in love withe culture and magic system in book one, and I really enjoyed seeing both of them fleshed out in the sequel. The fact that peace is what guides the city’s decisions made for a thought-provoking reading experience. I enjoyed considering the practices and beliefs in Hananja’s teachings and how they compared to those in modern America. For example, though someone was judged as corrupt, the Gatherers tried very hard to give even their enemies peaceful deaths. Both books have intricate plots that involve politics, religion, family (both biological and found families), love (romantic and otherwise), and questions of morality.

I would give the series as a whole four to four and half stars out of five. It is hard to find fault with either novel, and they are both well above average in terms of what is available in the genre, but I find Jemisin’s later works a notch above this one in all of the aforementioned areas. If you enjoyed any of her other works, you’ll very likely enjoy this series as well.