I have to say right off the bat that The Killing Moon is definitely leaps and bounds above Jemisin's previous work, the Inheritance trilogy, which I liked, but had far too many flaws and frustrating elements to it. Jemisin's work has been consistently fresh and free from the regular world-building and magic-system tropes, but I felt her debut novels lacked logic and relied too heavily on just being able to make stuff up at the last moment.
Not only has she managed to remedy this completely in this novel, but I can hardly think of any flaws at all ... someone should start a slow clap for this woman.
Jemisin claims that the nation of Gujaareh is based off Egyptian culture, although if no one had told me, I never would have guessed. She does not immediately go for the imagery we all automatically reach for when we think Egypt; other than a city surrounded by desert sands. Jemisin draws upon Ancient Egyptian magic, which seamlessly blends religious and medical disciplines, but then also throws in some Freudian dream theory. Suffice to say The Killing Moon is worlds away from your popular medieval Europe fantasy setting. In her interview at the end of the book Jemisin goes as far as saying that she purposefully moves away from this setting as she believes modern fantasy has a fetishization with medieval Europe and that many authors over-simplify things and end up doing "Simplistic British Isles Fantasy Full of Lots of Guys with Swords and Not Much Else". Can't say that I disagree with her.
The religious and ceremonial beliefs of the Hetawa and that of two of our protagonists Nijiri and Ehiru are intriguing, but even more interesting is the way in which they are challenged by fellow protagonist, Sunandi. The followers of the dreaming goddess Hananja believe in a kind of ritualized killing that brings peace to the recipient and the benefit of dreamblood magic to everyone else. However outsiders like Sunandi simply see it as murder and Jemisin demonstrates how the strength of faith and belief moves each character and what happens when this is challenged.
The Killing Moon finds the perfect balance between delivering exposition and withholding information enough to keep the reader puzzling, without causing confusion or frustration (in excess anyway). There's quite a lot (like a lot) of foreign names and terms thrown in to the beginning chapters, which seems a little overwhelming at first, but quickly becomes more than manageable.
There are a myriad of small touches that add up to make this a great read. Each chapter begins with selections of text from Hananjan law, which gives just tidbits of information that enlighten previous and following chapters. Jemisin's also places an ambiguity on sexuality and in Gujaareen society there is no 'gay', only people who love who they love. All feelings are accepted and unjudged, which is a refreshing perspective coming from a society obsessed with labels and hetero-normalcy.
The only thing I can say that is missing from The Killing Moon is the incredible passion and the constant need for more that great books instill in readers. Jemisin ticks all the boxes with this novel and leaves me incredibly satisfied, but I had very little emotional attachment to it. Considering this was one of the stronger points in her Inheritance trilogy, maybe she is just yet to find the right balance.
I'll be moving swiftly on to the last installment in this duology, The Shadowed Sun and recommend that you give The Killing Moon a go if you haven't already.