N. K. Jemisin is an amazing fantasy author, and anyone who hasn't read her definitely should at the next available opportunity. She has a way of creating lush worlds, complex characters, and having an actual diverse cast in her books, which is pretty outstanding for fantasy novels. Main characters who aren't always straight and white? Who actually (that I can remember) have never been both straight and white? Shocking! In such a good way! Her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms trilogy was outstanding, with the titular first book being one of my favorite fantasy books of all time. The Dreamblood duo was her second series put out. I read the first book in the duo, The Killing Moon, early last year, and it took me forever to finally get around to this one. At first I was a bit disoriented, because some of the characters in the second book follow through from the first (though the main characters are new) and the events are strongly linked, though there was a time skip between the two volumes. However, I pushed on, and either remembered enough or gathered from what was written. I'd say that reading the two books close together would definitely be helpful, but it isn't strictly necessary.
This story picks up several years after the events of The Killing Moon. The city of Gujaareh is now occupied by the Kisuati Protectorate. The Hetawa, the temple in charge of the dream magic that fuels Gujaareh's existence, has taken in its first female Sharer, Hanani. She's trying to rise above her apprenticeship and become a full-fledged healer when tragedy strikes: a dream plague that kills all it touches, and spreads from sleeper to sleeper. At first, Hanani is blamed for the deaths, but when it becomes clear that the plague is beyond her, the Gatherer Nijiri bestows a new trial upon her: free Gujaareh. To complete this task, he sends her into the desert to Wanahomen, Gujaareh's exiled prince and heir to the throne who is scheming to retake his kingdom and his crown.
At first, I loved Hanani's chapters and hated Wanahomen's. He was a jerk. I did not like him, and found myself paging ahead, looking for the next place Hanani would come in. Once their paths converged, however, I think Jemisin did a very good job weaving the two together. Hanani ended up bringing out different sides to Wanahomen, ones that were much more flattering, despite their constant butting of heads. Hanani's struggles to understand a foreign culture seemed genuine, but despite her pain and frustration she longed to do well, and that complex mix of emotions and motivations lead her down a complicated road. The story also picked up a good bit once the two met up in the desert, which redeemed the book from what was an interesting, but sometimes slow beginning.
This book has more of a romance plot than the first did; the first featured a very intense relationship, but I'm not sure I would call it a romance. I wasn't sure I would call this one a romance at first, either, but it grew in an interesting way and definitely ended as one. However, I think that positive, consensual relationship, complicated as it could be, was desperately needed in order to balance out some of the less savory aspects of the book. Jemisin doesn't pull punches when it comes to including unpleasant truths in her books, and in this one rape, abuse, and incest feature prominently--though not amongst the protagonists. Which is good, because it's very hard to make a raping, incestuous person a protagonist.
Sunandi, Nijiri, and Nijiri's surviving Gatherer brothers all carry over from the first book. While some chapters feature them, they are not prominent characters, and are more used to keep us filled in with what is happening in Gujaareh after Hanani leaves for the desert. Their characterizations were consistent with the first book of the duo, but again, can stand on their own for readers who didn't read (or forgot) The Killing Moon. Some of the intricacies of narcomancy and the Hetawa would be lost on a newcomer, but this story isn't really about that; it's about an unlikely love story, the pain of lost relationships on all sides, and the struggle to retake a city that thrives on peace, but is on the brink of war. It's a complex set of threads, and again, Jemisin is absolutely masterful in weaving them together. While I didn't love this as much as I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I think it comes in as my second-favorite Jemisin book, and I can't wait to read her newest offering, The Fifth Season.
A solid four stars out of five.
This book also fulfilled my Popsguar 2016 Reading Challenge category for "A book from the library."