The Shadowed Sun, by N K Jemisin
This is the second book in the dream blood series, which is set 10 years after the first novel, The Killing Moon. As such it starts initially as a story with completely different characters.
As with the first book, I found I needed a high level of concentration for the first few chapters as you refresh and widen your knowledge and the language associated with the land of Gujaareh, along with its specific ethos of religion, politics and social order. The glossary provided is again invaluable. The book probably could be read as a stand alone, but is much richer for understanding the background and journey thus far.
This story introduces Hanini, the first female apprentice Sharer, and it soon becomes apparent that despite prejudice from her fellow followers of Hananja, she has a certain strength and unique path to follow.
Gujaareh has been without a ruling sovereign for ten years, and has been occupied by its neighbours to the south, the Kisuati. Social order is under threat and the people wish to rise up against the regime imposed upon them.
Hanini comes into contact with a strange dream plague whilst training, which leads to the death of a dear colleague and another man she is trying to help. Priests in the Hetawa think the worse of Hanini for this and her position as a sharer (healer) is under threat.
Whilst trying to deal with her grief she boldly visits the family affected by the death of the man and learns valuable information. Whilst returning to Hetawa, she intercepts soldiers tormenting and beating a street trader, ultimately risking her own life and well-being. This is observed by the last heir of the Sunset line, Wanahomen, living in exile with the Banberra tribe, a barbaric community. He is a prince longing to reclaim his birthright and their paths inextricably cross.
Gatherer Nijiri, (from book 1) returns when more wild dreaming deaths occur. He offers Hanini a challenge she and by default her mentor accept, which takes them into the Banberra tribe. This experience will challenge everything the Sharers have been taught and test their faith in a manner previously unheard of.
As with the previous book, this is a story focused on social structures, religion and deep-set cultures. The characters in this second book are more engaging and offer a fascination different to those in the first. It has greater alacrity, and gains better traction as a consequence. The end point is relatively predictable, but the journey that takes you there does offer some testing twists and turns. As with the first book, it deals with complex relationships and interactions well. It incrementally feeds in the political landscape, although perhaps some aspects would have been better introduced earlier to facilitate a clearer understanding . For the land of Gujaareh, it epitomises a landmark in history and social modernisation which includes the development of feminism. This in itself offers great debate and could be used as the basis for a fitting thesis. It therefore demonstrates powerful, mature world building in an impressive manner, which will ensure Jemisin will be viewed as a very enthralling and recommended fantasy author.