Literature / Dreamblood Duology

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In the desert city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Along its ancient stone streets, there is no crime or violence. Priests of the dream-goddess, known as Gatherers, maintain order: harvesting the dreams of the citizens, healing the injured, and guiding the dreamers into the afterlife...

The Dreamblood Duology (2012) is a series of two Fantasy novels by American author N. K. Jemisin and inspired by Ancient Egypt. It is set mainly in the city-state of Gujaareh, ruled by the law of the dream-goddess Hananja whose priests oversee both the living and dreaming lives of her subjects. Narcomancy, the magic inherent in dreams, and the corruption of power are central themes in the story.

The first novel, The Killing Moon, tells about Gatherer Ehiru and his apprentice Nijiri, and how they discover corruption at the very heart of Gujaareh's power.

The second novel, The Shadowed Sun, tells about Hanani, the first female Sharer, and her discovery of what lies outside the cloistered halls of the Hetawa.

"The Narcomancer", available online, is a short story set in the same world, centuries before the time of the books.

The Dreamblood Duology provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Ehiru is repeatedly called Hananja's favourite and considered the best currently active Gatherer. He is the strongest, most graceful, most compassionate, incorruptible and absolutely devoted to Hananja and her law. He can also easily perform two Gatherings per night, which most Gatherers struggle with. Both the other Gatherers and his apprentice Nijiri look up to him.
  • Abusive Parents: Tiaanet probably has the worst parents in the series.
  • Addictive Magic: Narcomancy, especially dreamblood, one of the four dreamhumours. Coming in contact with it or using it gives wonderful sensations and visions, but after a time the user becomes dependent and must have dream blood or die.
  • Affably Evil: Eninket, the Prince of Gujaareh. He is cultured, charismatic, well-spoken, companionable and cherishes his family, but that doesn't stop him from trying to take over the world, having people killed who stand in his way or from using them in horrible ways.
  • The Apprentice:
    • Nijiri is Ehiru's Gatherer-Apprentice in The Killing Moon and idolises his teacher. He has striven to become Ehiru's apprentice ever since their first meeting. In an interesting twist, while everyone agrees that Nijiri will become a capable Gatherer, Nijiri himself only follows this path to be as close to Ehiru as possible because he is in love with Ehiru and would have chosen any path to achieve this goal.
    • In The Shadowed Sun, Hanani is apprenticed to Mni-inh in the goal to become the first female Sharer, creating a situation where she has to prove herself more than other Sharer-Apprentices and Mni-inh is scrutinized more closely due to having a female Apprentice.
  • Ascended Extra: Mni-inh, Wanahomen, and Hendet — minor side characters in The Killing Moon — become more important in The Shadowed Sun.
  • Badass in Distress: Ehiru for most of The Killing Moon. He's the best Gatherer around and a very capable fighter with remarkable self-control, but because of his unwavering devotion to Hananja's law he is easily manipulated by Eninket and finds himself completely out of his waters outside the Hetawa. While Ehiru is plagued by visions due to a lack of dreamblood it falls to Nijiri to make sure his mentor keeps a grasp on reality, as well as to free the two of them from Eninket's prison when Ehiru eventually gives in and becomes a Reaper.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: In Sunandi's opinion this is what Ehiru and Nijiri are. She eventually understands that neither of them are bad people, but their ability to kill people in their dreams and make them enjoy and welcome it just goes against anything Sunandi considers right.
  • Barbarian Tribe: The Shadoun, Banbarra, and basically everyone outside Gujaareh and Kisua. At least, that is what the people of Gujaareh and Kisua think. The barbarians from the north join the conflict only because it offers them an opportunity to fight and loot.
  • Being Good Sucks: Ehiru spends much of the first book desperately needing dreamblood, but even when he could just secretly Gather someone in the night and get what he needs, he resists because they refuse him.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Ehiru is supposed to take that role towards his apprentice Nijiri for the duration of Nijiri's apprenticeship. However, the situation turns out complicated because while Ehiru does love Nijiri like a brother and has to constantly remind himself not to underestimate and coddle Nijiri, Nijiri's feelings and motives are more complicated. In the long run it's Nijiri who takes that role towards Ehiru, going to great lengths to keep trouble away from him and coddling him.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Sunset Lineage tends towards this as the Prince is requiered to have 256 wives, and succession is decided by who can best the others whether by murder or clever schemes. One of Eninket's reasons to do what he does is to change that situation and allow every member of his family to live free from this.
  • Broken Bird: Tiaanet. Her life is so horrible she just stopped feeling to deal with it.
  • Broken Ace: Ehiru is introduced as Hananja's favourite and the best Gatherer currently alive. However, messing up only once eats almost all of his confidence away and his lauded incorruptibility and devotion to Hananja's law make him susceptible to being manipulated, creating a downward spiral of insecurity about his abilities and worth.
  • Cannot Dream: Gatherers lose their ability to dream when they become Gatherers. This is because their job is to shape the dreams of other people and to navigate Ina-Karekh. As a result, they become addicted to dreamblood.
  • Celibate Hero: Everyone living and serving in the Hetawa is supposed to swear off sex, which includes both protagonists of The Killing Moon, Ehiru and Nijiri.
  • Cessation of Existence: People who are reaped instead of gathered do not go on to Ina-Karekh, but cease existing alltogether, which is against Hananja's will and denies them any happiness in the afterlife. Also, Hanani does this to Tantufi at the end of The Shadowed Sun because her soul is so damaged that it would never have found rest.
  • Character Development: Nijiri, who is rash and hot-blooded at the start of The Killing Moon, eventually calms down and learns to think before acting, allowing him to become a truly great Gatherer.
  • Child by Rape: Tantufi is the result of a father molesting his daughter. She's kept hidden in the basement from people outside the family.
  • The Church: The priesthood of Hananja essentially rules the city-state of Gujaareh, with most of the city's power centered in the Hetawa, the area the priests live in, rather than with the palace and the Prince. Hananja's priests also serve as the gatekeepers of Hananja's magic.
  • Church Police: The Sentinels, those of hananja's chosen who are best suited to the path of the soldier, act as the Hetawa's elite guards.
  • Corrupt Church: The Hetawa has been controlling Gujaareh by turning the elite into magical drug addicts.
  • The Corrupter: Eninket does his best to make Ehiru stray from Hananja's path. Since Ehiru only escaped being killed senselessly as a child because he had already been chosen by Hananja, the prospect of stopping the internal infighting of the royal family has its appeal. However, his brother's methods go against everything Ehiru believes in.
  • The Corruption: Once a Gatherer uses their powers to kill rather than to bestow peace, a long downward spiral begins. If they even suspect they are emotionally unbalanced, they may ask to die.
  • Crossing the Desert: Ehiru, Nijiri amd Sunandi have to join a caravan to cross the desert outside Gujaareh so they can safely reach Kisua.
  • Culture Clash: Common between Kisuati and Gujaareen, even when the Gujaareen are of the shunha caste and stick very close to their Kisuati roots. The main point of contention is the dominant religion of Gujaareh, namely Hananja's law. The Kisuati view the Gujaareen custom of Gatherer priests gathering — read: killing — people in their dreams when 'their time has come' as barbaric.
  • Cultural Posturing: Kisuati are quick to remind the Gujaareen that Gujaareh is a daughter-state of Kisua that's become corrupted in the eyes of the Kisuati.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Nijiri's mother died when he was a child, leaving him in the care of Ehiru, to be raised at the Hetawa and opening the path for him to become a Gatherer, which is one of the most prestigious positions achievable within Gujaareh.
  • Domestic Abuse: Lord Sanfi basically creates a world of horror and pain for the women around him.
  • Downer Ending: The Killing Moon ends with Nijiri gathering Ehiru because the latter has become a Reaper and Gujaareh being conquered by the Kisuati in the name of saving the people of Gujaareh from their own religion.
  • Dream Land: Ina-Karekh, where people go when dreaming and which doubles as an afterlife.
  • Dream Stealer: Sharers and Gatherers are good examples. Sharers use the dreamichor harvested from dreams to perform their healing and Gatherers gather dreamblood from those whose time it is to die and shape pleasing final dreams for the departing.
  • Dream Weaver: Sharers and Gatherers both weave dreams in order to perform their duties. Sharers use dreamichor to shape the dreams of their patients use those dreams as a way to heal, while Gatherers shape pleasing final dreams for those departing into Ina-Karekh for good.
  • Drunk on the Dark Side: Because dreamblood is highly addictive, once a Gatherer kills on purpose and without being welcomed, he becomes a Reaper and requieres a constant supply of dreamblood. And he will kill anyone who comes close enough to get it.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: Several deities of Kisuati origin are mentioned, but Hananja has risen to be the sole deity worshipped in the city-state of Gujaareh. According to scripture, she bestowed the magic of narcomancy on its citizens and in return Hananja's Law is the highest law within its walls. Since she is the goddess of dreams and peace, the Gujaareens worship her by offering her their dreams, which are gathered by her priests and used for narcomacy, and peace is to be maintained at all cost.
  • Fantastic Drug: Dreamblood. It is needed to perform narcomancy and the Gatherers, chosen priests of Hananja, set out each night to gather it from those whose time has come to pass into Ina-Karekh, but it also is highly addictive. Any Gatherer who detects an untoward need for dreamblood within himself may request to be gathered in turn, and should he fail to do so in time and forcefully gather someone to sate his need, he will become Drunk on the Dark Side, turning him into a Reaper.
  • Flashback: In The Killing Moon, Nijiri's and Ehiru's first meeting, in which Nijiri requested a gathering of his mother to end her suffering from The Plague and Ehiru is sent to enact it, is described in a flashback.
  • The Fundamentalist: The whole city of Gujaareh to a degree, but certainly the Hetawa. "Hananja's City obeys Hananja's Law" right down to a pissed crowd of peasants screaming that at you when you break it.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Generally, Gatherers facilitate it for their clients to go peacefully by weaving pleasant dreams for those who are about to depart to Ina-Karekh. It's the only way to gain the dying person's agreement to gather their dreamblood. Nijiri makes sure Ehiru goes out with a smile, too.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: The Hetawa gets everyone rich and powerful in the city addicted to drugs, then uses addiction to control them or extort them.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Whether Gujaareh or Kisua can actually be called morally superior to the other is a constant question in the books, and one that ultimately goes unanswered. Gujaareh's rulers actively deceive their citizens, but Gujaareh has known years and years of peace, while Kisuati enjoy more freedom in a notoriously unstable country and generally look down on anyone not Kisuati for not following in their footsteps.
  • Happily Adopted:
    • Sunandi was adopted by Kinja Seh Kalabsha when she was a child and trained to be a diplomat and spy. While her upbringing was trying, Sunandi is aware of the priviledge of having had it and her love and devotion for master Kinja is what motivates her to see their mission in Gujaareh through even after his untimely death.
    • Most of those living within the Hetawa were adopted by the priesthood, either because their parents died or because they showed talent for narcomancy. Children who grow up within the Hetawa are cared for and educated and generally happy with their lot.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: Well, his. Ehiru, having become a Reaper, inevitably dies by being gathered by Nijiri, who is in love with Ehiru for the entirety of The Killing Moon. Nijiri's only option is to face that they could never have been together because Ehiru's loyalty and love lay solely with Hananja. It is also the first Gathering Nijiri performs, making him Ehiru's successor, and is a turning point for Nijiri's development towards a calm, responsible young man and Gatherer.
  • The Hero Dies: Ehiru, the main protagonist and object of the story in The Killing Moon, inevitably dies after having become a Reaper by neccessity and to make space for Nijiri to become a Gatherer.
  • Heroic Willpower: Ehiru, when suffering from dreamblood withdrawal, adamantly refuses to alleviate his suffering by gathering it from any of the other travellers or members of the caravan, even though the logical consequence is to become a Reaper and lose his humanity.
  • High Priest: The Superior of the Hetawa is the head of Hananjan religion.
  • Hitman with a Heart: This is essentially what being a Gatherer is. They kill those who have requested to be gathered, or those whose family has requested they be gathered, but it is done with true love and mercy and by weaving a most pleasant dream for those departing.
  • Holy City: Gujaareh is the main and most important city for the worshippers of Hananja. In fact, Hananja's Law is what the Gujaareens live by and are in return bestowed with Hananja's magic, narcomancy, which is virtually unknown and unused outside of the city-state. Gujaareh also houses the Hetawa, the main temple of Hanaja.
  • Honor Before Reason: Ehiru's main flaw is his by-the-book adherence to Hananja's Law and refusal to acknowledge the possibility of corruption within the priesthood, making him susceptible to being easily manipulated by those with less scruple about these things.
  • Human Resources: Hananja's believers are encouraged to donate their dreams and nightmares to the Hetawa, so the priests — mainly Sharers — may harvest them and use them to in turn heal those in need. On the other hand, dreamblood harvested from dreams of the dying by Gatherers is highly addictive and can be used for less communal purposes.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: Sharers enter the minds of those they are healing and rummage around to find the cause of their ailment as well as working their healing from within the patient's mind.
  • Insistent Terminology: The first Prince of Gujareeh was almost named a king, but he declared that because the goddess Hananja was the only queen, while living he would be a prince and only become a king upon death at Hananja's side.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Only natural in the royal line where the Prince is expected to take two-hundred fifty-six wives. As a bonus, all of them are expected to duke it out among themselves to determine who will become the next Prince of Gujaareh.
  • The Medic: Sharers are a special denomination among Hananja's priests who harvest the dreamichor from the dreams of her faithful and use it to heal those in need. It's even possible to regrow limbs and cure genetic diseases this way.
  • Men Are Generic, Women Are Special: Thoroughly explored for both its positives and its negatives. On the one hand, men in Gujareeh are genuinely invested in the happiness and pleasure of their women. On the other hand, women are denied certain roles in society that they may want to take part in just because women are considered goddesses and ordinary things like working are beneath them.
  • Mercy Kill: The basic purpose of the Gatherers is to allow a peaceful death to those who are too old or too sick to be healed and who do not want to be a burden to their family and society.
  • Mentor Ship: In The Shadowed Sun, Hanani's perspective reveals everyone thinks Ehiru and Nijiri were lovers. Considering Nijiri is truly in love with Ehiru during The Killing Moon and is doing his utmost to make the latter understand that without outright confessing, that's not too far off, but Ehiru never sees Nijiri as more than his apprentice whom he is very fond of.
  • More Than Mind Control: In order to control Reapers, Eninket uses Hetawa terms and imagery in addition to the jungissa. In Ehiru's case he also uses some well-placed lies and their family bond.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: His first Gathering during the story going horribly awry eats almost all of Ehiru's confidence away until he becomes convinced to be unable to perform his duties anymore.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Ehiru is a very talented Gatherer. Too bad he never questioned which of his assignments were actually just political hits that ultimately made all the disaster of the books possible.
  • One-Man Army:
    • Gatherers and Sentinels undergo excessive martial training during their apprenticeship, making them a match to almost anyone else.
    • Reapers, who are Gatherers turned evil, are able to not only gather anyone at will, they can do it to hundreds and thousands of people at once.
  • Orphanage of Love: The Hetawa's House of Children. Everyone seems to come out of it as Happily Adopted, as it provides for and educates children who would otherwise have had to grow up in poverty and on their own.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Reapers are Gatherers turned rogue. They need dreamblood to survive and are able to gather it from anyone, willing or not, and en masse, meaning from hundreds of people at the same time, if needed.
  • Parental Incest: Tiaanet is repeatedly molested by her father in The Shadowed Sun and at one point gives birth to a daughter.
  • Power Perversion Potential:
    • Gatherers who become addicted to dreamblood and don't catch that in time can end up gathering someone against their will and becoming a Reaper.
    • Sharers are meant to use their power for healing, but the potential to use it for the opposite also exists.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Ehiru manages to stop a major war between Gujaareh and Kisua... by basically making it possible for Kisua to walk right in and take over. Oops.
  • Religion Is Magic: Priests of Hananja can use norcomancy, the magic Hanaja has bestowed upon her city to be used to maintain peace and prosperity among its population.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Eninket, the Prince of Gujaareh, is more than just a pretty figure on the throne. He cares about his people, and especially about his Royally Screwed Up by tradition family. Unfortunately, he is willing to use rather sinister means to achieve his well-meant goals.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Guest right in shunha households (and one can assume sonha households) ensures that a guest be treated as an honorary member of the family for the duration of their stay.
  • Sanity Slippage: Part of a Gatherer's disintegration towards becoming a Reaper. Ehiru has violent thoughts and dreams while suffering from dreamblood withdrawal.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Nijiri met Ehiru when he asked a Gatherer to end his mother's pain.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Hanani actually looks pretty good once she stops dressing as a Sharer i.e. like a man.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Tiaanet is lusted after by pretty much every man who sets eyes on her, including her own father.
  • Street Urchin: Sunandi used to live on the streets in Kisua before being adopted by master Kinja.
  • Student and Master Team:
    • Nijiri and Ehiru have to team up to uncover what's going on within the city and the Hetawa. While Ehiru is officially Nijiri's master, after his first gathering of the story goes awry and he begins to suffer dreamblood withdrawal due to refusing to gather any more, Nijiri becomes something like his caretaker, doing his best to get Ehiru away from danger. However, while Nijiri is both young and rash and awfully in love with Ehiru, the latter is too caught up in his Honor Before Reason mindset to be of any use. Eventually, they both manage to overcome their respective faults and work together to prevent the worst.
    • Sunandi and master Kinja worked as a team before Kinja's untimely and suspicious death. Kinja took Sunandi along with him on his diplomatic (and spying) mission to Gujaareh and made her his successor as the Kisuati ambassador in Gujaareh, just in case something happened to him.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: Gatherers are well trained and educated priest capable of killing people in their dreams and making them enjoy it. Reapers are Gatherers who have lost control and become addicted to the dreamblood they collect as their job. Those are capable of killing hundreds or thousands of people at the same time just to get their desired dreamblood.
  • Technical Pacifist: Gatherers kill to preserve the peace prescribed by Hananja's Law, and they do it in such a way that their 'victims' fall asleep peacefully.
  • Time Skip: Ten years go by between The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Eninket creates some pretty wild plans to ensure that he will become an immortal and take over the world. Ehiru refuses to give in and become a Reaper? Oh well. He can just torture Nijiri and get the same effect. Sunandi makes it to Kisua to warn them war is coming? Oh well. He had warriors ready years ago. He's also just going to kill all of them with his inevitable Reaper. The only reason he fails is because he underestimates how much Ehiru's hatred and determination will keep his head clear enough to kill him.
  • Weird Moon: The Dreaming Moon. Word of God says it's actually a gas giant and this world is on one of the planet's moons. The Waking Moon is also another of the planet's moons.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Eninket doesn't actually want to live forever and wage war until the world is united under his rule, he just sees it as the only way peace is actually possible. He could also just be really, really crazy, but the people who knew him best stick with this one.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Sunandi constantly asks how Ehiru and Nijiri can effectively live as hitmen. They in turn ask her how she can lie for a living.
  • Whatevermancy: Narcomancy, a magic of sleep and dreams. The dreams of Hanaja's faithful can be harvested by her priests and in turn used to do all sorts of things like healing. Gatherers can use it to send people on their last journey to Ina-Karekh and to harvest dreamblood from their final dreams.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: After Hanani's myriad ordeals, she simply can't go back to the Hetawa or even to Gujaareh and stays with the Banbarra.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: The use of magic is completely banned in Kisua, while it is part of the fabric of Gujaareen life.

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