I've had these two sitting on my bookcase for a while and decided, while I'm waiting for The Stone Sky to come out next month, I'd finally get round to reading them both - I know from reading interviews with NK Jemisin that these two books were actually written before the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series, which was published first, and I think it shows in the overall structure and characterisation.
Both books are set in the city of Gujaareh and its surrounding deserts, a city where dreams have power and are used as the basis for both killing and healing - our protagonist in The Killing Moon is a Gatherer, whose job it is to both help the terminally ill or injured to cross over to the next life as painlessly as possible, or to be an executioner of those found to be 'corrupt'. One of the main characters in The Shadowed Sun is a Sharer, whose job it is to use dreams to heal rather than kill, again within a very structured religious setting.
The events of the two books take place ten years apart, with the focus of The Killing Moon being on an attempt by the ruler of the city to make himself immortal by the deaths of countless others. Our protagonist, Ehiru, realises too late that he has been used to put down political opponents of the prince (who also happens to be his half-brother) and that the system he has been working within is itself corrupt. His only choice, he feels, is to enlist the help of the Kisuati to overthrow the current system.
In The Shadowed Sun, our focus is split between Hanani, who is the first woman to try and become a Sharer, and Wanahomen, son of the prince who was at the centre of things in the previous book. He has sought refuge with one of the desert tribes and discovers that his father was not the man he'd always believed him to be. His attempts to regain the throne are undertaken against a backdrop of a terrible plague, as well as general dissatisfaction with the way things are under Kisuati occupation.
NK Jemisin is one of my favourite authors, so it's a shame to discover that she's written something I'm unlikely to want to read again. I liked The Killing Moon much better of the two, as there was much less of a redemption arc being pushed for Ehiru than there is in The Shadowed Sun for Wanahomen. The world-building in both books is excellent, though that should come as absolutely no surprise - this is not medieval-Europe-with-dragons, as is often the case with so much fantasy.
It's a sign of how good a writer NK Jemisin is that she actually manages to almost redeem Wanahomen for me, given that quite early on he engineers a sexual assault on the other main character. I just couldn't get past that, even though Hanani apparently managed to do just that, which was even less believable for me given that (to save herself) she's forced to use her healing powers to kill. There's also an element of the magic healing penis too, as soon after Hanani is grieving for her mentor and decides this would be a really good time to get rid of that pesky virginity she's been hanging on to as a result of her religious vows.
So, all in all, glad I've read them but doubt I'll re-read them. Maybe I'm setting the bar too high though and there was a sense of disappointment there for me too - NK Jemisin's other books are so good, so powerful and affecting, that these felt like they were part-finished in comparison. Not bad per se, although there were things I definitely didn't like about them, but just not quite as good as other things she's written...