Synopsis: Gatherers are priests who harness the power of dreams for healing and peaceful death of souls judged corrupt. They are never to use this power for selfish ends. After a tragic mishap in enacting his duty, Gather Ehiru no longer feels worthy, and can’t find the peace in his soul that he needs to carry out his tasks. But he will need to pull himself together in any way he can, when it turns out his priesthood is being used…and is partially corrupt. All things anathema to the worship of his goddess.
Series: First book, can stand alone.
POV: Third person multiple, told mostly from the perspectives of three characters: Ehiru, Nijiri, and Sunandi.
Preview: Sample chapter.
Works like this are the reason I read fantasy. This book is poignant, amazing, and reflective of the human experience.
Ehiru is a veteran at harvesting people’s deaths, and believes in the goodness of his duty with the kind of fanaticism expected of people whose perspectives have never been challenged. Even as his life starts falling apart at the seams, he doubts himself long before it ever occurs to him to doubt his assumptions.
And yet, he and his order have created this awesome blend of their expectations and wisdom–so while Ehiru is not entirely right, he isn’t entirely wrong, either. He and his brothers say a lot of intelligent things–things to do with consideration, choices, and putting the needs of others first. But Ehiru also has some odd, narrow expectations. His character journey is paramount to the resolution of the book’s conflict. So much depends on him, and so much depends on who he becomes.
Nijiri is Ehiru’s apprentice. We first meet him as a prideful, somewhat angry young man with a deep admiration for Ehiru. He’s supposed to be learning, but his mentor is not at his best, and deteriorating every day. This puts Nijiri in an odd place, where he needs to step up in situations he isn’t ready for, intellectually or emotionally.
Sunandi is a foreign ambassador, replacing a recently deceased predecessor. She stumbles upon the secrets her mentor died for, and crosses paths with Ehiru and Nijiri–members of an order she and her people consider obscene. But as much as she hates what they do and how they imagine themselves doing a good thing, she’s forced to associate with them nonetheless. To uncover the truths that others have died for, and to keep many more from following after.
There’s a lot of maturity in this book. It touches on how we can fail other people by keeping our suffering to ourselves, even if we think we’re being strong by doing so. How something that can seem so obvious and so right for one person, can be completely different and wrong for another. How good intentions combined with ruthlessness doesn’t necessarily make pragmatism, but rather something closer to tyranny. And there are these nice subtle touches throughout the story that are just so real.
The villain is interesting, especially as certain aspects of his character could easily have been a set-up for an anti-hero in another type of story. I spent the entirety of the book trying to figure out just who he was. His goals, motivations, and personality are unveiled sequentially, so that we don’t get the full picture right away.
He’s a visionary, a tyrant, a revolutionary, and a sociopath all rolled up into one package. And it makes sense.
The things he does are pretty horrific, and yet he always has a purpose for why he does them. There’s always a problem he’s solving with his actions. It’s just a terrible way to solve that problem. Actually, it might literally be the worst way.
This illustrates why the ends don’t necessarily justify the means. It’s something that comes up a lot in media, but rarely goes further than the sentiment. Here, our villain wants to change things, fix real problems he sees in the fabric of his society. Forcibly. Over the dead bodies of his enemies and even some of his allies. The type of person he has be to do the things he does…well, if he dealt with his problems differently to start with, if he was a different kind of person, he might have been a hero instead of the villain.
This book is fantastic. I love seeing the characters not just from their own perspectives, but from each others’–the differences between those views were cool. Ehiru’s personal journey was cool. And I was so busy being amazed by this awesome book–which stands amongst fantasy’s best when judged by any criteria–that I almost forgot to mention that it is another fantastic entry in the sadly too-small pool of non-Europeanesque fantasy. It’s based on ancient Egypt.
In that vein, the setting is imaginative and explores different boundaries than are typical of the genre. The philosophy behind the Gatherer’s mentality, the use of dream magic and its addictive properties, the historical interplay between the two countries in which the story is set. There’s plenty to praise in this book.
A Gatherer does not seek help, he had told himself at the time–and so he had not, thinking himself stronger for handling the matter on his own. Thinking of himself, when he should have held his fellow acolytes’ peace foremost in his mind. Of course Omin would do evil again; Omin was corrupt. Better to have brought the matter to the Superior and Gatherers, and damn his pride… Any action was better than complacency while corruption festered and grew.
“We are not meant to scrabble over scraps of power, pulling one another down like crabs in a barrel.”
“Suffering is part of life,” she said. “All the parts of life are jumbled up together; you can’t separate out just the one thing.”
True peace required the presence of justice, not just the absence of conflict.