Saturday, May 28, 2011
REVIEW: Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
"On my fourteenth birthday when the sakura was in full bloom, the men came to kill us. We saw them come, Aimi and me. We were excited, because we did not know how to be frightened. We had never seen soldiers before."
Suzume is a shadow-weaver. She can create mantles of darkness and light, walk unseen in the middle of the day, change her face. She can be anyone she wants to be. Except herself.
Suzume died officially the day the Prince's men accused her father of treason. Now even she is no longer sure of her true identity.
Is she the girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands?
Everyone knows Yue is destined to capture the heart of a prince. Only she knows that she is determined to use his power to destroy Terayama.
And nothing will stop her. Not even love.
Here's a book that I really loved. I flew through Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott, desperate to find out how it would end. It was really addictive reading for me, especially as it gave such a new and strong outlook on the Cinderella story. I loved the setting (a fantasy world similar to feudal Japan), Suzume's character, from her magical abilities to her vulnerability and especially her relationship with the beautiful and honourable Otieno (who is utterly swoon-worthy!).
Shadows on the Moon is a retelling of the fairy tale of Cinderella. I felt there were enough of the original story for it to be recognisable as such but also that there are enough differences to make this uniquely Zoe Marriott's own creation. The added elements to the story really blew me away. I really thought that the story really lends itself to be told in a magical Japan. I really loved every detail, from the way in which people dressed to life at court. And we see a great deal of the different area of life as Suzume transitions from happy farm girl to that of a noble daughter, followed by life as a kitchen drudge and to finally a beautiful courtesan.
It begins with Suzume as a young girl. She's playing happily with her cousin when officers storm her home, killing both her father and her cousin. Desperate to flee and save herself, Suzume ends up hiding in the kitchen amongst the ash. There, a servant, Youta, helps her to hide until Suzume's mother returns and it is safe. The trauma of witnessing the deaths of the people closest to Suzume has a really profound effect on her. It doesn't help that Suzume's mother refuses to speak of them and Suzume must hide her feelings and she must mourn privately and without the support of her only living relative. Suzume becomes quite depressed and begins to self-harm in an attempt at expressing some of her overwhelming emotions - of the grief of her loved ones, of her confusion and anger towards her mother, who quickly remarries.
But Suzume is strong, and is able to adapt, even when she learns a terrible secret and must abandon the life she knows to become a servant. And then again later, she must adjust again when she must flee her home for fear of her life. I thought the relationship between Suzume and her mother was wonderfully done, the complexity of that relationship was heart-breaking and very realistic to me. There's a selfishness to Suzume's mother that made me incredibly angry, especially when she stands by the cruelty of her husband and becomes complacent to his terrible deeds in order to protect her position and standing. I love it when an author writes so well that it makes me loathe a character so utterly as I did with Suzume's mother and of her new husband.
I also loved how Suzume's magical ability is shown gradually and how Suzume uses this gift in order to hide the emotions from her face while surrounded by her cold and distant mother and her vile and ruthless step-father. But once this terrible secret is uncovered however, Suzume makes it her life's purpose to avenge her father and cousin's death, using her shadow-weaving ability to make other changes in her life besides a neutral expression. She hatches a bigger and more elaborate plan involving the prince and the Shadow Ball.
And amidst Suzume's grief, and her obsession with revenge, the character of Otieno brings such hope and light to this story. I absolutely adore Otieno. There's just something very open and good about Otieno. I was completely won over by him from the first mention of him and description of his good lucks and his tattoos. Suzume and Otieno have one of these really powerful emotional connections and despite Suzume's changing position in society, they continue to cross paths and be drawn to each other. But even this love will not stand in the way of Suzume's mission. She is determined to sacrifice everything in order to attend the Shadow Ball and attract the eye of the Prince, even if that means giving up on love and her freedom.
I really and truly loved Shadows on the Moon. I love that even though Suzume has been rather unlucky with her mother and her step-father, she has gathered to her close friends, such as Youta and Akira who go above and beyond in their affection and their love for Suzume. I loved reading such a wonderful character as Suzume as she deals with her grief and her depression the only way she knows how. I think books that handle such topics of self-harm in such an open way are a much needed addition to the YA market. I love the subtle though quite kick-ass magical skills that Suzume possesses and that though there is wonderful and endearing romantic relationship, it isn't with the prince and that Suzume really doesn't make romance her number one priority.
This book is such a joy to read. It comes highly, highly recommended by me for lovers of Japanese culture, of fairy tale retellings, of strong female characters and of wonderful storytelling.