Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott
A powerful tale of magic, love and revenge with a strong female lead set in fairy-tale Japan; this is “Cinderella” meets “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume is able to recreate herself in any form – a fabulous gift for a girl desperate to escape her past. But who is she really? Is she a girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama, or a lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens, or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Whatever her true identity, Suzume is destined to capture the heart of a prince – and determined to use his power to destroy Terayama. And nothing will stop her, not even love.
“Love comes like storm clouds
Fleeing from the wind, and casts
Shadows on the moon”
This lovely, poetic Cinderella retelling set in a Japanese-inspired fantasy world known as the Moonlit Land utterly captivated me from start to finish. I’ve become quite the connoisseur of fairy tale retellings of late, and this is a standout for me in the YA category.
It’s a more mature YA. Instead of swimming in the shallows, it dives into deeper waters, tackling heavy themes like adultery, betrayal, murder, revenge, and suicide with the detail and gravity they deserve. The MC is an introspective one, and the story is told in first person narrative, so each of these themes is examined in careful detail.
One recurring theme throughout the book is downfall. So often in YA stories with the central plot revolving around revenge, the betrayal and fall from grace of the main character is swift, bloodless, and/or painless. Not so in this book. Her downward spiral takes up the first 3/4 of it.
When we first meet her, she is called Suzume, and is the beloved daughter of a country poet. Then, tragedy strikes, and her peaceful world is shattered by violent scenes of butchery and bloodshed. Just when she begins to accept her new role in society, another twist of the blade turns, and once again her world is rocked. Forced to don the mantle of a common kitchen drudge, she assumes the name of Rin. Another twist of the blade, and she is Yue, yet, to the two people most important to her in her new life, she is known as Pipit.
A young woman of many names and still more faces, Suzume/Rin/Yue/Pipit is a complex and carefully crafted character that I believed in from the first. She is introspective, cunning, committed to her cause, ruthless at times, intelligent, but also flawed. Which, to me, makes her a believable character.
I would highly recommend this book to readers interested in a unique, feminist, and diverse take on one of the most popular fairy tale retellings.
The only thing keeping this from a five star read for me were some details that I couldn’t really overlook. For a full examination of these, I recommend reading Lisa’s wonderfully written review.