Sunday, June 17, 2012

Shadows on the Moon - Zoe Marriott

Title: Shadows on the Moon
Author: Zoe Marriott
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2012 (Hardcover), originally published 2011
Length: 447 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Historical Fiction
Started: June 9, 2012
Finished: June 16, 2012

From the inside cover:
Sixteen-year-old Suzume is a shadow weaver, trained in the magical art of illusion. She can be anyone she wants to be-except herself. Is she the girl of noble birth, trapped by 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 Land? Even Suzume is no longger sure of her true identity. But she is determined to steal the heart of the Moon Prince and exact revenge on her stepfather for the death of her family. And nothing will stop her. Not even her love for fellow shadow weaver Otieno, the one man who can see through her illusions.
Set in a fairy-tale version of ancient Japan, Shadows on the Moon shakes up the Cinderella story with its brave, resourceful, and passionate heroine.

I'd heard great things about this book last year when it was first released, but I only recently got around to reading it. Cinderella is not my favourite fairy tale by any stretch of the imagination (along with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White). I always thought Cinderella was very passive and wimpy, so I'm slightly reluctant to even pick up retellings of the tale unless I hear amazing things about them. Ash by Malinda Lo is one of the few Cinderella retellings I love to pieces, and luckily Shadows on the Moon now gets to join that group.

Picture a version of Cinderella that takes place in feudal Japan with fantasy elements (I was hooked right there), featuring a girl whose family is murdered, her mother knowingly marries the man responsible for it, she can manipulate what people can see, plus she becomes a courtesan in order to carry out her plan for bloody that's what I call a kick-ass Cinderella.

The book naturally divides itself into a few sections: Suzume's life before and after her family's death, her experience as Rin the drudge, and her experience as Yue the courtesan. This allows for the acknowledgement of many parts of the original fairy tale while still having a very unique story, almost to the point where I forgot I was reading a retelling.

The fantasy element (including Suzume's shadow weaving) was something that I felt was given a minor mention. For me that wasn't a detriment at all because I love stories of feudal Japan (the fantasy elements of the Moonlit Land are easily overlooked), and the shadow weaving is something that becomes so subtle throughout the book that you forget Suzume and Otieno even have the ability. Again, some readers might be put-off by it if they're expecting a typical fantasy story, but I enjoyed the book just as well without a heavy emphasis on the magic.

Suzume is a very real character. She struggles with her identity and desire for revenge after the trauma of witnessing the deaths of her father and cousin. She desperately wants her mother to love and care about her like a mother should, and it's this aspect that I think touched me the most since its hard to stomach a mother character that so completely ignores her child and acts only to serve her own selfish interests. Despite this, Suzume grows throughout the book; moving beyond her self-injury and revenge obsessed fantasies to seek out an existence that truly makes her happy.

The majority of the characters were well-developed and intriguing, and they're very well explored considering Suzume's first person narration. I loved Akira particularly, and her gender-bending aspect fits well in a Japanese tale for anyone familiar with Japanese story tropes, plus I just love characters that dare to be different. I liked Otieno but felt that he deserved a little more fleshing out, he seemed a little flat and unrealistic in some sections.

A Cinderella story that doesn't read like a Cinderella story (in a good way). A lush and gorgeous setting, a must-read for anyone that likes Japanese and Asian-inspired historical stories. Suzume is a very strong yet heartbreakingly human female protagonist, but a warning that there is a fair bit of cutting/self-injury behaviour, so proceed with caution in terms of reader's ages or trigger experiences on this part.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the new cover pictured in this review compared to the original cover, but I still feel like something's missing, maybe it's because her eyes are closed and downcast rather than defiant and staring at the reader head on. A thumbs up to actually having an Asian model on the cover and not succumbing to cover whitewashing like so many other books.


  1. gosh, I totally missed that it was Cinderella-esque! I love Ash too, and enjoyed this one lots also.

  2. I know, if I hadn't read the "Cinderella retelling" taglines from other reviews from last year I wouldn't have picked up on the Cinderella stuff either. It's enough of a retelling to be comfortably familiar but unique enough that it's nowhere near boring. I think Ash was a retelling that hit a lot more of the typical Cinderella points, so it was more recognizable.