April 16, 2012 by Heidi
Title: Shadows on the Moon [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Zoë Marriot [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling, PoC
Published: April 24th, 2012 by Candlewick Press (first published July 7th, 2011).
Format: Kindle edition; 465 pages.
Source: ARC copy received from publisher via NetGalley.
Challenge: YA/MG Fantasy Challenge
Love comes like storm clouds
Fleeing from the wind,
and casts Shadows on the moon.
On Suzume’s fourteenth birthday, the men come for her and her family. Accusing her father of treason, he and her cousin who is as a sister to her, are struck down. Suzume escapes, revealing a power she did not know she had—the power to shadow weave. She cultivates her talent, learning to bend the world around her, create mantles of light and shadow that hide her from sight. She is able to manipulate her features so that others see only what she wants them to see. For it is only this mask, showing her as meek, that saves her life. Taken in by a family friend, Suzume’s mother remarries a man her daughter suspects of being cruel and desirous, the type who always wants that which he cannot have. Suzume treads lightly, finding solace and friendship in those who can see beyond her mask, namely, the strange foreigner Otieno. When presented with the only possible opportunity to exact revenge on those who destroyed her family, Suzume knows she must take it, regardless of what it means she will lose.
Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriot is a beautifully constructed fantasy retelling of Cinderella, which takes place in a realm called the Moonlit Land. The Moonlit Land is heavily influenced by feudal Japan, with many cultural aspect and terms from this time and country (along with some from China as well) creating the scaffolding of Suzume’s tale. I was fascinated by Zoë Marriot’s choices for her Cinderella story, and seeing her put her iterations of the evil stepmother and horrid stepsisters, the handsome prince, and various incarnations of the fairy god mother, was one of the most engrossing parts of the story. I will say though, that I would have loved Shadows on the Moon just as much if it hadn’t been such a clear nod at the classic tale. It was unique, lyrically written, and culturally rich. The world Zoë Marriot built with shadow weaving was foreign, and yet familiar, and I found it beautiful.
Suzume is a wonderfully heartbreaking lead. One of those characters you learn to love and respect, despite the fact that they themselves are certain they are unworthy of such regard. The book is split into three parts, each a reiteration of Suzume as a person, each an important part of her story in which she breaks free from a former life. The only consistency she has from one identity to another is Otieno, and only Otieno sees through the masks she wears, even the ones she shows herself.
I knew going in that Shadows on the Moon would deal with some subjects you don’t see in your usual Cinderella story. I knew it dealt with self-mutilation (warning to those readers who have a difficult time with the subject of cutting), and that it focused on revenge. I was hoping for something a little Kill Bill meets fairy tale, but that wasn’t what Shadows on the Moon ended up being. Shadows on the Moon was a much more subtle, character driven book than I had expected, and I ended up liking it as much as I had anticipated, but for different reasons. The all PoC cast was wonderful to see, especially when Zoë Marriot weaves in the Japanese terms and customs effortlessly; the language is delicate, and extremely fitting to the point that it almost feels translated. If I hadn’t known the author to be a little blonde woman before reading, I might have supposed she was Asian herself.
The restricting culture of feudal Japan is prevalent in Shadows on the Moon. Honor is of the utmost importance, and one knows their place, and does not show extreme emotion openly. This cultural impact is one of the reasons Suzume’s relationship with Otieno is so wonderful, but potentially heartbreaking. Suzume feels restricted by her lot in life, knowing she could be happy doing a variety of things, unconstrained by her gender role in her culture. She admires Otieno’s country and people for their open and easy ways, and lack of reserve. She longs for the ability to show her feelings openly, particularly those of the happiness that she feels with Otieno and the mourning that she feels for her family. Suzume’s plight is so troubling because she feels that for honor’s sake that she must exact revenge. To do so, she is willing to deprive herself of any modicum of happiness to the point that fury and sorrow and the desire for justice consume her beyond anything in her present situation.
Because Shadows on the Moon has such a unique spin on Cinderella, and because it is split into three distinctly important portions, I hesitate to talk any more about the story, plot, or characters involved lest I spoil anything. Suffice it to say that this story was rich and cold and desperate with longing in the most recommended and beautiful way possible.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: Oh goodness yes! I’ve wanted to read Daughter of the Flames and Frostfire ever since I saw their beautiful covers (yeah, I’m easily won over by pretties), and will hopefully be doing so soon (well, the former at least, not sure when I’ll be able to get my hands on a copy of the latter).
Recommended for: Readers who enjoyed Chime, Cinder, or Memoirs of a Geisha. Anyone who likes fairy tale retellings, good multicultural books, and historical fantasy.