Author: Zoë Marriott
Genre: Fantasy, Fairytale Retelling, Young Adul
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication Date: July 7th 2011
Paperback: 464 pages
“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.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review copy from the publisher.
Why did I read this book: I had the book on my radar for ages ever since I saw its beautiful cover and learned that it was a Cinderella retelling. I am a fan of fairytale retellings.
The day of Suzume’s fourteenth birthday was also the day that changed her life forever when the men came to kill her family after her father’s name was dishonoured in the Court of the Moonlit Lands. They killed her father and her cousin, who was the sister of her heart, right before her eyes. It was on that day that Suzume, prompted by survival instinct, learnt that she was a shadow-weaver, capable of creating the illusion that saved her life as she hid from the attackers.
Thankfully, her mother had been away and upon her return makes the decision that allows them a chance of a future: they change their surnames to avoid the dishonour of being connected to that fallen-from-grace name and move in with a close family friend, Lord Terayama , who eventually – and perhaps too soon – becomes Suzume’s stepfather. Suzume is forbidden by her mother to ever speak of what had happened and they are supposed to move on. But Suzume cannot forget her beloved, innocent relatives and the wrong they suffered and the strain is too much for her – cutting her own skin becomes a way of seeking relief and shadow-weaving, the only way to hide in plain sight.
Time passes and Suzume comes to discover the true face of Lord Terayama and after that her life spirals out of control as she needs to take on other identities in order to survive and avenge her family. She will do anything to exact vengeance on Lord Terayama, even turn her back to the possibility of a new life away with the man she loves.
Shadows on the Moon is a retelling of Cinderella and it follows the original just closely enough to be identified as such but with sufficient, wholly unique differences to make it entirely this author’s own story. And it is a great story too, with an epic feel to it, spreading over many months and with the main character taking over different personalities.
Speaking of personalities, it is perhaps not surprising that the theme of identity is a central aspect of this story: it starts with Suzume’s being told by her mother to simply forget and not talk about her father or her cousin/sister. To someone who is clearly suffering of PTSD (how could she not after witnessing the gruesome deaths of the people she loved?) and survivor’s guilt, this is quite possibly, the worst thing that could be asked of her. Following that order, Suzume has to hide her thoughts, her memory, her lack of a smile which she replaces via shadow-weaving with a smile that belonged to her own cousin. Right there, she wears the face of another and the worst thing is – no one notices. Suzume disappears little by little under the weight of her own feelings. The only respite she gets is by cutting he own skin, which has to be another thing to hide under the illusions she creates. Taking a quick detour to talk about this side of the story, I appreciated the way in which the author incorporated self-harming in the story with respect and believability, at least to the best of my, admittedly non-extensive, knowledge.
Going back to the problem of identity, this is definitely my favourite aspect of the story: because eventually, after going through so much, and donning so many masks, Suzume will have to decide WHO she wants to be and how she wants to live her life and within the constraints of this novel, this is certainly not an easy decision to make. It means growing up and I loved that making that decision involved understanding what it means not to forgive someone, and to never forget wrong-doing. This understanding also comes from identifying the villains of this piece: is it Lord Terayama, his ambition, his determination to have everything and everyone he wants? Is it Suzume’s mother, who is equally ambitious and determined but in a more subtle yet extremely hurtful, self-centred way? Or is it Suzume herself, for reasons she doesn’t dare say out-loud?
The setting is quite interesting too, as the Moonlit Lands are clearly based on feudal Japan but adding the fantasy aspects of the shadow-weaving makes it something else and apart. Although I might add, the fantastic elements were not clearly defined and at points felt a bit frustratingly underdeveloped and even contrived in the way that they were incorporated into the story. This latter point for example, came with how the gift of shadow-weaving explained so easily the connection between Suzume and two of the other main characters: her friend Akira and the romantic interest Otieno. Because these other characters were also shadow-weavers and in this world shadow-weavers just “know” others with the same gift, this provided a simple explanation for how Suzume connected to other people in a short-cut way, at least to start with. Although I did feel this to be true especially with regards to Otieno (the “they just knew” explanation always exasperates me), one needs to be fair and to say that there is enough development as the story progresses to reconcile first impressions with actual knowledge of the other person, and I felt myself reluctantly won over by the relationship between Suzume and Otieno. I say reluctantly because not only it starts with insta-connection but because he could be too insistent and pushy at times and that never goes down well with me. However, it needs to be taken into consideration the fact that Suzume stands up for herself and makes her own decisions. Which brings me to my final point: Suzume as a protagonist. She is not extremely assertive or extremely kick-ass, hers is a quiet strength and I loved her for it.She starts out as a child and grows up so much, unaided by loving relatives but helped by friends. She suffers terrible things, has to make choices in order to survive and to deal with the consequences of those choices.
All things considered, I loved reading Shadows on the Moon. It is a cool retelling of Cinderella, with a great protagonist – Suzume and the choices she made, right or wrong, were what made this book such a great ride.
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.
Aside from the anticipation of gifts and special food later on, the morning began just as a thousand others had. Aimi woke me, burrowing under the covers to poke me in the ribs when I refused to leave the warm futon. After I had done shrieking and laughing, we helped each other dress, Aimi sighing as always over my badly folded obi. I slipped my favourite kanzashi pin, with its carved bone flowers, into her hair, because I knew she loved it.
We breakfasted with father, who was smiling and mysterious when I teased him about what presents I might open that night.
“A poor father you must think me, to spoil your fun so early, little sparrow ” he teased back. And then his smile turned down at the corners as he said, “Your mother will be upset that she has not gotten home in time.”
“Maybe she will arrive today, Oji-san,” Aimi said, trying to comfort.
I slurped a mouthful of miso soup, and said nothing. I missed mother too – it was weeks since she had travelled to comfort my great aunt over the death of her husband – only I could not help but feel it would be a more relaxed birthday without her scolding me for doing all the things that made such times fun, like trying to guess what my presents were, and eating too much, and wearing my formal furisode that mother said must be kept for best.
When breakfast was done I went to my room and took out my three-stringed shamisen. I put the little cloth cover on my hand and took out my tortoiseshell plectrum, handling each item with respect. My instrument was not a fine one. I knew its sound was not very good. Still, it gave me pleasure to play and sing. Since it was one of the few ladylike pursuits that I would sit still for, I had been allowed to continue, so long as I did not disturb the family. But I was restless that day. After two songs and a little more than half an hour, I put my instrument away and went to look for Aimi.
The serving girl told me that my cousin was outside, but I did not find her in the formal garden that ringed the house. I knew what that meant. I sighed and went to search the orchards. They were much larger than the garden, sloping all the way down to the road that separated father’s land from the forest. The translucent pink cherry blossoms and the white apple blossoms were just starting to fall, and the scent of them was wild and sweet. I trailed my fingers carefully over the black and silvery gray bark as I walked through the trees.
I found my cousin at the farthest tip of the orchards, overlooking the place where the road emerged from the woods. There was a little bench there, concealed by the foliage, so that you could look down on passersby without being seen. Not that many interesting people passed on this quiet country thoroughfare – but if they did, we would be in the right place to see them.
Additional Thoughts: I love the book trailer! Suzume and Otieno look exactly how I envisioned them:
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading next: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
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Ebook available for kindle UK