Title: Shadows onthe Moon by Zoe Marriott
Release date: July 7th 2011 by Walker Books Ltd
Format: Paperback (464 pages)
Age group: Young adult
Genre: Historical fiction/fantasy
Grade rate: B
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.
Fantasy and historical fiction are two of my favourite genres, so when I saw them both appear in the blurb for Shadows on the Moon I was sure this book would be the perfect read for me.
No matter what shelf you find it on, Shadows on the Moon is likely to have one major advantage over any book placed beside it: Zoe Marriott's stunning choice of setting. Inspired by the illustrious and often mystical history of Asia, solid research is delicately spun into a vivid web of ancient kingdoms and courtly politics, personal tragedy and wicked revenge. There's a sense that Shadows on the Moon is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the tales that could be told about the Moonlit Lands.
The characters, too, slide into this setting like fingers into a glove. The cast is multi-ethnic, crossing continents from Asia to African and back again, sometimes in the space of a single page. I loved this about the book. We like to think YA is getting more diverse but it's only when you read a book like this that you realize how limited mainstream literature really is.
None of the characters really jumped out at me as lasting favourites but the story is one of growth for Suzume so she really gets most of the page-time. There's even dainty prose and a reference to a fairytale to accompany her journey. Transformation is often a given in contemporary books, but it's refreshing to see it become the focus of a book which relies on its historical and paranormal elements to move the plot along.
This is where Shadows on the Moon began to let me down. I wasn't as invested in the plot as I wanted to be. I just didn't connect with it. Much is made of Suzume's desire for revenge but as a character I just didn't know if she was strong enough to be motivated by it as much as she is implied to be. Revenge isn't the only dark theme of the book, either. There are murders (always an eye-catching start), extra-marital affairs (mostly didn't see that one coming) and several incidences of self-harm (really didn't see that one coming) which could put off readers who are looking for a more laid-back approach. The climax failed to impress and left me feeling just a little unsatisfied with the way things turned out.
I also wished Suzume's powers had been explained better. I was like, "Dude, she can turn invisible. Don't you want to talk about that for a second?" Shadow-weaving is an interesting concept and I felt it needed more attention.
Shadows on the Moon was a far more complex read than I expected. I got more than I bargained for when I picked this one up, but if you like a book that doesn't shy away from its problems, it's definitely for you. I would recommend it on the basis of its setting alone but be prepared to coax yourself into the plot if it doesn't connect with you right away. Filled with history, magic and just enough fairytale to make you wish you were royalty all over again, it's best feature is the insightful look it gives at life in an alternative-universe feudal Japan.