Shadows on the Moon
By Zoe Marriott
Publication date: July 7, 2011 (UK)/April 2012 (US)
Shadows on the Moon is a Asia-inspired fantasy retelling of Cinderella. In this version, the heroine goes to the ball not to win the prince's heart but to win the position of Shadow Bride, the highest ranking mistress. If she succeeds, she will be able to seek vengeance for the murder of her father and cousin.
Suzume is a young girl at the start of the story and it is clear that her father loves her but her mother is distant. When her father is falsely accused of treason and executed, Suzume and her mother (who wasn't there when the attack happened) flee to the safety of her father's best friend Lord Terayama. Soon after, her mother marries Terayama-san and it becomes clear to Suzume that all is not as it seems. Her mother is happy while Suzume only feels anger and pain. The only thing that gives her release from the overwhelming feelings is cutting herself. Suzume knows that she musn't let Terayama-san see her true self. She begins to hide her emotions and cutting scars using Shadow Weaving, a magical ability she didn't even know she had until after the attack. With the help of a servant and fellow Shadow Weaver, Suzume learns to disguise herself first as an obedient daughter, then as Rin, a mute and slow kitchen servant and later as Yue, the beautiful musician and dancer. But Suzume's plans for revenge are put into jeopardy when she meets Otieno, a foreigner and Shadow Weaver who can see through her disguise.
Suzume is not always likable, especially when she is so bent on revenge. She hurts not only herself but others who care about her. She is a determined girl though her narrow minded focus might cause her to lose the love of a good man. She feels that she doesn't deserve to be happy. It is all part of her growing process however and she must learn to deal with her grief, rage, and guilt. On Suzume's journey to healing, she meets three people who profoundly change her life. The first is Youta, the elderly Shadow Weaver who sees in Suzume the daughter he lost. It is Youta who saved Suzume's life the day her father was killed by hiding her in the ashes of the fireplace. Youta does his best to convince Suzume to live her life rather than seek revenge. Suzume later meets Akira while on the run. Akira is a Shadow Weaver too and a former Shadow Bride. It is Akira who teaches Suzume what she needs to become a Shadow Bride herself. She tries to encourage Suzume to let go of her scheme for vengeance and embrace love instead. Otieno is the young Shadow Weaver from a distant land who fell in love with Suzume and can see through all her disguises. He offers Suzume his heart but hers is so broken that she believes she is unworthy of his love.
Shadows on the Moon is a beautifully written novel that has been described by the publisher as "Cinderella meets Memoirs of a Geisha", a sentiment that I agree with especially for the last section of the book where I couldn't help but compare Suzume to Sayuri, the heroine of Memoirs of a Geisha. The world that Zoe Marriott creates is inspired by Feudal Japan. I enjoyed the descriptions of the kimono, tea gardens, the music, dancing and other details of Suzume's daily life. The descriptions of Shadow Weaving are also fascinating though not much insight is given into how Suzume and the other Shadow Weavers can do what they do. The author uses symbolism to great effect with the meaning of names and the way a name change corresponds with each phase of Suzume's life (Suzume means sparrow, Rin means cold, and Yue means moon).
I have found Zoe Marriott to be a talented writer of YA fantasy and she does not disappoint with Shadows on the Moon. She delivers a story of magic, adventure, beauty, and love. I enjoyed the romance between Suzume and Otieno though it was not the main focus of the story. What pulled me in the most was the emotional journey that Suzume takes over the course of the novel. The ending shows that Suzume has come to some important realizations about herself and her behavior. She still has some healing to do but she is well on her way. If there is one think that could have been improved it would be the ending. I felt that the last part of the book was rushed and the conclusion came a little abruptly. Still, I thought it was an amazing book and one of my favorites of 2011. I would suggest this to fans of Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon and those who like fairy tale retellings.
Readalikes: Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon, Eon by Alison Goodman, Warrior Princess by Frewin Jones, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden