Love Comes like storm clouds
Fleeing from the wind, and casts
Shadows on the moon
Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott is a new release in YA fantasy fiction and a wonderful read for those looking for something out of the norm. The beautifully-crafted setting is Japanese-based with Japanese words and culture used; but the world itself still unique in its own customs and traditions. Into this world Marriott has plucked chosen pieces of the traditional Cinderella storyline and inserted them in the tale of Suzume.
Susume grew up a middle-class girl with energy to burn. She loved to run and play and make beautiful music on her shamisen. Her poet father and beautiful orphaned cousin loved her dearly, despite her unlady-like exuberance. Her mother was a bit harsher.
While Susume’s mother was away tending to a sick relative, Susume’s world fell apart. Her father was accused of being a traitor. The Moon Prince’s soldiers therefore came to destroy him. Susume watched her father and cousin die before her, but she escaped thanks to a power residing within her that she never knew she had.
When her mother returned they were taken in by Terayama, an old friend of the family. Things did not seem right from the beginning, when her mother almost immediately agreed to marry her father’s old friend who appeared to be so kind to them.
Betrayal upon betrayal builds in the plot of this story. Susume finds herself reincarnating again and again as she escapes one doomed path and is forced into a different one. She begins as a normal girl, then becomes a wealthy lady, then a lowly drudge in the kitchen, then still lower as a beggar on the street before she meets her ‘fairy godmother’ of sorts – Akira.
Akira turns her into a gijo (rather like what we would think of as a geisha.) Susume is determined to fulfill her destiny on this path – to win the heart of the prince at the Shadow Ball and become is Shadow Princess. She will do this by digging deep within herself to develop and discover her hidden powers as a shadow weaver – a magical person who can weave shadows around themselves to create illusion.
Of course in the traditional tale she would complete her mission and become the Shadow Princess and live happily ever after. But Marriott plays with daring themes in this story that are, at the least, unexpected. While training to win the title of Shadow Princess, Susume falls in love with a young African ambassador. He is exotic with his dark, tattooed skin and his interesting hair. With his charismatic ‘prince charming’ personality, he sweeps her off her feet as he teaches her new ways of looking at this shadow power, which is also inherent in him. He falls deeply in love with her and there is little he wouldn’t do to protect her.
But an unexpected romance isn’t the only interesting new theme in this traditional tale. Marriot plays with many warring emotions within her young, moldable character. Susume has masochistic, even suicidal tendencies that she must struggle to overcome during the whole of the book. She greaves and pines for revenge, and when she gets a piece of that revenge she mourns over actions even as she plans for more.
The instant action and connection to the characters drew me into this book from the first page and I enjoyed everything about the well-painted world and its colorful characters. Typically when an author is trying to make a dark character who is overly emotional, I tend to get annoyed and bored. But that feeling never occurred to me as I watched Susume struggle and make stupid, emotion-filled decisions. I always rooted for her and I always wanted to turn the next page to make she would land on her feet.
But even the most charming of stories have their weak points. If I could beg the author to do anything differently, it would be to add more. I wanted to know more about the powers that always loomed and were used as such an important crutch in the book, but were so little explained. The book ended without ever answering questions as to how some of these powers work and what Susume’s potential actually could be. In fact the book ended rather abruptly all together. The climax could have been drawn out and defined in a much more satisfying way. The journey was worth the ending, but I still wished to have been thrown more on the edge of my seat before final conclusion was determined.
Still, I completely recommend Shadows on the Moon to lovers of YA, fairy tales, Japanese culture, and romance. To get a visual idea of the themes of the book, check out the trailer (but honestly don’t judge the book by it. It’s a lot better than the trailer – and the actors here are a little old for the characters in the book):