Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume is able to recreate herself in any form - a fabulous gift for a girl desperate to escape her past. But who is she really? Is she a girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother's new husband, Lord Terayama, or a lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama's kitchens, or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Whatever her true identity, Suzume is destined to capture the heart of a prince - and determined to use his power to destroy Terayama. And nothing will stop her, not even love.
Shadows on the Moon is so beautiful- just mystical, magical and emotional. It is original and fun and I absolutely loved the story, the characters and the romance...
When I was reading this novel I was so completely immersed in this world- and I want to live there! The book is very loosely based in feudal Japan, and it works so well- making the world feel exotic and mystical. I loved the oriental setting and the different customs, and despite it's historical setting and the feeling of other-worldliness I still completely connected with the characters and their lives. I really enjoyed reading about the carriages, the kimonos, tea, and dancing, and it made a really nice change. It is beautifully written and so vivid- this is a compelling adventure that really focuses on the rollercoaster of emotional turmoil of the characters- Suzume's feelings of grief and betrayal, and her burgeoning attraction to a foreign explorer.
Suzume is a shadow weaver, which means that she can manipulate the space around her to alter her appearance at will. It is what allows her to escape when the soldiers come to her house and kill her father and her cousin. Initially her powers are useful to her to hide her scars, or to plaster a false congenial smile on her face, when really she is seething with anger. Ultimately, she decides to use her ability to hide from her father's murderer whilst spying on him, and to plot to exact revenge on the people who murdered her family and destroyed her life. Two great characters in this novel are Suzume's teachers Youta and Akiva, people who believe in her, befriend her, and encourage her at different points in her life. Both of these characters, despite being so different from each other, are needed to support and drive Suzume, encouraging her in her powers, and making her feel less alone.
Suzume's journey is fraught and tragic, but as she not only develops her powers over time, she also transforms from a naive and helpless girl into a self-determined and independent young woman. Although sometimes I wanted to shake her for her bad choices, Suzume is a great strong-willed character, but she becomes obsessed with one sole idea, and refuses to let go of the past and see the potential future right in front of her. In her struggle to work toward her revenge (and at times just to survive) Suzume changes her identity and alternately spends time as a lady, disguised as a kitchen drudge, and finally as a courtesan.
As a shadow weaver himself, Otieno can see through Suzume's illusions and recognise her anywhere. I loved to see the relationship develop between these two over time, and see how a friendship built on trust gradually developed into something more. He is the only person who really gets her. Otieno is such a great character because in contrast to the way Suzume has been brought up where everyone is formal and stiff, he shows all his emotions in his expression, and freely laughs and jokes about, and accepts everyone at face value- regardless of their social standing. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and is just the perfect blend of loyal, good and dangerous. I found myself rooting for this couple through all their struggles and separations, and just hoping that they got a happy ending.
I'm not sure how many times now I've said this story is beautiful, but I'm going to say it again- this story really is beautiful, and manages to feel sweet and moving, despite dealing with themes of death and vengeance. It is a book that I could happily read again and again for the setting, the magic, the endearing characters, and the lyrical writing style.
Shadows on the Moon was published in the UK by Walker books in July 2011, and is due to be published in the US by Candlewick Press in April 2012.