Jillian -always aspiring-'s Reviews > Shadows on the Moon

Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott
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Jun 04, 12

bookshelves: covers-i-love, 2012-reads, glad-i-gave-it-a-chance, want-a-sequel, thought-provoking, titles-i-love, heroines-i-love-and-or-admire, left-me-feeling-conflicted, left-me-with-mixed-feelings, reviewed
Recommended for: Anyone who loves any of these things: Memoirs of a Geisha, Japanese culture, Cinderella retellings
Read from May 05 to 10, 2012, read count: 1

(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)

In Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott, Hoshima Suzume's life changes within moments when her father is accused of treason against the Moon Prince, and she sees her once-happy life stolen and destroyed. In the panic that follows, something strange awakens within Suzume, an ability to disappear and blend into her surroundings as she flees her devastated home. Once the situation settles, Suzume's mother returns from her trip and retrieves Suzume...although Suzume herself is uneasy by the way her father's friend, Terayama Ryoichi, swoops in and takes Suzume and her mother into his household without hesitation. Grief overtakes Suzume even as she slowly begins to realize the more sinister possibilities behind why her father was accused of treason...

Many readers have been fascinated by this Japanese-flavored take on Cinderella, so I was enthusiastic to start reading it because (thanks to my years of anime watching/manga reading) I've been in love with Japanese culture for quite a while. However, once I did begin the novel, I found myself a bit conflicted: there were elements I absolutely loved while some other things annoyed me. (In some ways, my reading experience reminded me of how I felt with Marissa Meyer's Cinder -- another YA Cinderella retelling, oddly enough.) Given my mixture of opinions, I decided to tackle my review in an untraditional way, so here are the pros and cons I encountered as I read Shadows on the Moon:


-Yay for more diversity in YA! Asian heroine, Asian-inspired land, a love interest who is of pseudo-African descent...awesome! I would love to see many more explorations of diversity like this in fiction, especially in the fantasy genre that's far too often "white European"-influenced.

-The idea of shadow-weaving (illusionary magic) was innovative and mysterious. Even though illusion as a magical ability is in no way uncommon in the fantasy genre, I was still intrigued by the ability and its varying uses. I wouldn't even mind following other shadow-weavers in other books (*hint, hint*).

 -Suzume's journey from nobility to tragedy was very intriguing and, at times, haunting. As I followed Suzume through her varying circumstances, there were few times I didn't feel my heartstrings tugged. Even with my opinions all tangled about this book, I always felt sympathy for Suzume as a character.

-I admired and appreciated how some very serious real-life issues, such as self-harm and contemplation of suicide, were handled over the course of the story. It's rare to see such thoughtful consideration for these issues in contemporary fiction and even more so in fantasy. Given how little these issues are seen in fantasy novels, you would think fantasy characters never experienced the kind of self-destructive depression so often found in real life! But that wasn't the case at all in Shadows on the Moon. The depression here manifests in very real and sometimes very harmful ways.  

-The ending satisfied me yet left more than enough room open for a potential companion novel or sequel. I would love to see more of this world, whether it be the Moonlit Lands or Athazie, because there is so much possibility in this mysterious world of magic manifesting in such intriguing ways.


-Compared to most YA novels, the build-up of the story was slow, so much so that it was sometimes a detriment to the story. This is entirely a matter of taste. Some readers gobble up novels that take a hundred pages or more to "get going"; as for me, I'm rarely one of them. Shadows on the Moon nearly lost me a number of times throughout its first 200 pages, but I kept on because I love (and want to see more) Japanese-influenced stories. The pay-off, of course, was eventually there within the pages (thank goodness).

-As much as I enjoyed the Japanese spotlight in this story, I couldn't help but feel that the handling was either too "faithful" or not "ambitious enough" depending on the point within the story. Do I believe this story could have been told without the Japanese words sprinkled throughout the narrative and would have lost very little through it? Yes. Do I believe that the story seemed a bit too reliant on Japanese culture and background despite being a "new world/land"? Yes. As a fantasy land, it really didn't seem divorced enough from real-life inspirations. It's one of those stories where, if it had been tweaked a little and sold as "historical fiction with hints of magical realism," I would have been much happier.

-The romance, as sweet as it became, was built on a shaky foundation. I eventually liked Suzume and Otieno, her love interest, quite a bit together -- though it took me a while to warm up to them. Electricity-ridden glances, traces of insta!love, and clandestine meetings...not the newest territory for the foundation of a relationship in YA. (It didn't help that Suzume and Otieno shared their first conversation on page 170, have a few scattered conversations to which the reader is not privy, and then on page 178 they kiss for the first time. Much telling and not showing went on in the early stages of building their relationship, and I was disappointed by that. In some ways, I understand -- every writer fears that their novels will be shunned for "focusing too much on romance" -- but romance, no matter how heavy or light, should always resonate with the reader. I didn't always feel that here.) However, near the two-thirds mark, I found myself charmed by the interactions of Suzume and Otieno. No, I was never fully convinced by them, but I was happy for them when they were together.

-I felt the very nature of how the shadow weavers recognized and sensed each other to be less of an interesting nuance and more of a plot contrivance. Far too many times did Suzume get out a sticky situation just because there was another shadow weaver nearby, and I felt that to be a bit...too easy. I'd rather the heroine help herself, find a way by herself, than to fall back on "others of her kind" who happen to be nearby to help.

-Suzume, despite her strength as a character, was far more passive than I would have liked (as far as her revenge storyline goes). For much of the latter two-thirds of the novel, Suzume hungers for revenge...but her "pursuit" in itself is not very active. Though a promise not to harm her enemy bars her from direct vengeance for a small part of the story, I couldn't help but be a bit frustrated by Suzume's lack of activity; she is a far cry from Edmond Dantes (of the infamous The Count of Monte Cristo, which Marriott herself cited in an interview was part of the first inspiration for Suzume's tale), who actively sought ways to see his vengeance enacted, always the puppet master pulling strings. Suzume's eventual plan of action (which wasn't even her own idea, but another's) seemed the "safe" way to ensure that the reader would not fault Suzume in any way. Even the eventual "revenge" doesn't come from a maneuver on Suzume's part but a chance circumstance. If she indirectly commits acts of vengeance, even despite all the intent within her heart, how can we condemn her? As I said, all of it seemed a "safe" way to approach a female character who wants revenge.

Despite my qualms, I would never claim Shadows on the Moon is a bad novel or even a mediocre one; in many ways, the story is very fascinating and refreshing. Some of my issues with the plot and characterization simply impeded my overall enjoyment of the novel. As for other readers, I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves Japanese culture and/or fairy-tale retellings. If one or both apply to you, then chances are that Shadows on the Moon will be a new book for you to devour and love.
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Reading Progress

05/08/2012 page 105
23.0% "I had heard a great deal about how beautiful babies were, and I wondered if there was something wrong with me for thinking they looked like badly carved dolls." 1 comment
05/09/2012 page 235
51.0% "I know it's part of the "workings of the shadow weavers," but I still find it a bit annoying that somehow, whenever Suzume needs help, there's a shadow weaver somewhere nearby to help her with her obstacle. It's happened three times now."

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews) I love this one - I thought Marriott's writing was beauutiful. Hope you like it!

message 2: by Erin (new) - added it

Erin I'm a sucker for Cinderella stories. Great review!

Judy I am very excited to read this one because of the Asian inspired aspect of it. Although I am a bit disappointed to find out that the main character is passive, because I was looking forward to a vicious revenge tale where women are portrayed in a powerful light and acting in a grey area.

message 4: by Nic (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nic I'm glad you mention The Count of Monte Cristo, because halfway through this, I was really kind of hoping the story would go that way. Not that I wanted Suzume to give up her chance to be happy with Otieno, but I was thinking, "Girl, you have SUPERPOWERS! Go forth and ruin his life! And then come back and live happily ever after with Otieno!"

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