Shadows on the moon by Zoe Marriott
Walker Books, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4063-1815-9.
(Age: 14+) Fantasy. Romance. One day soldiers came to Suzume's house. She and her cousin Aimi were excited to see them, but their excitement soon turned to horror as Suzume's father was killed and his servants slaughtered before their eyes. Then Aimi, too, fell victim to the soldiers' weapons and Suzume just managed to escape because of her magical powers. A shadow weaver, her ability to cover herself in darkness saved her. Declared officially dead because her father had been accused of treason, Suzume was forced to hide her identity as she travelled with her mother and Lord Terayama. Determined to avenge the death of her father and Aimi, she took on many identities in her quest for personal safety and revenge. As she played the part of a subdued young girl of noble birth, then a kitchen drudge and finally a courtesan, the real Suzume seemed to be difficult to find.
Set in a fantasy Asian country much like feudal Japan, Marriott has created a vivid world that seemed very real to me as I read. The land and the life of the people were described in beautiful detail. I was also able to suspend disbelief and accepted that Suzume was able to mask her real self by shadow weaving. The strangers from the land of Athazie, especially Otieno who was attracted to Suzume, also have magical powers, but in their country they were accepted as part of normal life.
One of the most heart wrenching aspects of Shadows on the Moon, was the relationship that Suzume's mother had to her. She was content to go off with Lord Terayama, not allowing Suzume to grieve for her father, or indeed to mention his name again. When she had twin boys, she no longer wanted Suzume, as all her attention went to the babies. Not only was she selfish and heartless, she was also prepared to betray Suzume to Lord Terayama, knowing that he would kill her.
This could be read as a retelling of Cinderella, but in this case there was a wicked mother, an evil stepfather and a girl who self harms to remind herself that she was alive. The romance between Otieno and Suzume was subtle, and Otieno was such an attractive, caring individual that it was difficult to understand why Suzume didn't forget her plans for revenge.
An enjoyable fantasy that was easy to read, with a tortured heroine, evil characters and a magical world, this book is sure to appeal to teenage girls.
Editor's note: This review first appeared in Fiction Focus.