Review: Shadows on the Moon by Zoë Marriott

Zoë Marriott's website here // n/a from {amazon}   
Publisher: Walker Books (July 7, 2011) -- UK
Paperback: 464 pages
Source: Publisher (ARC)
Suzunne is a shadow-weaver. She can create mantles of darkness and light, walk unseen in the middle of the day, change her face. She can be anyone she wants to be. Except herself.

Suzume died officially the day the Prince's men accused her father of treason. Now even she is no longer sure of her true identity.

Is she the girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands?

Everyone knows Yue is destined to capture the heart of a prince. Only she knows that she is determined to use his power to destroy Terayama.

And nothing will stop her. Not even love

Rating: View my rating system.

My Thoughts: The four words Shadows on the Moon evoke extremely mixed feelings. It's simultaneously stunning yet slightly annoying. Completely and absolutely amazing yet occasionally long and dragging. I can't stress enough how much I loved, loved, loved certain aspects of Shadows on the Moon, but I can dwell all too well on the parts I did not.

When first looking at Shadows on the Moon, it's impossible not to notice that it centers on Japanese culture. If the premise wasn't enough, the blossoms and beautiful Japanese girl on the cover are dead giveaways. Or at least they are to an avid Japan fan like me, for whom the Fuedal Japan setting will be the primary reason to re-re-reread this book. Their customs never cease to amaze me and the scattered Japanese vocabulary gives the story the perfect touch of authenticity. (I've listed some at the bottom of this review as a reference for those interested in reading or are currently reading Shadows on the Moon. Or maybe you just love Japan. :))

This book is marketed as a new take on Cinderella, but don't let that fool you. It's different in so many ways, to say it's like Cinderella is like comparing a spring dress to Kate Middleton's wedding dress, with Shadows on the Moon being the much classier latter, of course. In the beginning, I could distinctly draw a few parallels between the two stories and found it extremely clever how Zoe Marriott managed those, considering it's Feudal Japan; as "Cinderella," Suzunne pretends to be the cinder man's niece for a period of time. But after the first third (the book is split into three sections), the story drifts far, far away from the traditional fairytale in its own unique, Japanese way. And that's a good, very good thing as Zoe Marriott proceeds to thoroughly explore the many crevices in Japanese culture and custom. In the end, the story does remain true to poor-girl-and-prince, but in such a twisted manner that I didn't even draw the connection until, quite literally, right now.

Yet my intense love for all things Japanese and fairytale in Shadows on the Moon still couldn't overcome my annoyance with Suzunne. It wasn't an overwhelming annoyance, as I'm definitely one who may stop reading a novel if I find myself wanting to rip off the main character's head, but it was there nonetheless and prevented me from fully enjoying the story. Much of that irritation stems from Suzunne's passivity. I'm completely aware that society often restricts her actions, and I can understand that, but it's not just physical passivity. Suzunne repeatedly runs away from both physical and emotional confrontation and continually accepts her depressing fate, making it extremely hard for me to continue being sympathetic rather than frustrated and impatient. Perhaps if I had connected with her character better, I could be more forgiving, but Shadows on the Moon retains retains most of that distance and third-person detail (though narrated from Suzunne's POV) that characterize traditional English fairytales. That distance wasn't a problem in itself, but it certainly didn't reduce my annoyance with Suzunne.

What did mediate my irritation was the fact that Suzunne is legitimately depressed. She slits her wrists and inflicts other bodily harm to herself, once almost to the point of death. And even as naive and impulsive as she is, I can't deny that she's brave and, in certain matters, persistent. I'm glad she got her happy ending, though I felt the story wrapped up much too quickly. It was exciting, for sure, with so many unexpected twists and, again, I found the way in which Zoë Marriott ends certain conflicts extremely clever. But it was like a great flurry then -- nothing. Done. What especially irked me was that I felt Suzunne's depression was never fully addressed. Even close to the end, she still uses bodily harm as a means of escape and self-empowerment. Perhaps the glorious happiness Suzunne finds at the end is meant to imply she will overcome her dangerous habits, but I want to know or at least have some more explicit indication that she will prevail. Depression is serious business, and I think it needed more closure.

Regardless, I still have to applaud Zoë Marriott for tackling so many different concepts, from self-acceptance to Feudal Japan to depression. You know, as if a mere (sense the sarcasm) fairytale retelling wasn't already enough. ;)

Romance: Again, there's the distance that prevented me from having a heart-to-heart with Suzunne's love interest, Otieno, but he's sweet, sensitive, smirk-y, and sworn to protect Suzunne from all evil (basically, he's devoted and utterly in love, but I wanted to keep the alliteration, haha). And even more wonderful, he has dark skin, long hair, and blue swirl tattoos and Suzunne isn't afraid to admire that exotic, savage beauty -- and neither am I. Plus a billion respect points for Suzunne and Zoë Marriott for this interracial relationship with such pure, unadulterated love.

As for rating, there's nothing explicit but there are multiple, subtle mentions of sex and prostitutes. 

Cover: THE GIRL IS GORGEOUS. The cover matches the story very well and it's attractive and soothing, though not stunning. Woot for Asian girls on covers, and on the back cover, I think it's cute how you can see her flower earring (not visible on the front). :)

Liked:  Feudal Japan setting, complete Cinderella revamp, Otieno, solid lessons on self-acceptance and greed, idea of shadow weavers
Disliked: Suzunne's character, occasionally the length (though it's because my annoyance with Suzunne made the story drag), rushed ending

Bottom Line: Despite the mediocre rating I give Shadows on the Moon in terms of overall enjoyment (who knows, you may like Suzunne more than I did), I still highly recommend it to lovers of fairytale retellings and Japanese culture. Yes, I have my misgivings about it, but Shadows on the Moon is truly a masterful blend of East and West, of beauty and tragedy that is completely unparalleled by any fairytale retelling I've read before.

Japanese 101 (Shadows on the Moon could benefit from a glossary...):
·         Shamisen – a three-stringed musical instrument played with a plectrum
·         Seppuku – a Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment; originally used by samurai as a means to preserve honor rather than fall into enemy hands or by leaders to punish samurai that had committed serious offenses
·         Haori – lightweight coat worn over a kimono; originally only worn by men
·         Obi – a sash for traditional Japanese dress or for martial arts
·         Baka-yarou – an extreme insult, along the lines of a SOB
·         Geta – traditional footwear that resemble clogs and flip-flops

an obi (among many Obi Wan's on google images) // source