Synopsis (from Goodreads):
"On my fourteenth birthday when the sakura was in full bloom, the men came to kill us. We saw them come, Aimi and me. We were excited, because we did not know how to be frightened. We had never seen soldiers before."Suzume 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.
Zoe Marriott has taken the bones of the Cinderella story and built a different, but familiar, creature from it. Set in a country similar to feudal Japan with it's culture and traditions added with the magic of the shadow weaving and Suzume's power as an Akachi, the world created is rich in detail and evokes a true sense of place. The magic of the Akachi is never really explained or fully explored, but it doesn't need to be. The details given are enough to make it real for the reader and to serve its purpose in the story.
Suzume's character is complex. She is in the midst of a full on identity crisis. She spends so much time pretending to be what she is not that she has lost who she is entirely. She desires happiness and a future, but is so full of self loathing she refuses to believe she deserves either enough to work for them. Her mother and her have an unhealthy relationship, going back to before her father's death, that contributed much to this. Full of self hatred and the pain of the tragedy she has experienced, she is constantly forced by her mother to play nice and happy. All of this combined causes Suzume extreme psychological trauma and she ends up with the physical scars to prove it. Feeling she is not good enough for anything else she dedicates her whole life and self to seeking vengeance against her step-father.
Suzume does have people who love her and try to help her see her value. She has two trainers in the magic of her shadow weaving. Youta is her mentor in the first half of the book and helps her as a child. Akira is her mentor in her later years, the one who helps her with the skills necessary to gain entrance to the palace. Akira is a fascinating character in her own right as well.
Then there is the hero. Otieno. One might say he is just a little too perfect, but he is oh so swoon worthy. Part of a group of visiting dignitaries from a place similar to Africa, he also has the power of an Akachi . There was an instant attraction there, but Marriott developed it well and made their relationship believable.
This is an engrossing and beautifully written story. Novels based on fairy tales can often be tiresomely alike. This one stands out as different in so many wonderful ways. I will now most definitely be seeking out a copy of Marriott's earlier works.
Note For Concerned Parents on Content: This is a book with some harsh realities. It also contains allusions to adult relationships and one brief not at all descriptive love scene.
Shadows on the Moon is currently available in the UK and will be released in the US on April 24. I read a galley of the book received via NetGalley.