It’s no secret that I do not always share the views of the people I follow here on goodreads, but nevertheless feel compelled to read a book that has received widespread acclaim. More often than not I enjoy the enthusiastic reviews of my fellow goodreaders more than the novels themselves. And that’s quite all right. I like one-star reviews of books I loved and gushing reviews of books I found mediocre at best, because they all serve to broaden my mind. And I’ve learnt to keep my expectations in check.
However, if an author is stating her intention and goals at the very first page of her novel, and makes me giddy with joyful anticipation, she better follow through on her promises. When I read that Zoë Marriott never liked Cinderella, because “she seemed like the worst kind of wimp to me, and I hated the fact that she needed someone else to come along and rescue her,” I am expecting to read about a kick-ass heroine instead. Editors and publishers wouldn’t let her put a statement like that in her preface if they didn’t believe in the power of the novel and its heroine, would they? There are enough people out there, and I’ve met a few of them, who claim to be great cooks or singers or whatever and once you’ve experienced their alleged genius and thought “overconfident much?” you don’t know how to break the news to them that not everybody shares their high opinion of themselves. And you know that telling them would only upset them so you keep your mouth shut, look at your wrist, and tell them that you have to go. Cowardly? Yes. Self-preserving? Probably. But it’s the job of editors and publishers to be honest with authors for their own best. Right?!?
While, Shadows on the Moon was a entertaining and pleasant, at times even thought-provoking, read, it didn’t come close to satisfying my needs provoked by the author’s initial claim.
The story starts out as so many others I have read over the past couple of years: The heroine has to flee and hide to avoid being captured and killed by soldiers who have slaughtered the other members of the household. The narrative, despite being told from the first person POV I’ve grown to be weary of, kept me interested.
Our heroine, Suzume, blames herself for her running away and not being able to save her cousin and father. She has to hide her emotional pain from those around her so she won’t reveal herself, and she achieves a certain kind of relief and bliss by cutting herself. When Suzume believes to have killed her mother (by accident), she is determined to avenge them by exacting revenge on and bringing down her evil step-father. Oh, and she discovers that she has rare shadow-weaving abilities. With the help of her shadow weaving and the former Moon Prince’s Shadow Bride, Akira, she sets about achieving her goal of ultimately destroying Terayama Ryoichi, the evil step-father type.
She also repeatedly encounters a young man from distant shores, Otieno, a fellow shadow weaver, for whom she develops feelings of deep affection and companionship, but denies the love between them to blossom into a real partnership, because she considers herself morally defective and repulsive. It’s really all about the way Suzume deals with her anger and fears and self-hatred and the feeling of being abandoned and alone and helpless. As a study of the ways how to and, specifically, how not to deal with these feelings, the book works quite well. When it comes to plot, structure and pacing of the story, I’m not convinced. And therein lies what bothers me: I thought I was promised a self-reliant, kick-ass heroine, but instead I am served an, understandably angst-ridden teenager who has to be saved and rescued quite a lot.
All in all, the story is gripping enough and told in beautiful detail, especially when it comes to the description of clothes, which nevertheless can get a bit exhausting at times. The ending rather anti-climactic, though. Suzume was rather more passive than I would have expected and quite a bit of focus was directed at beauty, but I assume that this was meant as an illustration of the values of the culture depicted. It was nice to see how Suzume and Akira attempted to subvert the traditions and use the shallow obsession with beauty and demureness to their advantage.
There’s one last issue I cannot blame on either the author or Shadows on the Moon: Hair Envy! I have been growing out my hair for ten years now and I’m convinced that it never, ever, will reach the middle of my back. And it certainly isn’t smooth and glossy either. Well, I’m no longer 17 and since I’ve never had to experience deprivations similar to those Suzume was exposed to, I’ll generously grant her the beautiful, glossy, fast-growing hair. Grudgingly, though.