Shadows on the Moon

448p. Candlewick. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5344-6; ebook $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5993-6.
Gr 9 Up—In this spin on 'Cinderella" set in ancient Japan, Suzume is an only child living with her parents and orphaned cousin, Aimi. The action starts immediately when royal soldiers unfairly accuse her father of being a traitor. Aimi and Suzume watch in terror as her father is killed, and Aimi is also shot as the girls flee through the woods. After her mother remarries, Suzume learns that she is a shadow weaver, "One who can weave illusions from the threads of the world." Her skills are useful when she discovers that her stepfather had a hand in her father's death. So begins a domino effect of twists, turns, and shocking revelations that lead to Suzume masquerading as a servant in her stepfather's house to escape his attempts to silence her. Fleeing altogether when she believes that she has accidentally killed her mother, she embarks on a perilous attempt to avenge her family and redeem herself. Along the way she is forced to question whether hate is more valuable than love and if she can ever consider herself worthy of happiness. A rich cultural context and strong female characters make this novel reminiscent of Kristin Cashore's Graceling (Harcourt, 2008) and Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha (Knopf, 1998). The "Cinderella" theme is interwoven with just the right strokes, creating a magical reinterpretation that is much richer than a mere retelling. Although several hot-button issues such as self-mutilation and gender identity are dealt with in an explicit manner, the fast-moving plot, intense action, and compelling characters will pull readers through to the satisfying conclusion.—Sunnie Sette, New Haven Public Library, CT
This Cinderella story is set in a fairy-tale version of ancient Japan. Suzume vows to get revenge for her stepfather’s murders of her father and cousin--even if it means losing her chance at love. The fantasy element--Suzume is a shadow weaver--could have been better developed, but the setting is well realized and readers will be caught up in the story.
A strikingly unique blend of ancient Japanese culture, Western fairy-tale traditions, and contemporary mores help set this novel apart from the crowd. The pacing is skillful and the intricate plot is full of surprises. Suzume’s journey brings her to a variety of enchanting settings, from a vast, flowering orchard to the decks of a sailing ship to a prince’s magnificent court, all of which Zoë Marriott brings to life with evocative prose. An increasingly powerful “shadow” magician, Suzume weaves illusions to hide herself and her emotions—and eventually completely alter her appearance. Marriott uses this imaginative supernatural ability to tell a thematically rich tale that explores issues of identity, secret yearnings, and what Suzume’s mentor calls “the illusions most of us carry in our own minds.” Over the novel’s course, a charming romance develops between Suzume and Otieno, an ambassador’s son from Athazien, a gold-rich foreign land. Readers will root for them as Suzume’s obsession with revenge threatens to tear her and Otieno apart.

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