Shadows On The Moon by Zoë Marriott
Shadows On The Moon
By Zoë Marriott
Published by Walker Books Ltd. (2011)
Love comes like storm clouds
Fleeing from the wind, and casts
Shadows on the moon
“The true meaning (of the poem) was this: that love, when it came, was powerful enough to transform everything.” (page 400)
No matter how beautiful and lyrical were the love sayings in this novel, I could not help but feel ironic that the main character of this novel, for the most part, had to be consumed with so much hatred. *sigh*
NOTE: Although the character names, cultures and physical setting depicted in this novel seemed to indicate Japan, the author has made clear that Shadows On The Moon by no means represent any real country at all. The novel was a product of the author’s own creative invention, and was set in a fantasy place called Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni (“Moonlit Land”). The people in this land worshipped and prayed to the moon, and they were ruled over by the Moon Prince, whose (official) wife would acquire the title Moon Princess.
On Suzume Hoshima’s fourteenth birthday, tragedy struck her small family. The Moon Prince’s army came barging at the Hoshima residence without warning, accusing her father Daisuke of treachery. Daisuke was adamant of his innocence, but he was killed on the spot nevertheless – alongside all the house servants and Suzume’s cousin Aimi, who had lived there since her parents’ death.
It was supposed to be Suzume's turn next, but she had managed to hide with the help of an old kitchen worker named Youta. Suzume’s mother Yukiko was not at home at the time, having been gone to see a relative but was expected to be home soon.
After about two days being confined in a secret storage room with the enigmatic Youta, Suzume finally went out of hiding when she heard her mother back home and calling out for her in distraught. The Moon Prince's army had left then.
Their house had been marked as a traitor’s house, and both Suzume and Yukiko will never be safe again if they continued to live there. Apparently, Yukiko had returned home with a Ryoichi Terayama, who had been one of Daisuke Hoshima’s old friend. Yukiko claimed that she paid a visit to Terayama before returning home, although Suzume had her doubts.
Terayama immediately offered refuge for both Yukiko and Suzume, inviting them to stay at his estate. However, both mother and daughter had to drop their Hoshima identity and assume a new family name. On Terayama’s advice, Suzume and her mother had to adopt the surname Nakamura, which was the name of a distant branch of the Terayama family.
Barely two months after Daisuke Hoshima’s death, Yukiko and Terayama announced their plan to marry. Suzume tried to be happy for her mother and take a liking for Terayama, but she just could not. Deep inside her, Suzume felt something fishy was going on.
Suzume could feel something wrong underneath Terayama’s persona, and realized that he seemed to be controlling Yukiko’s decision ever since the tragic incident. Suzume could not understand her mother either – she could not point out whether Yukiko acted out of fear for Terayama, or whether she was really in love with him.
Suzume’s suspicions were confirmed on the night when her mother gave birth to Suzume’s half-brothers, a pair of twins. Suzume overheard Terayama made a confession to Yukiko that he was the one who slandered Daisuke Hoshima as a traitor to the Moon Prince.
According to Terayama, he had expected the Moon Prince to only imprison Daisuke – never did he imagine that the Moon Prince would send a whole army to not only assassinate Daisuke, but also the whole of Hoshima household. And Terayama did all of that for Yukiko: he had fallen in love with Yukiko a long time ago, but she had rejected Terayama to marry Daisuke instead. So Terayama had waited for over a decade to get Daisuke out of the picture (he meant to have Daisuke imprisoned, as he said) so that Yukiko would be able to be coaxed into divorcing Daisuke. Now that Daisuke was dead, nothing would stop Terayama from getting his hold on Yukiko.
Yukiko was devastated, especially that Suzume had almost been killed in the incident. But Terayama was not remorseful. For him, the past is the past and now that they had a pair of twins as heirs, Yukiko should just carry on with her new status as his wife and the mother of his sons.
Suzume was extremely angered by the confession. But before she could decide on anything, Terayama had found out first that Suzume was nearby, and had overheard his guilty confession.
Terayama charged at Suzume, apparently intending to kill her despite screams from Yukiko, who was still too weak after the birth and was not able to do anything. Suzume ran for her life and once again was saved by Youta.
After the destruction of the house of Hoshima, Youta had somehow managed to obtain a job at the kitchens of the Terayama household, intending to keep an eye on Suzume as well as being a friend to the lonesome girl.
Now that Suzume was in deep trouble, Youta took her into the kitchens and ordered her to discard her expensive clothing for drab ones, and cut her hair short. Youta covered Suzume with soot, and instantly she was no more the beautiful stepdaughter of Terayama. Youta changed her name to Rin, and she was to act the part of a mute drudge who just recently came to work in the kitchen. Suzume – now Rin – was safe. Terayama considered Suzume had ran away and would never return again.
As a drudge, Rin had to learn doing menial tasks and her life was definitely hard. She hardly ever saw her mother and Terayama again, but sometimes when she wandered outside the kitchen, Rin would see them. Initially, Rin was heartbroken to see that her mother had apparently mourned her disappearance. But as time goes by, Yukiko slowly recovered and Rin was not happy to see that her mother was able to smile again.
On the whole, Suzume’s relationship with her mother had always been toxic. Yukiko used to be loving, but when her relationship to Daisuke started falling apart – as Suzume became the apple of Daisuke’s eye – Yukiko blamed Suzume and began to treat Suzume more harshly. Yukiko became a dismissive mother who always find faults with Suzume’s actions and behaviours. While on Suzume’s side, she was still hoping for some kind of validation from her mother despite the many years of cold treatment.
The fact that Yukiko was relieved when she found that Suzume was still alive, and that she was utterly devastated when Suzume almost got killed by the Moon Prince’s army – were not enough proof for Suzume / Rin that her mother did love her after all.
So when Yukiko was seen quite happy over the antics of her twin babies, Rin was overcame with extreme jealousy because at that moment, she was not the reason of her mother’s happiness.
Vengeful, Rin decided to get back at her mother. As a kitchen worker, Rin had the chance to contaminate Yukiko’s meal with a bunch of sangre roots, which she believed could poison Yukiko and make her sick enough.
When Youta later found out what Rin had done, he ominously told Rin that sangre roots were dangerous and that she had killed her mother with her actions. Youta then instantly removed Rin from the kitchen – and asked her to never return to Terayama’s residence again. Rin then left the Terayama residence haunted by the fact that she had become a murderer (more on this later).
Rin strayed on the streets until she was taken in by a transvestite named Akira Kano. Akira treated Rin like a little sister – and vice versa – and renamed her as Yue Kano, so people would thought they were really sisters.
Akira had been an entertainer before, and she was infamous for being chosen by the former Moon Prince to be his Shadow Bride, a term used to refer to the ruler's (temporary) consort.
Traditionally, the Moon Prince would marry girls from the nobility or anyone who would be able to help him gain political advantages. These girls would be known as the Moon Princess – the Moon Prince’s official wife – and her offspring would be made heir to the kingdom. However, the Moon Prince was able to take another woman as his consort – and this mistress-apparent was titled the Shadow Bride. Shadow Brides only live together with the Moon Prince for a year. And according to tradition, during that time she will be granted the Shadow Promise – an ability to request one (attainable) wish from the Moon Prince, in which he will promise to fulfil. For instance, wishing for certain amounts of money to be given to her family.
When Yue learnt about the Shadow Promise for Shadow Brides, she was determined to be a Shadow Bride. Yue was sure that it will be the best way for her get her revenge against Terayama. If she becomes the Shadow Bride, she would want to tell the Moon Prince about Terayama lying to him about Daisuke Hoshima being a traitor – and left it for the Moon Prince to take action accordingly.
In order to become a Shadow Bride, Yue had to first get herself invited to the Shadow Ball organised by the Moon Prince – and prepare herself to get the prince’s attention so he would chose her above all the other girls in the country. But with Akira’s help and influence within the royal palace, Yue’s chances to get invited were quite high.
In the meantime, while Yue was under the care of Akira, she finally got a chance to get to know a young man named Otieno. Otieno was the youngest delegation from a foreign country called Athazie, and the delegation came to the Moonlit Land as the Moon Prince’s guests.
It was actually love at first sight for both of them: they first met when she was still known as Suzume Nakamura, but they never got a chance to talk. When she became Rin, Otieno saw beneath her disguise and knew Rin and Suzume were the same person. And Otieno still loved her then, despite her adopting the appearance of a tramp. When Rin suddenly disappeared from Terayama’s residence, Otieno had quietly searched for her all over the land – and eventually found her, now embodying the beautiful Yue.
Akira’s heart was full of love; and being a romantic, she was happy to see Yue and Otieno together. Deep inside, Akira had wished that Yue would finally put her past behind and start a new life, full of love, with Otieno. Otieno had proposed to Yue and offered her to come back to Athazie with him. He even wanted Akira to come along, too.
But Yue was still unforgiving. She somehow felt guilty at feeling happy and in love when she was with Otieno and Akira. Yue had thought that the strange (read: positive) feelings made her almost forget about the deaths of her father and Aimi, and forget about her mission to seek revenge. Yue stubbornly wanted to hold on to that vengeance. Despite her deepest wish to be with Otieno forever, Yue was still determined to avenge the deaths of her father and Aimi. Yue believed that her life was meant for that revenge. And so Yue continued to clamp down on her feelings of love.
Much to Akira’s disappointment, Yue crushed her dreams of living happily with Otieno, and stubbornly continued her preparations to be a Shadow Bride.
Suzume / Rin / Yue was actually born with a type of magical power called shadow weaving. Shadow weaving was similar to creating an illusion on oneself so that people would see on her what she wanted them to see. There were more shadow weavers across the land, and Youta, Akira and Otieno were all shadow weavers, too. Youta and Akira had both helped Suzume / Rin / Yue practice her powers so that her illusions would get better and better. When she was Rin, the shadow weaving technique had helped her disguise as an ugly and mute drudge.
And when she became Yue, the shadow weaving had helped her looked most enchanting – and thus she had no problems attracting the Moon Prince. The Moon Prince finally chose Yue to be his Shadow Bride.
However, during the night of the ball, after Yue had successfully won the Moon Prince’s heart, she made a startling discovery: Yue found that her mother was still alive, when they encountered each other at the ball.
Yukiko was relieved to finally found her missing daughter again, but when she learnt what Yue was up to, Yukiko was alarmed. Yukiko tried pleading Yue to not tell the Moon Prince about Terayama, for their sons were still in infancy and could not lose their father at such a young age. Hateful, Yue shut down all thoughts about her helpless half-brothers and told her mother off. She decided to go along with her plan for revenge.
Yue was then taken to the Shadow Bride’s chamber and was left there to wait for the Moon Prince. Only then the reality sunk in and she began to sort out her feelings. She had never been a murderer after all – Yukiko did get sick from consuming the sangre roots, but the herb was not fatal. When Yue thought about it all over again, she realized that Youta had told her that she had murdered Yukiko to create a situation in which she had to leave Terayama and her mother forever. Youta must have thought that separating Suzume / Rin from the people that reminded her of the tragic incident was best to help her let go of the past. Unfortunately, Youta was wrong: Suzume / Rin / Yue had relentlessly pursued the way for revenge. Until that moment of realization. Yue finally decided that she did not want to be the Shadow Bride anymore.
Yue planned to escape the chamber quietly, but on her way out she encountered Terayama, ready to kill her for good. Terayama had killed a few palace guards who blocked his way to the Shadow Bride’s chamber. Apparently after Yue’s outburst about wishing to go along with her revenge plan, Yukiko had told Terayama about it and he was determined to silence Suzume / Yue forever.
Yue then used her shadow weaving powers to create an invisible lasso that successfully pinned Terayama in place – over the dead bodies of the fallen palace guards. Yue left Terayama there, putting a spell on her shadow weaving that the invisible binding will only disappear when Terayama was found by anyone who would be the witness to what he had done. The murder of three palace guards – along with the mysterious disappearance of the Shadow Bride – would be incriminating enough to put Terayama as a subject of the Moon Prince's wrath.
When Yue left the Moon Prince’s palace, she found Akira and Otieno waiting for her outside. Akira was faithful in her belief that Yue would finally decide against becoming a Shadow Bride. And that was why she had planned for Otieno to be there, too. Otieno, Yue and Akira then left together to start a new life in Athazie.
On the first page of this novel, the author has made clear that she had always thought Cinderella was a wimp, and thus created Shadows On The Moon as an alternate fairy tale of a Cinderella who was out for revenge, instead of merely waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her.
I found this novel as not a fairy tale, and the heroine was no “strong” Cinderella (as the writer intended her to be) – at all. As Albert Einstein put it:
WEAK people REVENGE
STRONG people FORGIVE
Intelligent people Ignore
As I had similarly mentioned earlier in this post: the beauty of “love” in this novel was, unfortunately, marred by the extreme hatred and spite inside Suzume / Rin / Yue. The glaring theme that I saw in this novel was not love, but rather, about the emotional disturbances of a teenaged girl. It highlighted the ripple effect of a bad marriage combined with bad parenting.
Although Suzume practically worshipped her father, I opined that Daisuke Hoshima was not good as a husband to Yukiko. Based on the scene where Yukiko confessed to Suzume about her relationship with the late Daisuke, it was obvious that Daisuke had been an ignorant husband – his characteristic reminded me of that of Mr Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, who never took his wife seriously and believed everything was okay in the family. When his wife began to rant out her frustrations, Daisuke – like Mr Bennett – would distance himself and shut himself in his study. But when it came to his daughter, Daisuke always fawned over Suzume, just as Mr Bennett had over Elizabeth.
The bad relationship between Yukiko and Daisuke had led Yukiko to vent out her anger on Suzume instead, and the mother-daughter relationship became toxic. Although I initially took pity on Suzume, my sympathies for her went into a downward spiral after she poisoned her mother out of jealousy.
Suzume / Rin’s dejection after the poisoning incident was, apparently, not due to her pity for her mother or her half-brothers – who could have lost their mother at such infancy – but rather, due to self-pity. As I see it, she only regretted tarnishing her own hands; of having to live her life as a murderer, a criminal. When Suzume / Yue found her mother still alive, she was relieved that she was not a murderer, and not because she was glad to find her mother still alive.
It was such a pity that the mother and daughter did not reconcile towards the end of the book.
And this one fact remains: as evil and cold-hearted as Terayama was, he did waited until Suzume was 14 years old – old enough to fend for herself – before committing his treacherous act to destroy the Hoshima family. On the other hand, Suzume / Rin / Yue did not even spare a thought about her half-brothers – who were merely helpless babies – before deciding to destroy their family in vengeance.
Shadows On The Moon should be interesting for those who enjoyed an in-depth character study. The character Suzume / Rin / Yue was complex enough to be scrutinized from many angles. And then there were Yukiko, Akira, Youta and Daisuke to add to the list.
However, it was quite unfortunate that this story was told through Suzume’s viewpoint, which was controlled by her twisted and negative mind. Readers had a hard time to objectively determine other characters’ motives and feelings, as each of them were judged from the point of view of Suzume / Rin / Yue.
As an emotionally damaged character, Suzume / Rin / Yue mostly saw the negative side of people (except those that she really loved, which was very limited in number – five people at the most!). Suzume / Rin / Yue also frequently felt that she was wronged by the people around her, that she had been a victim. The most obvious example was her judgement of Yukiko’s actions, in which she never empathised with her mother who was devastated by Daisuke’s disregard. Instead, she only saw Daisuke as a victim to her mother being complicit with Terayama. Ditto was Yue’s thoughts about the girls at the okiya which she had sheltered in after being taken in by Akira. Yue had always suspected that the gijo there did not welcome her despite them being nice to her.
All in all, this novel was emotionally drowning me in negativity. Suzume / Rin / Yue – the “I” in this novel, the one who told this story through her eyes – was unforgiving, judgemental in a negative way, and had a feeling that people hated her. She was also self-loathing, got emotional release from injuring herself, and had once thought about committing suicide. She also had very little love to give everyone else: apparently in her heart there was space to only love her father, Aimi, Akira and Otieno – and probably, a little bit for Youta as well.
And this was the reason I never see this novel as a love story.
Despite the sombre feeling of this novel, I would like to end this post with one of Akira’s expression about love:
“Real love is hard because it requires one to know and accept another person with all their faults.” (page 343)