First appeared on Goodreads, January 25, 2012
Cinderella meets Memoirs of a Geisha? I don't think so. This book is Cinderella meets Hamlet, Othello and Salome.
Fourteen year old Suzume witnesses the murder of her father and the massacre of her whole household. The only one that survives is her mother, because she is away on some visit or another. Shortly thereafter, Suzume's mother remarries to one of her father's old friends. Suzume is, naturally, upset, and turns on herself in her grief. She also discovers that she has a very rare ability, but before anything else can happen, she learns something horrible about her mother and stepfather, and has to run for her life.
The first thing that struck me about this book was the setting. Apparently, this is not Japan, but a country that strongly resembles it. At first I was confused, not only because of the use of Japanese everyday words (Oji-san, miso, kimono) but also in the way the culture is woven into everything (seppuku, kyujutsu, gijo). It also surprised me that, for a culture that is so male-centric as it is in the Moonlit Country, there was surprisingly little racism. Or, if there was, the foreigners were rich enough for the color of their skin to be overlooked.
What also surprised me was how poignant Suzume's characterization was, the depth of her grief. I won't lie, it was scary at times to see how self-destructive she was, how desperate. There's a good reason why I compared it to two Shakespearean tragedies - Suzume's devastation leads her to a point where she can only think about avenging her family, but to do so, she would have to give up everything she has.
Unfortunately, this is also Romeo and Juliet, if she woke up a little earlier or he hesitated with the poison. Not to spoil anything, but we get a happy ending.
To those of you who follow my reviews, this should come as no surprise, as I have already established I have no soul. For those of you who haven't... well, I can't explain without spoiling too much. Suffice to say, much like Romeo and Juliet, the story's climax is built upon a misunderstanding. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, that misunderstanding doesn't lead to tragedy.
My other problem came from the fact that, much as I enjoyed the plot twists, a lot of it relied on coincidence (and no, I did not buy the "fate-throws-us-together-when-we-need-each-other" aspect of shadow-weaving). I mean, how lucky is it that Suzume meets the people she has most need of exactly when things turn sour. And why would Youta do the things he did? It made no sense to me.
Overall, this book tries to marry fairy tales with Shakespearean tragedy. Does it succeed? Well... more or less. I applaud it for making such a good picture of tragedy and describing so well what it might be like to lose your whole family, but I did not quite buy the healing aspect of it, and ultimately, the climax felt too forced. But I do recommend it, if only because this is how YA fantasy should be written - fast-paced, gritty and real.
Note: A copy of the book was provided via NetGalley for the purposes of this review.
Note no 2: Image via Goodreads.