Suzume is an innocent, fourteen year-old when her father and beloved cousin are brutally murdered in front of her by government assassins. In spite of everything, she manages to elude the soldiers as they hunt her down.
Her mother, returning from a trip finds Suzume emotionally distraught but refuses to acknowledge the tragedy and trauma of her courageous daughter. She heads to the home of a family friend who she subsequently marries.
Suzume’s grief turns inward as she tries to make sense of her feelings and new status as an unwelcome step-child.
The servant who helped her escape from the soldiers follows her to her step-father’s home and befriends Suzume. He introduces her to the magical skill of shadow-weaving, an innate power she was born with but has no clue how to use.
Things go all wrong after the birth of her mother’s baby boy. Suzume overhears the truth of her father’s demise. She runs and hides to escape only to have things go from bad to worse along the way. Eventually, she ends up with another shadow-weaver who trains her to become the Shadow Bride, the highest honor a non-royal woman can achieve in the Moonlit Land.
Suzume learns to rely on herself, get over the survivor’s guilt at her narrow escape from death, and in the end learns that there is more to life than avenging a past over which she had no control.
The Moonlit Land, though itself fictional, is a vivid depiction of Japanese and Chinese cultural and historical society. The world building immediately draws the reader into Suzume’s life, as a pampered child, a servant and eventually a courtesan’s sister.
There is a love interest with a visiting foreign dignitary’s son, which bumps this book firmly into the young adult classification but the most intimate scene in the book happens “off-stage.” Because of this, I recommend the book for more mature young teen readers.
This is book is a real nail biter, but I was often left wondering if Suzume would ever move along with her life instead of dwelling on the awful experiences of her past. More than once, I thought she was in serious need of psychiatric care.
The story ends in a true fairytale manner when the poor girl is whisked off by her Prince Charming. The twist to this tried and true plot is much deeper though and leaves the reader satisfied even though yearning to read more of the “happily ever after” part alluded to in the last chapter.
Note: I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley for review.