by Zoë Marriott
Plot Summary:"On my fourteenth birthday when the sakura was in full bloom, the men came to kill us. We saw them come, Aimi and me. We were excited, because we did not know how to be frightened. We had never seen soldiers before."
Suzume is a shadow-weaver. She can create mantles of darkness and light, walk unseen in the middle of the day, change her face. She can be anyone she wants to be. Except herself.
Suzume died officially the day the Prince's men accused her father of treason. Now even she is no longer sure of her true identity.
Is she the girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands?
Everyone knows Yue is destined to capture the heart of a prince. Only she knows that she is determined to use his power to destroy Terayama.
And nothing will stop her. Not even love.
Review:This story has incredible plotting - the pace never falters because so much happens - it truly elevates the Cinderella tale to something complex and magical. The rich prose style helps with this as the author creates interesting, varying characters and a fantastic, culturally rich setting of a fairy tale version of Japan.
The story also adds an element of true fantasy - with shadow-weaving. Suzume (I prefer that name to the two she picks up later) meets a few other people who are skilled in these arts - they are able to mask or change their appearance and I loved that logistics of the ability. Suzume has to learn to use her ability to survive the terrible things that happened to her and it was great to read about her slowly coming into her own. But her experiences does take a toll, and the book delves into some rather dark ordeals such as depression and cutting. And while the topics are dealt with realistically, the story still moves very quickly and it doesn't become preachy but is instead an important part of how Suzume overcomes the trauma of her past. There's such an intelligence to this story because the author incorporates these issues and it adds poignancy to Suzume's struggles.
The romance between Otieno and Suzume is another highlight of this book. It's so poignant and sweet - especially how Suzume views Otieno in comparison to her family and culture. Otieno and his people are so much more forthright and demonstrative and I found it interesting how Suzume was fascinated by that freedom of expression. It's a tense relationship too because Suzume has so many secrets she needs to keep but Otieno is so good at breaking down her reserves. He's so honestly interested in her and in taking care of her, that I thought every scene he was in was swoon-worthy!
The ending is only where I felt a little let down - although the resolution perfectly fits the story and provides a fantastic end to Suzume's developement, it felt a little rushed and the turnaround in thoughts and feelings that seemed to build for most of the book was so quickly disregarded that I didn't find it as believable. It's a minor issue because this is such an intriguing, poignant take on the Cinderella tale, that is relevant today with the way it depicts some important issues. This is a fantastic read!