DAUGHTER OF THE MOON GODDESS by Sue Lynn Tan (BOOK REVIEW)
“Ours was a peaceful life, a pleasant one, and the years passed
by as though they were weeks. Who knows how many decades
would have swept by in this manner if my life had not been tossed into turmoil, as a leaf torn from its branch by the wind?”
Daughter of the Moon Goddess is the debut novel by Sue Lynn Tan. Described as a mythological reimagining of the legendary figure, Chang’e, the moon goddess who stole her husband’s elixir of immortality after he was awarded it by the gods, and then sought refuge on the moon. Tan delves deeper into this tale and gives Chang’e another motive for betraying her husband, to save her daughter’s life. After all, what wouldn’t we do to protect the ones we hold dearest?
Our story begins with Chang’e and her daughter Xingyin already imprisoned on the moon by the hands of the Celestial Emperor and Empress. Xingyin has spent a fairly solitary life entirely on the Moon, you see, Change’e had never told anyone that Xingyin had been born, and so her existence was kept hidden from all. Yet when Xingyin’s growing magic threatens to expose her to the Celestial Empress, Chang’e bids her daughter to flee, for if she is caught Xingyin’s life could be forfeited as punishment. What follows from then is a coming of age tale as Xingyin gives us a first person account of her life from the moment she flees from the moon. From escaping Celestial soldiers, to becoming a maid, experiencing bullying, to meeting a prince, making a friend and undergoing training, we follow Xingyin as she turns from a naïve sheltered girl, to a strong, independent young lady who will stop at nothing to gain her mother’s freedom.
Initially it took a little while for me to warm to the characters, but once Xingyin settled into her life as a student and as an attendant to the Prince in the Celestial Realm, I very much enjoyed the light-hearted banter between her and the charismatic Prince Liwei. Despite their vastly different classes, they both shared a mutual friendship, one where Prince Liwei treated Xingyin with respect and tenderness. She may be in essence Liwei’s maid, yet he did not treat her as a slave to do his bidding. Whilst studying the art of magic, sword fighting, archery and martial arts took up most of Xingyin’s early years whilst she was away from her mother, it is here that her attraction to the Prince also began to blossom.
“How privileged I had been to have only known love and affection until now. In my childhood, I had been terrified of the vicious monsters I read of in my books. Yet I was learning as much to be feared was a scythe-like smile and words that cut deep. Never had I imagined people like this existed: those who took pride in treading on the dignity of another, those who thrived on the misery of others.”
Throughout the novel, romance does play a key part to the narrative, especially once Wenzhi the enigmatic Captain of the Celestial Army enters the scene. However, in between Tan weaves in Xingyin’s training, where she excels in archery and elemental magic, and illustrates the way she grows into a capable young woman. These were some of my most favourite scenes as I’ve always held a soft spot for this type of narrative arc. I also appreciated the way Tan portrays Xingyin’s vulnerabilities, she may be the daughter of Chang’e and infamous archer Houyi, but that doesn’t mean she was perfect in her skills. She may have had some advantage, but we spend many chapters with her honing her talent to manipulate wind and fire, and becoming even more adept at archery whilst also overcoming her fears and doubts.
Although Captain Wenzhi never quite became a character I rooted for, my loyalties were firmly with Prince Liwei and I much preferred the relationship he shared with Xingyin, I did enjoy the twists and turns the narrative took for all three of these characters. As Tan heightened the tension and delivered many thrilling scenes involving a merfolk riding an octopus, a three headed serpent, and my most favourite of all, dragons, the pages began to fly by!
Tan’s descriptive prose is absolutely stunning. I was able to envision the characters easily, as they were vividly brought to life. From the way they dressed, to the jewellery they wore, to the food they ate, every detail added to the immersive experience. Tan even incorporated music into the narrative throughout, as the flute was a prominent instrument which Xingyin played often; you could almost imagine hearing the melancholic or uplifting melody each time. The worldbuilding was elegantly detailed, the Celestial Realm was steeped in magic and the fantastical, even the dresses were laced with magic, where the embroidered flowers and butterflies would spring to life. This is a book which surely hits all your senses.
“The Celestial Kingdom was like a garden in eternal spring; the flowers did not wither and the leaves did not
brown. Today, the ground gleamed a brilliant blue, mirroring the clear heavens above as though earth and sky were one.”
The Daughter of the Moon Goddess is a thoroughly magical read, with captivating characters and thrilling action scenes. Tan elegantly brings this tale to life and immerses her readers into a realm of beauty and peril.
ARC provided by Susanna at Harper Voyager UK. Thank you for the copy! All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
The Daughter of the Moon Goddess is out now!