By: Sue Lynn Tan
Publisher: Harper Voyager Publishing
Daughter of the Moon Goddess is Sue Lynn Tan’s stunningly beautiful debut fantasy novel. Chang’e, the Moon Goddess, is hiding her daughter, Xingyin, from the Celestial Emperor and Empress. If she is found, Chang’e fears for her daughter’s safety. When Xingyin comes to an age where her magic begins to express itself, she must flee the only home she has known, the Moon Palace, and hide in the Celestial Realm where no one knows her. Her mother cannot go with her and protect her since she is imprisoned on the moon for stealing the elixir of immortality. In the Celestial Realm, Xingyin becomes the companion to the Crown Prince Liwei. What ensues is an exquisite tale of the love of a mother for a daughter, a daughter for her mother, and a love that blossoms from friendship. Ms. Tan creates a captivating, immersive world for the reader, with charming, well-developed characters and a dazzling world of gorgeous palaces, dangerous forests, dragons, and celestial realms, each with magical allure. Xingyin wants nothing more than to free her mother from her prison on the moon. While she will always be the Moon Goddess, Xingyin wants her mother to have the freedom to leave when she wants. This sets her on a course to becoming a skilled warrior that will grant her any favor from the emperor. From flying on clouds, walking in the peaceful palace gardens, visiting other magical realms, we are drawn into this amazing novel and feel as though we ourselves are flying on clouds. As a debut novel, it is more than impressive. It was a riveting page turner from start to finish and I absolutely loved the peaceful feeling of this book and the enchanting story. I highly recommend Daughter of the Moon Goddess.
The story is told from the first-person perspective of Xingyin. I felt this was a great choice on the part of Ms. Tan. Xingyin was naïve at first, not knowing that her mother was the Moon Goddess and content to live in the beautiful palace with her mother and their companion, Ping’er. When she must leave, she is alone for the first time and trying to find her place in a world she is unfamiliar with. She misses her mother terribly and her singular goal becomes to find a way to free her. Seeing the events unfold through Xingyin’s eyes allows the reader to follow her growth from the naïve child to the brave warrior she becomes.
I found Ms. Tan’s writing poetic in her descriptions of the worlds Xingyin visits. She has a way of making us feel we are walking through the palaces, facing dangers, feel her growing love of Liwie, while still determined to free her mother. I loved that Xingyin was doing everything to free her mother and she was not the female pining for the love of Liwei. While we do not see the story from Chang’e’s perspective, we clearly see how much love she has for Xingyin, even though she feels distant from her daughter at times. To send away her only child was a heartbreak we felt.
The world of Daughter of the Moon Goddess is quite simply gorgeous. This goes hand in hand with Ms. Tan’s prose, in which the reader can’t help but want to step into the pages and into Xingyin’s life. The palaces are pristine, with beautiful artistry and gardens with flowers always in bloom, ponds, bridges, and waterfalls. In the realm of the Eastern Sea, the palace is adorned with coral reefs, fish, and flowers found near the sea. There is also a terrifying forest that was once the Eternal Spring, but now the trees are dead, the ponds have dried and no flora or fauna live. The immortals travel on clouds, which made me want to reach into the sky, pluck one out and soar.
I loved the description of the clothing, which to reflects the realm of each immortal. In the Celestial Palace, if there were birds or butterflies embroidered, they would flit and fly along the robes that were worn. In the Eastern Sea, clothing was embroidered with fish that “swam” on the robes. Reds, yellows, blues, and all manner of bright colors adorned the immortals, certainly giving them more of a regal presence. It was Xinging’s mother who whore beautiful white robes, as she was the Moon Goddess and needed to shine brightly.
The worlds that Ms. Tan creates are certainly among the best I have read in fantasy.
The characters were excellent and had wonderful arcs. Xinging is a loveable character and the reader cares about her. The love she feels for her mother is so strong, it clearly comes through. She will do anything she has to free her mother from her prison on the moon. Xinging wants nothing more than to see her mother again. We follow her path from the young naïve child to the strong, determined warrior. I love strong female protagonists, and even more, those that are not driven by the love of a man. The love of mother and daughter is a beautiful theme that runs throughout the book.
Where the Celestial Emperor and Empress are cold and calculating, Crown Prince Liwei is warm and caring. He and Xinging, who becomes his learning companion, develop a strong bond. Liwei is taken by her straightforward attitude. She is unimpressed with royalty and the trappings that go with it. As they learn and train together, their bond grows from companionship to love. He is a wonderful counter to Xinging. Their relationship develops over time, and it flowed naturally with the story.
It is hard to imagine a more beautiful debut fantasy than Daughter of the Moon Goddess. I always find it refreshing to have fantasy novels that are not set in a “traditional Eurocentric” world. Sue Lynn Tan has created a magical world for the reader to be immersed in. The overarching theme of family and love permeates the book and drives the characters and story forward. By writing the story in the first-person narrative of Xinging, we feel the heartbreak of Chang’e having to hide her daughter by sending her away, and Xinging’s determination to free her mother so she can see her again. The romance between Xinging and Liwei was on point with the character development and flowed naturally with the story. The prose is amazingly crafted, creating worlds that are both gorgeous and frightening. I wanted to step into the worlds and just marvel at the beauty Ms. Tan wrote. I can’t praise this book enough and I highly recommend it not just to fans of fantasy, but to all readers.
Summary (from NetGalley)
A captivating debut fantasy inspired by the legend of the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e , in which a young woman’s quest to free her mother pits her against the most powerful immortal in the realm and sets her on a dangerous path—where choices come with deadly consequences, and she risks losing more than her heart.
Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the powerful Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother for stealing his elixir of immortality. But when Xingyin’s magic flares and her existence is discovered, she is forced to flee her home, leaving her mother behind.
Alone, untrained, and afraid, she makes her way to the Celestial Kingdom, a land of wonder and secrets. Disguising her identity, she seizes an opportunity to learn alongside the Crown Prince, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the emperor’s son.
To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. When treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, however, she must challenge the ruthless Celestial Emperor for her dream—striking a dangerous bargain in which she is torn between losing all she loves or plunging the realm into chaos.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess begins an enchanting, romantic duology which weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic, of loss and sacrifice—where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.
Find out more about Sue Lynn Tan on her website: https://www.suelynntan.com/