By Nicolle Yeo (23A01D)
Rating: 3/5 stars
Walking past the local bookstore, one might be easily tempted to pick up a copy of “Daughter of the Moon Goddess” just from a quick glimpse of its spectacular cover illustration. Upon flipping through the pages, readers will be transported into a fantastical world which combines ancient Chinese mythology and modern thriller.
This debut novel by Sue Lynn Tan made waves in the Young Adult literature community, even earning a coveted place on Goodreads’ list of “Can’t Wait Books of 2022” before its publication in early January.
But readers should be warned not to judge a book by its cover (literally). While the book does have its merits, it fails to live up to its alluring packaging and stellar reviews.
As the title suggests, “Daughter of the Moon Goddess” takes inspiration from the traditional Chinese myth of Chang’e and Houyi, refashioned from a feminist perspective.
According to legend, there used to be ten suns in the sky, scorching the Earth and causing hardship for the people. Houyi, a skilled archer, shot down nine of out ten suns in the sky, receiving an elixir of immortality in exchange for his heroic deeds. However, his wife, Chang’e, instead consumed the elixir and she ascended from Earth, becoming the eponymous moon goddess.
“Daughter of the Moon Goddess” does a solid job at fleshing out the mythos in its exposition, but the majority of the book focuses on their daughter, Xingyin, and her coming-of-age story, in which she embarks on a noble quest to release her mother from wrongful imprisonment at the hands of the ruthless Celestial Emperor.
Following a daring escape from her life of solitude on the moon, Xingyin is left alone to fend for herself, fleeing to the Celestial Kingdom, a realm of mysticism and marvels. Once there, she gets the rare opportunity to train her magic and archery skills, winning the favour of Crown Prince Liwei.
Prince Liwei is one of Xingyin’s two potential love interests, with the other being the quiet and dignified commander Wenzhi, whom Xingyin works with closely as part of her responsibilities in the kingdom’s military. The three young adults form a complex love triangle, with romantic tensions rising as Xingyin grows closer to both of her possible paramours.
As Xingyin finds her footing in this new and precarious environment, she sets her sights on attaining the prestigious Crimson Lion Talisman, a magical artefact that has the ability to grant her one true wish — freeing her mother from the moon. Along the way, she discovers more and more about this mystical world of forbidden magic and buried secrets, including the truth about her elusive parentage.
Will our daring heroine succeed in her honourable quest? One must read the book to find out!
Apart from the aforementioned stunning cover art, Daughter of the Moon Goddess contains a fairly interesting premise, distinguishing itself from the oversaturation of mythology-based stories in the YA market with an inventive retelling of a beloved Chinese legend.
Its take on Chinese mythology is thorough and well-researched, from the original story of Chang’e to the legend of the 4 Dragon Rivers. Author Sue Lynn Tan’s great attention to detail is further demonstrated by her verbose descriptions, seamlessly weaving fantasy and mythical elements into the vivid setting of Xingyin’s world.
Furthermore, the pacing of the story has been highly praised by professional critics and fans of the series alike. Daughter of the Moon Goddess successfully juggles a smattering of different subplots — and manages to do them justice within the limited constraints of one book!
Unfortunately, there are certain aspects where this book fails to live up to my (admittedly high) expectations.
As the story develops, Tan’s attention to detail quickly becomes a case of purple prose and overwrought descriptions that contribute little to furthering the plot. At its worst, the writing is reminiscent of something you’d find on Wattpad, using gratuitous synonyms like “orbs” to describe eyes.
Furthermore, imagery of lanterns, flowers and other culturally aesthetic things were repeated ad nauseam, while significant moments such as the action and training of the main character were simply glossed over with a timeskip. As a whole, this made the novel feel unbalanced, inconsistent and lacking finesse with regards to its story-building. From a reader’s point of view, the repetitive style speaks of lazy writing and an inability to experiment with different techniques.
At times, it is also hard to root for the main character Xingyin, a “sympathetic” protagonist who supposedly exemplifies heroic traits of courage and honour. This is in part due to the nature of her static and flat personality, which barely develops over the course of her journey.
In addition, the dialogue lacked depth, authenticity and realism. As most of the novel was seen through Xingyin’s inner consciousness, she often came off as whining and childish, with a frustrating habit of over-explaining everything to the audience.
Despite its shortcomings in certain areas, “Daughter of the Moon Goddess” is, overall, a decent read for avid fans of YA Chinese Fantasy or anyone looking for an easily digestible and relaxing read. Not very memorable, but it’s certainly a promising debut from Sue Lynn Tan.