In my household, there are two major Chinese celebrations held each year. The first is, of course, Chinese New Year—a time when “gong xi fa cai” can be heard, along with the undeniable “penge tikoy”. The second (and my personal favorite of the two) is the Mid-Autumn Festival. It’s held in September and is often called the Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival. Aside from celebrating by eating mooncakes and playing the dice game with family, I remember being enamored by this particular festival because of the myth surrounding it. My grandparents told me that there was a beautiful maiden who lived on the moon who could sometimes be spotted at this time of the year. I remember always sitting by the window on car rides home, staring at the moon to try and get a glimpse of her.
While I never did manage to catch the elusive moon lady, I was quite excited to see her story come to life in Daughter of the Moon Goddess. This debut fantasy novel of Sue Lynn Tan leans heavily on Chinese myths, expanding them and creating an entire realm where all sorts of magical beasts and beings collide and collude with one another.
We are introduced to this new world through the eyes of the main character, Xingyin, whom the book is named after. She and her mother Chang’e have lived peacefully on the moon for years, unable to leave but happy in the quiet solitude together. What Xingyin doesn’t realize, however, is that her mother was sentenced to a lifetime of imprisonment on the moon, and that her own existence as Chang’e’s daughter is being kept a secret from the entire realm. As she grows older, she learns more of her past and her magic begins to grow stronger, putting her at risk of being discovered. She is forced to flee the solace of her home and thus begins her journey in the Celestial Kingdom.
A world away
Xingyin’s story takes place on the Immortal Realm, where things flow differently from that of the mortal one we inhabit. Despite my initial excitement, I did find this new world difficult to fully grasp at first. I had many questions about how life spans worked (an immortal can still die), how the different courts and nations existed in relation to each other (there was one ruling kingdom, but others that opposed it), and how the immortals wielded their magic (element-focused like Avatar but fueled by energy like chakra in Naruto). There was a lot to take in and get used to, and I felt that I only really understood how things operated when I was about a hundred pages into the book.
While it did seem to have a slow start for me, I did feel myself getting pulled into the story more by the second act. Sue Lynn Tan spins in tropes and characters that are familiar to us—the jealous and spiteful empress, the gentle and protective best friend-turned-maybe-lover, the tall, dark, and handsome second male lead, and the strong and skilled female main character who learns how to fight. While I believe that not everyone would find such cliches particularly interesting, I also found these helped ground the book and its overarching story better into the myths they are based on. It tries to stay somewhat faithful to these legends, which makes it understandable that these familiar relationships, characters, and storylines exist.
Swords and high stakes
—Arguably there are more bows and arrows in this novel, but anyway, that’s not the point here. In order to survive and find her way back to her mother, Xingyin learns how to wield her magic and fend for herself. She becomes a recognized fighter and archer, using her skills to try to win back the freedom of her family. The battle scenes in the book are written with such vivid and clear strokes and were the parts in the book for me that were most exciting. The enemies Xingyin needed to fight were never simply struck down by an all-powerful magical strike, but ones that she felt real terror in facing and was left rather bloodied by. Her enemies were sizeable, and the stakes were always high in each battle.
Aside from this, I personally found myself turning the pages because of the overall plot. I was invested in the choices Xingyin would make and where she would end up going (and who she’d end up with). There were portions in the book where I felt like I knew what was going to happen, only to be proven wrong in a surprising and welcome way. Reading the book felt a lot like watching a fantasy action-adventure drama/anime that was packed with beasts to slay, rebellions to quell, and romantic advances to swoon over.
For those interested in training montages, the classic friends-to-lovers trope, and a story packed with drama, tea, and dragons, you might want to give this book a shot. Once you’re able to settle into it, you’re served a novel dense with action and magic—so much that you almost wouldn’t believe that this was only part one of a two-book series.
Jody is discovering everyday the greatest bits about reading and learning that fuel our thinking. When she’s not drowning in readings for class, she drowns herself in music, books, and the wonders of the Internet. You can find her on Instagram @ohfishness.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]