Sue Lynn Tan’s debut novel, Daughter of the Moon Goddess is an absolutely stunning work. Everything about it is great. While based on the Chinese legend of Chang’e, Tan has masterfully integrated her own characters and story into the preexisting narrative. Her characters are compelling and multilayered. The settings are vivid and vibrant. It seems like there is nothing Tan missed when writing this novel.
The flawless execution of the story is exactly what makes Daughter of the Moon Goddess stand out so much. It provides a solid fantasy story, a glimpse into Chinese mythology and culture, and importantly, a strong young woman as the protagonist. Daughter of the Moon Goddess is a story of epic proportions and should definitely be on your list if it isn’t yet.
This story starts on the moon, where the main character, Xingyin, lives together with her exiled mother and their companion. Life on the moon is solitary, but Xingyin is satisfied. Yet, the solitude of the moon is by design and when her magic flares, Xingyin is forced to flee from the potential wrath of the Celestial Emperor, leaving her mother and companion behind.
Alone for the first time in her life, Xingyin finds herself in the Celestial Kingdom – the most dangerous place she could be. Yet, she works hard to hide her identity, promising herself that she will return to her mother and free her from exile.
Through cunning and hard work, Xingyin wins the chance to study alongside the emperor’s son and passion blossoms between them. Yet the prince has obligations and Xingyin has her promise. This leads her on a perilous journey fighting monsters and the most dangerous magic in the kingdom. To get what she needs, Xingyin must find the perfect balance – or risk losing everything she has ever treasured.
A major part of what makes this story so compelling is Xingyin herself. Even now, strong women in fantasy novels are hard to come by – with the strongest being affected by the worst of troupes. Yet with Xingyin, Sue Lynn Tan manages to avoid most of that. From the start, Xingyin is headstrong and thinks for herself. Nor does she rely on others simply for the sake of doing so.
While the passion between her and the crown prince does help her grow, it doesn’t take away from her character. Even without a budding romance, it is obvious that Xingyin would still be able to stand on her own two feet. It makes the story refreshing and a real joy to read – especially as a woman.
The story portrayed in Daughter of the Moon Goddess is also refreshingly authentic. There is often an assumption by Western readers of how a fantasy novel is going to play out. Many take place settings obviously based on ancient Europe. Obviously, Daughter of the Moon Goddess doesn’t do this. Yet even though Tan has chosen a setting that readers may be less familiar with, there is no hesitation to be found in the writing.
Tan doesn’t hold your hand in this book. You are expected as the reader to be able to use your own deductive reasoning to figure this things. Chinese cultural elements are throughout with little to no explanation. These elements are just naturally there. This is as it should be – it’s a Chinese mythology-based novel after all.
Frankly, we need more books like this. Tan has created a book that appeals to both traditional fantasy readers and anyone interested in the stories of ancient China. Her characters are all entertaining and passionate. It’s a compelling story with a specific goal – a goal which is perfectly met. This is definitely a book that shouldn’t be missed and one that will stick with you for a long time after you’ve read it. It is truly a masterpiece.