Daughter of the Moon Goddess (Celestial Kingdoms #1) by Sue Lynn Tan
Published by Harper Voyager UK
Young Adult, Fantasy
Release Date : January 11th 2022 (US), January 20th 2022 (UK)
Growing up on the moon, Xingyin is accustomed to solitude, unaware that she is being hidden from the feared 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, powerless, 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 emperor’s son, mastering archery and magic, even as passion flames between her and the prince.
To save her mother, Xingyin embarks on a perilous quest, confronting legendary creatures and vicious enemies across the earth and skies. But when treachery looms and forbidden magic threatens the kingdom, 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—where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.
I would chart my own path to blaze across the sky.
ARC provided by the publisher Harper Voyager UK through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess is an extraordinary first book and most anticipated 2022 debut by Sue Lynn Tan that is ready to captivate readers with a high fantasy epic romance filled with magic, legendary weapons, and heavenly politics.
Starting my quest of reading as many Advance Readers Copy (ARC) as I can this November I picked Daughter of the Moon Goddess as my first book. I recently acquired the ARC with high hopes of a Chinese inspired fantasy about Chang’e, the moon goddess, a beloved legend in Chinese mythology that is the basis of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Coming from the Chinese diaspora in Indonesia I celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival with my family every year. Growing up I didn’t know about Chang’e’s story until I saw the cartoon Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat. From what I’ve learned there are many variations to Chang’e’s legend but the core of it all is Chang’e being separated from her human husband to live on the moon and that she can only reunite with him during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Reading the title Daughter of the Moon Goddess it is to say this is not Chang’e’s story but it’s the story about Chang’e daughter, a nice refreshing twist in the legend.
Before I dive deeper into my review let’s gush about the covers of this book both UK and US version that has been circulating around the internet. The UK cover (as you can see above) it is done by Jason Chuang, this cover is incredibly stunning and intricate. I love the flowers framing the moon and the color palette. While the US cover is done by Kuri Huang and art director Jeanne Reina. The US cover is a contrast to the UK as it uses deeper sharper colors with the center illustration of Xingyi holding a bow looking up to the moon. Both covers are equally as beautiful and I am still debating which version I would want to purchase. If you have any suggestions which one I should get, please leave a comment below.
I would be beholden to no one. My path forward was clear, I had no reason to delay.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess is the first book to The Celestial Kingdom duology by debut author Sur Lynn Tan. In this fantastical duology the story is set in the Celestial Kingdom, where immortals live above the clouds in the heavens above to cultivate power and magic serving the Emperor and Empress of the kingdom. Imprisoned away from the kingdom on the moon Chang’er, the goddess of the moon, lives a reclusive life away from other immortals as punishment for defying the Emperor by drinking the elixir of immortality to save her unborn daughter. The emperor doesn’t know that Chang’er is with child and she has been keeping her child a secret for years. On the moon she is not alone she lives with daughter, Xingyi, and loyal servant, Ping’er. Xingyi has grown up on the moon only knowing what her mother and her servant taught her. One day Xingyi made a mistake that resulted in a rare occurrence that threatens the peaceful life she’s been living. Xingyi is then forced to runaway and live away from her mother to avoid punishment from the kingdom. Unable to return home Xingyi is determined to find a way to free her mother and herself.
Sue Lynn Tan’s writing is exquisite and beautiful as Tan describes the world with intricate detail. The world building is imaginative and expansive that slowly expands with the progress of story. Readers are treated to lush and vivid imagery of the setting’s epic scale. The world is closely reminiscent of the Chinese dramas (Wuxia and Xianxia) I watched of immortal worlds above the clouds, magic that is cultivated based on elements, magical creatures, immortals flying on clouds, and many more. Even the magic system is similar to what readers can find in a typical wuxia or xianxia drama (chi blasts, legendary magical weapons, cinematic battles, and many more) but I would like to point out that it is much more elemental based and avatar-esque in my opinion. There is also checks and balances in the magic system that functions as a power gauge for magic users that can fire back from burning too much power which I find interesting.
I was more than this ill-fated love; I would not let it define me.
Being a story set in a kingdom there is a lot of court drama and political intrigue that will keep you on your toes. The brutality of the world and vague cryptic messages that underlies the events of the story is a pleasing reminder of how heavy the East Asian (Chinese, Taiwanese) drama inspiration is. It is truly a wonderous and fantastical world that Tan has created, it is refreshing and sets Daughter of the Moon Goddess apart from other fantasy stories that are mostly Western centered. It is an example of a Chinese inspired high fantasy that I’ve found in Chinese web novels, manhua, and donghua; so seeing more and more of this sub-genre of East Asian fantasy being released in the west as books is amazing. These elements are heavily rooted in the world, I’d say if I made a checklist of all the general aspects of a wuxia or xianxia drama I can confirm they are all present in this story.
Tan is a master of their craft in writing a fast paced and gripping story. The themes about loneliness, sacrifice, duty, and honor is wonderfully weaved into the story. Though I praise Tan for their writing style that is lyrical and crisp there are certain gripes I have about the way the story flowed. This book is around over 500 pages in length something that I rarely see done in all the young adult books I’ve read, especially for a debut. It is truly impressive. When I read it I expected the story to be a slow build knowing the length but on the contrary it is quite mixed. The pacing seems to simmer then explodes with a resolution quickly moving on to the next arc without missing a beat. This book, for lack of a better word, is PACKED and it is something I commonly find in Chinese web novels. Not saying it’s a bad thing for having a packed outline because it all comes down to execution and pacing management in my opinion. Honestly, the first half of this book is magnificent, entertaining, and whimsical. I was immersed fully into the story in less than five pages—that is how gripping Daughter of the Moon Goddess is. Sadly, it might be too packed for me specifically, because of the fluctuating pacing and the formulaic arcs that got repetitive the more I read which made the story lose it’s grip on me and it’s fairytale like charm. This is all subjective to me personally though, I can see other friends that would enjoy this book regardless of pacing as it is still a well written and enjoyable book with high quality story telling.
Yet logic was merciless and reason relentless, unsparing of my wounded heart.
For characters there are a staggering amounts of it in Daughter of the Moon Goddess. In this review I would like to focus on the characters that left a big impression on me, they are : Xingyin, the protagonist and daughter of Chang’er; Liwei, the crown prince of the Celestial Kingdom and best friend turned love interest to Xingyin; and lastly, Wenzhi, an up-and-coming decorated young captain who serves in the military of Celestial Kingdom. Xingyi is a driven and strong main character that isn’t afraid to scrape from the bottom to ascend to be someone well known. She prioritizes family over everything and is willing to do whatever it takes for them, as it is a reverberating theme throughout the story. Xingyi is a strong character with unbending will that puts in the work to gain a lot of experience to get to the level she is now. She carved out a place for herself without betraying her morals and by following her heart to do the right thing.
Continuing on to the two main love interests of the story Liwei and Wenzhi. Starting with Liwei, his presence in the first half of the story is monumental to Xingyi’s arc as he is the gateway that gave her the chance to shine. He is a character that continuously shows support towards Xingyi, helping her and coming to her aid at crucial times. Their chemistry and banter is cute. Readers will know from the get-go that Liwei is Xingyi’s other half and equal. He is the good hearted prince that is compassionate and kind, in short soft good boy. Compared to the other characters in the book Liwei got me rooting for him and every time he comes on to the page I get excited. Contrast to Liwei comes Wenzhi, a young captain in the army that is known for his smoldering looks and cold demeanor. Slightly ruthless, strict, yet soft behind closed doors. Wenzhi is the bad boy that knows how to do his job, dependable, and quite frankly a fictional bias wrecker. They are all well fleshed out and believable in their growth. Each of them have their own defining character arc that is filled with emotion and depth. Though there are certain things that hindered me from fully investing into the characters.
Perhaps it was a bond which could never be severed, rooted in our friendship before our ill-fated love.
In the previous paragraph I have explained that this book is packed so Xingyin’s journey from start to end is colorful and covered a lot of arcs. As a reader I covet character development and growth, certainly all of the characters are given a lot of chances to develop her character and relationships. This is where it gets tricky for me, I praise Tan for fitting in a lot of arcs in Xingyin’s journey towards achieving her goal. But all these events need to be effective and pivotal to leave an impact in the character development. Sadly, out of the many arcs there are probably a couple of events that actually left an effect on the characters and the story overall in my opinion. In hindsight, yes, the characters did develop but their characterization didn’t improve nor hit as hard as I expected.
During the start of the story it is clear that the characters have potential to grow exponentially which excited me. After the first half concluded I was curious about how Tan will shape the characters and decide their trajectory. When it reached the middle leading to the ending their characterization seemed stagnant and one noted. By stagnant I meant that they all do have dimensions but they are all the same. It is surprising for me personally that it didn’t deliver the same effect as the first half did, even with how Tan expertly wrapped the ending. The characters lack versatility and variety to me in scenes that isn’t romance related. I want to praise Tan’s skill in creating an entangled messy romance between the characters that is full of yearning, mutual pining, and jealousy. Readers will be properly entertained by the romance I can guarantee. Though I would like to point out based on personal preference and age there is so much petty jealousy that high school me would certainly go crazy over.
No matter how our paths diverged, our bonds remained intact.
Final thoughts, Daughter of the Moon Goddess is a solid fantastical young adult debut that is the perfect introduction to an East Asian (Chinese, Taiwanese) high fantasy story with vivid world building, amazing characters, gripping plot, and a refreshing story that is full of potential. Sue Lynn Tan is a new literary voice that is skillful in her craft proven through this wonderful debut novel. I finished this book this month and I’m already excited to see how this duology will conclude. For readers that love fantasy with epic world building and a sweeping romantic roller coaster full of yearning, and for readers that love to read a Chinese inspired world, I urge to pick this book up because I thoroughly enjoyed myself seeing the many references Tan included. Even with all the bumps I’ve conveyed in this review I still highly recommend it to everyone as I still see Daughter of the Moon Goddess as a strong contender amongst 2022 debuts. Mark you calendars friends January 11th 2022 is very close! Pre-order now and secure your copy!
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.