he attractive cover of Daughter of the Moon Goddess caught my eye when I was browsing the New In Paperback shelf at our library.
I recalled that I had seen a positive review for the book at Bookpage (though,
come to think of it, all BookPage reviews are positive), so I checked it out. What a delight this book turned out to be. Each night, I always found myself wanting to read at least more
chapter (40 chapters in the trade paperback of 514 pgs) before setting the book down and going to sleep. And despite having a multitude of other books stacked up on the nightstand,
Daughter of the Moon Goddess was always the one that I picked up the next evening. Hard to believe a book that is this good is a debut novel.
Xingyin is the daughter of Chang'e, the goddess of the Moon. But the moon is actually a prison; Chang'e has been punished by the wrathful
Celestial Emperor. Once there were ten sunbirds who flew through the sky, but ten were too many - they scorched the Earth, and all of humanity suffered from the heat. A mighty mortal archer,
Houyi, shot nine of the sunbirds - and now there is just one sun that circles the sky. As a reward for his deed, the Celestial Emperor had given Houyi an elixir of immortality. But Chang'e,
the pregnant wife of Houyi, was suffering from complications that threatened to kill her and her unborn daughter. So Houyi took the elixir for herself, saving their lives. But Emperor
felt insulted, and so banished the now-immortal Chang'e to the moon (not knowing that she was pregnant.) Xingyin was born in the moon palace, but no one else knows of her existence except
Ping'er, the elderly woman who is the sole aide who is allowed to attend Chang'e.
Xingyin grows up with Chang'e and Ping'er, not knowing how isolated her secret existence is. Chang'e has urged her to never use her magic life-force (in addition to
immortality, the inhabitants who reside above the mortal world are also magic users), but one day, she can't resist experimenting with her wonderous magic force. Soon after, the Celestial Empresses pays a
visit to the moon - strange ripples were detected in the magic emanating from the moon. Although Xingyin is hidden, she overhears the conversation between her mother and the cruel Empresses, and the accusations of the unctuous Minister Wu. It becomes apparent
that Xingyin must flee from the moon and escape the Immortal soldiers.
Ping'er and Xingyin fly off on cloud, but things do not go as planned, and Xingyin finds herself stranded and alone in the Celestial Kingdom. As fate would have it,
a noble family is in need of another attendant for Lady Meiling. But Lady Meiling is a cruel mistress, and the other attendants are equally nasty. One day, Xingyin finds herself crying in the garden,
longing to return to her mother on the moon. A young man notices her tears and asks her why she weeps. Xingyin and the young man have a pleasant conversation, but they are interrupted by Lady Meiling.
Lady Meiling abruptly falls to her knees - the young man is none other than Prince Liwei, the heir to the Celestial Throne!
Xingyin finds herself in the Celestial Palace, designated a companion to the Prince. She is educated, trained at arms (Xingyin proves to be marvelous with the bow), and instructed in the use magic. Xingyin blossoms, as
does her friendship with Liwei. Everyone else treats the Prince as a revered figure, but between the Liwei and Xingyin a relationship blooms between equals. But despite her trust and love for Liwei,
Xingyin can never reveal that her purpose is to accomplish a deed so great that she is awarded the Crimson Lion Talisman, because whomever is gifted that marvelous reward can ask the Emperor for
any favor, and it will be granted. Xingyin, of course, intends to ask for the freedom of her mother from the Moon prison. And so Xingyin begins a series of quests, each more dangerous than the last, for the Celestial
Empire, serving the very people who imprisoned her mother in the first place.
Although the cover of the book says that this is Book 1 in the Celestial Kingdom Duology, it tells a complete story with a dramatic conclusion. There is no cliff-hanger
ending. Indeed, it seems that Xingyin would have little to accomplish in the second book, Heart of the Sun Warrior so perhaps it focuses on a different character. I will certainly pick up
the second book when I see on the library shelves.
*** Warning - Spoilers below ***
One thing that bothered me was - who lit the lamps of the moon before Chang'e was imprisoned there? There must have been a Moon god or goddess before Chang'e was sentenced there.
It also bothered me that Prince Liwei is able to go off on his own so frequently, without being followed by retainers, guards and ministers. He is the sole heir to the throne, it seems
incredibly that Liwei would be allowed to take the risks that he does.