Review | A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn

Reviewer: Christina
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Age Group: YA
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 313 (Hardcover)
Format/Source: Hardcover, Borrowed from library
Find the Book: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating: 5/5 Stars

As the only heir to the throne, Marni should have been surrounded by wealth and privilege, not living in exile – but now the time has come when she must choose between claiming her birthright as princess of a realm whose king wants her dead, and life with the father she has never known: a wild dragon who is sending his magical woods to capture her.

DANG. DANG. DANG.

I mean, okay, I was set up to have all the love for A Creature of Moonlight. How could I not? It’s a recipe for awesome with the following ingredients:

  •  A DRAGON
  • Exiled royalty
  • A magical, whispering, more-than-slightly creepy forest
  • Family problems (*dun dun dun!*)

And that’s just from the Goodreads blurb, which I actually feel is a dreadfully inadequate summary of what the book is about. It’s just the bare bones of this exquisite, rich, emotional YA fantasy. Rather than this blurb, what sealed the deal for me was the comparison titles I saw floating around the internet – I heard the book being likened to Seraphina and Bitterblue and The Girl of Fire and Thorns, three of my absolute favorite books of all time in any genre, period. Which meant, of course, that I immediately thought WHAT IS THIS I MUST HAVE IT and put it on hold at the library.

Then I read the longer blurb from the author’s website:

The girls who escape into the forbidden woods do it for one reason: freedom. But Marni has never heeded the voices that call to her from among the trees, the ones that lured her mother away so many years ago. Marni is the rightful heir to the throne, though she lives in exile, growing flowers for the court. While it isn’t the life of a princess, at least she’s been safe—until now.

Marni is not a little girl anymore. People are starting to notice her, and the voices in the woods have grown too loud to ignore. When the trees themselves begin to move in on the kingdom, Marni knows she must make a choice. She could claim her birthright as princess of a realm whose ruthless king wants her dead. Or she could make a life with the father she has never known: the wild dragon who is sending his magical woods to capture her.

And I basically was like this:

You would undoubtedly have done the same in my place.

Anyhow, the first thing about this book that hit me was the writing. These strings of words were pure, joyful, gripping magic. They drew me straight into another world without a second thought, convincing me that my reality was fiction and this was the beautiful and strange truth. I could practically taste the atmosphere of the woods, could practically hear the siren-song of its call as I read page after wonderful page. Both character and setting descriptions were vivid, almost startling. The voice managed to be poetic and wise and just shy of ancient-sounding while still being thoroughly planted in the body of its sixteen-year-old narrator. Every sentence was an honor to read, and I don’t ever write something like that lightly.

I absolutely adored Marni from the very beginning. She was a paradox that I could fully relate to – the down-to-earth dreamer – but throughout the course of the book, she learned to accept this dichotomy inside herself and use it to better her own life. A Creature of Moonlight essentially centers around some very powerful forces trying to prod Marni this way and that, and she doesn’t let any of it happen. She stands her ground, and this turns the entirety of a book into one lovely, sighing, brilliant victory. This display of Marni’s burgeoning independence and power was not only freaking awesome but also realistic. It didn’t happen too fast, although the grounds for the change were laid from the opening, when I was introduced to Marni and her matter-of-fact thought process. Marni’s earth-shaking choices and the head and heart she uses to make them are some of the main great points of this book. And I also loved that writing and character and plot and setting and conflict all took equal precedence in the making of the story, which, as all of us readers know too well, is a difficult combination to get.

A side note that doesn’t actually have much to do with the story itself: the light use of dialect in this was stunningly great. Marni narrates in first-person present tense, and she speaks like a villager – with imperfect grammar at times, and with fragments and phrases that are believable coming from a lower-class villager’s mouth. It doesn’t feel contrived in the least, which is an incredible achievement in and of itself, and as another plus, it’s easy to read. And unexpectedly, it helps the worldbuilding as well, since the dialect difference between Marni and the nobles at the king’s court immediately displays just how large the gap between social classes is in this kingdom.

The dynamic between Marni and her grandfather was perfectly done and vital to the story. There was a layer of sadness that bled softly into every interaction they shared, and this was very fitting, considering the tragedy that is their family backstory. It’s plain from every thought Marni has about her Gramps that he’s extremely important to her, and this both helps endear her to the reader and anchor her runaway emotions.

(Or, you know, I could just confess that I adored Marni’s Gramps. Ack.)

And there’s a ship! Gosh, is there a ship. (Yup, there’s something for everyone!) I won’t divulge much for fear of accidentally spoiling something, but there’s a guy in this story for Marni and he is oh so swoon-inducing, everyone. Actually, it’ll be pretty obvious once one has read about a third of the book who this guy is, but since no synopses mention him, I’ll stay mostly silent about his identity. But I can say this: he’s tall, dark, handsome, powerful, arrogant, and flawed. (Yeah, okay, that turned into a lot of descriptors.) He makes you want to punch him sometimes. He makes Marni herself want to punch him sometimes. But all these imperfections ultimately brought him closer to my heart, and I’m pretty sure that every reader will find something to love in him.

Though the use of names in A Creature of Moonlight is minimal, the rest of the supporting characters are fleshed out as much as those of any other fantasy book. In fact, there are only around five (I think) named characters in the whole novel. Even the kingdom and major geographical landmarks aren’t given names. In terms of supporting characters, I’m thinking in particular of the queen and the lady from the woods. They’re both layered, and they both have their own aura of magnetism floating about them.

The constant threat of the woods was lingering and unique, just like the rest of the book. In fact, they seemed almost like the defining characteristic of the book, which is partly why I loved it so much. I’m still in awe at how the setting turned into a character almost instantly, lingering constantly at the edge of every page, in the very air the other characters breathed. They left a truly lasting impression on me, and I’m sure that I’ll think of these woods as a guide every time I’m trying to craft a unique setting in the future.

The issues in Marni’s past were handled deftly and delicately, especially her relationship with her dragon father and his misguided form of “love” for her late mother. The quiet, impactful emotional nuances in this backstory were ineffably sorrowful and therefore very difficult to express thoughts on, but basically my feels broke. (I mean, that’s all anyone needs to know, right?)

On the whole, A Creature of Moonlight was my cup of tea to start with, and it lived up to every bit of its potential. In a word, it was wistful. But it was also so much more than that, and for that “much more”, you should read it. READ. IT. I’ll be on the lookout for many more books from Rebecca Hahn, and if you fantasy fans (or fans of GREAT BOOKS in general) know what’s good for you, you will be too.

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