Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
Student Wen Yu is studying for the Emperor’s exams when a note is slipped under his door asking him to return the song thrush given into his care while the owner was sick. The only problem is that Wen Yu was never given a song thrush. Although Wen Yu tries to put the mystery of the note aside to continue studying for his exams, he is unprepared when a second note arrives containing the same message.
Perplexed and intrigued, Wen Yu finds studying impossible and starts to look for the mysterious Liu Yi, the author of the note. The trail of clues leads Wen Yu to the emperor’s castle and the beautiful imperial eunich Liu Yi. Liu Yi is suffering from a mysterious ailment and believes that the ancient poems in his possession will contain information that will end his affliction. But the poems are in an unknown language. To get that information Liu Yi hopes that Wen Yu can translate the manuscript for him. Soon Wen Yu finds himself obsessed by the collection of mysterious moon poems and his need to help Liu Yi. The more time he spends with the beautiful Liu Yi and the poems the less time he has for studying, forcing Wen Yu to question what matters most in his life, obligation or love?
From title to storyline, Song of the Spring Moon Waning has all the lightness and delicacy of a Chinese brush painting set to words. I am hard pressed to express just how easily the reader slips into this mesmerizing world, one that is ancient in feel and lyrical in tone. Like most traditional Chinese poetry, Ottoman’s story deals in vivid expressions and juxtaposition of nature and the world around them. The author captures the grim realities of a student studying for the Emperor’s exam, hoping for a better life for himself and his family versus the splendor of the imperial palace and those that reside there. The mundane, realistic lives of the merchants and city dwellers is contrasted with the magic of talking turtles and song thrushes with messages to impart to those in need as well as those who are needed. Even the language of the story seems to flow with the rhythm and images found within ancient Chinese poems themselves. And what may seem to be simple and straightforward is actually quite complex in design and message. From characters to plot, Ottoman’s story has so many layers to it, and yet it never feels heavy or unwieldy.
With each new twist of plot or vivid description, the author infuses the tale with such enchantment and age that it acquires a feeling of timeless storytelling. You can almost hear the parchment rustle or the faint whisper of an ink brush across the silk of the painting as the tale unfolds on the pages before you. The love poems between a dragon and a jade rabbit act as an impetus for a mortal love between student and imperial eunich. But that mortal love may also hold a much longed for solution to the immortal lovers separation, thereby completing a cycle of romance and love. Additionally, there are secrets that lie just below the surface for those involved in this timeless pattern, no matter if that facade is unworldly or earthly. One more intriguing aspect to this surprising story.
So much about Song of the Spring Moon Waning resonated with me, including that amazing cover. Having always loved ancient China, from its history to its artwork, the manner in which Ottoman drew on and then seamlessly folded into the story elements gathered from Chinese lore and culture made me further appreciate this author’s creativity and style. This goes for components that might have inspired as well as those Ottoman imaginatively created. The Chinese Moon Goddess and the rabbit, the dragons and the pearls, all are recognizably Chinese elements that people might be familiar with. Taoist shamans of ancient China, the Wu, were said to communicate with animals, so the inclusion of the talking animals of the story, the turtle and the birds, felt both inspired by ancient lore while feeling imaginatively fresh. And I could picture the Dragon of the Jade Mountain conversing with the Jade Rabbit, Great Physician of the Moon Palace, just by looking at a picture of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, so important to artists and Taoists alike. Even the rhythm of ancient Chinese poets is hinted at by the flowing narrative with its delicate touch and references to early Chinese culture, whether it be clothes or food offerings.
Then at its heart is the love that springs forth between Wen Yu and Liu Yi. At first glance it appears to be a gentle love story, but appearances are deceiving. Just under the surface lies a relationship of complexities and secrets where nothing and no one is as they seem. The one person who seems so straightforward in background turns out to be the one with the most to hide and perhaps lose. And Liu Yi who has already lost so much when his parents sold him to the palace as a eunuch, also appears to be a character that has it all, at least in material terms. What a complex character. He is the one who has not only come to terms with his past and physically altered condition but Liu Yi is also the one who has gained the most materially but is not afraid to lose it all. What is the truth of gender? Is it physical or what lies inside? And does love comes with requirements or boundaries? Is the love between a dragon and jade rabbit any less than that of mortals? This aspect of the story may be the most amazing of them all.
Only the end of the story felt less complete as quite a few main plot threads were left unresolved. Just as the characters set out on a quest the story ends. I found this abrupt ending startling considering the thoroughness and attention to detail Ottoman brought to the book as a whole. But upon contacting the author, I found out that Song of the Spring Moon Waning is the first in a series, so the unresolved plot points made sense as they lead into the sequel, one I can’t wait to read. Do I wish it had continued past that point? Absolutely, but I am not sure that I would have been happy at any break in this throughly addicting story. It’s just that good.
Song of the Spring Moon Waning has so much to offer. It’s enchanting, the love stories haunting, and the plot both imaginative and layered. Ottoman has delivered a story that surprised me with its twists while captivating me with its atmosphere and lyrical narrative. Consider this story one of ScatteredThoughts Best Novels of 2014.
Cover artist Aisha Akeju has done an amazing job. This cover is gorgeous and perfect for the story within. Again, one of ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords Best Covers of 2014.