I have a friend, I can’t remember if I mentioned her before, and every time I go to see her, she loads me down with books. Which, in truth, is absolutely amazing. She reads a lot of the same stuff as I do, but she reads much, MUCH more. I trust her recommendations absolutely, but to be completely honest, when this book landed in the pile I cringed. I tried reading P.C.Cast’s other teen series, House of Night, and by the end of the first book I was very twitchy. The main character was superficial and shallow, and there was way too much sex in it for a teen book (oral sex, the protagonist seducing a teacher, I mean REALLY?!). So, when this book came up, my initial reaction was “I’d rather cut out my eyes with spoons”, but my friend insisted and …
I’m super glad for it.
This book was nothing like I expected. At all.
Through reading the whole book I think it is a post-apocalyptic story, but, not in the horror and destruction way. The societies basically returned to the earth and its magic, and learned how to survive without modern technology. Weapons are what can be made by hand, like bows and knives, and medicine is based on farmed herbs and things that grow naturally in the earth.
Keeping that in mind, the story starts with Mari, our protagonist. She is part of a society that worships the earth in the form of an Earth Mother. They are the people of the moon and use the energy to heal, by a process known as ‘drawing down the moon’. Their society is very Native-meets-Wiccan. The people are smaller in stature, with darker skin and brown to black hair; their clothing is natural material, their food mostly vegetables, and they live in caves and ‘burrows’. Their healer woman, the Moon Woman, is the one in direct contact with the Earth Mother and is the one everyone turns to for their “washing”. At first I thought “werewolves” when they mentioned a moon madness and having to wash the madness from them every three days. But it wasn’t that, men become aggressive, to the point of killing and raping their own women. The women become depressed, and left unhealed they lose the will to live and eventually commit suicide. It was an interesting take, because werewolf mythology is based on mental breaks due to the cycles of the moon (hence LUNAtics), and it’s interesting that men become aggressive and women become depressed (a lot of future-based books seem to leave out mental issues, so this was really intriguing to me). Because of these issues brought on by the moon, men and women are forced to live separately, and the Moon Women have to hide their burrows from everyone in their clan (and clans are separated by crafting abilities or jobs. Mari is of the weaver clan). Even when the men are washed of their insanity, women still fear them. They are a matriarchal society that lives in fear of their men, even though after being washed they are as kind as the women, but there is always the lingering ‘what if’. That issue of their society strikes a chord, especially with the Women’s Marches lately.
P.C.Cast has her familiar tropes, like the mean girl and the Child-like teenager, but her protagonist was very different. Mari, the daughter of her clan’s Moon Woman, is actually not completely Earth Walker, her mother fell in love with a man from another society (who was killed by his people because of it). The other society is know as Companions (because they are companions with dogs), and they enslave the Earth Walkers. They misunderstand their ‘moon sickness’, thinking the ‘scratchers’, as they call them, are child-like and incompetent. Therefor the Earth Walkers NEED the Companions to capture them and look after them.Companions also have a health issue, common only to them, where a simple scratch could lead to a painful death. In the end, they need the Earth Walkers as much as they think the Earth Walkers need them to tend their farms and the plants they worship knows as the Mother Plant.
To keep Mari safe, because she has many visual traits of the Companions (fair skin and hair), her mother paints her skin with clay and dyes her hair with a mixture of clay and natural pigments. When a Companions skin is hit by sunlight, filigree and ferns appear on their skin; and Mari has that problem, so to keep her hidden away her Mother has made the clan believe Mari was a sickly child, and her health had never improved. This has also created a resentment in Mari for both the Earth Walkers and the Companions. She is both, yet neither will accept her.
She is nothing like the House of Night protagonist, which I was expecting her to be. It was actually a huge relief. Because she has to look more like the Earth Walkers, her concern over her looks is safety for her and her mother (who would be banished or killed if the Clan found out), and not just looking hot for the boys. Mari has few friends, and doesn’t care about making more. Her world is just her and her mother, and she would go to the ends of the earth to make sure her mother is safe and happy. In her own quiet way she does care about the Earth Walkers, and when her own magic blooms, she does do what she can to help them. She is smart and witty, and lets nothing stop her from doing what she believes is right.
Through the story, there is actual character development, Mari grows as a person and learns to make her little world a bit bigger. The mean girl character, Sora, who is apprenticing under Mari’s mother to be the next Moon Woman, learns to do things for herself, instead of expecting her looks to get her further in life. She starts to take her Moon Woman heritage seriously and lets nothing stop her from her goal to become a Moon Woman and save the Clan. Mari’s world is turned on it’s side when a dog appears at the front door of their burrow and bonds with her Companion heritage. She is thrust together with Sora and the two have to learn how to get along, for their safety and for the safety of their Clan. Even when Mari emotionally shuts down and wants the world to just go away, the mean girl is the one that grows up instantly and draws Mari back to herself and talks her into saving the Clan. I was very impressed.
To be honest, the thing that impressed me the most was there was no ‘love at first sight’. Mari has absolutely no interest in boys, her world just consists of her and her mother. Even when a boy is in the picture, looking after her people is still more important. I know that seems like an odd thing to be impressed about, but I’ve read a lot of teen books and the ones aimed at girls seem to revolve around her crush on a boy. So this book impressed me because is showed the world is so much bigger than a crush, and one person CAN make a difference in the world. Even if they have no idea what they’re doing, and their world seems to be crashing down around them, strength and perseverance will get you through the rough patches.
All in all, I really liked this book, and actually felt sad when I finished it. It ended on a huge cliff and introduced an interesting fourth society that I would really like to learn more about! So, I can actually say I am waiting with baited breath for the next P.C.Cast book.