I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Moon Dark Smile by Tessa Gratton
Series: Night Shine #2
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on August 30, 2022
Genres: YA Fantasy
Source: the publisher
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The fate of an Empire lies with a headstrong Heir and a restless demon in this lush YA fantasy for fans of Laini Taylor and Girl, Serpent, Thorn.
Ever since she was a girl, Raliel Dark-Smile’s best friend has been the great demon that lives in the palace. As the daughter of the Emperor, Raliel appears cold and distant to those around her, but what no one understands is that she and the great demon, Moon, have a close and unbreakable bond and are together at all times. Moon is bound to the Emperor and his two consorts, Raliel’s parents, and when Raliel comes of age, she will be bound to Moon as well, constrained to live in the Palace for the rest of her days.
Raliel is desperate to see the Empire Between Five Mountains, and she feels a deep kinship with Moon, who longs to break free of its bonds. When the time finally arrives for Raliel’s coming of age journey, she discovers a dangerous way to take Moon with her, even as she hides this truth from her travel companion, the beautiful, demon-kissed bodyguard Osian Redpop. But Osian is hiding secrets of his own, and when a plot surfaces that threatens the Empire, Raliel will have to decide who she can trust and what she’ll sacrifice for the power to protect all that she loves.
I am a big fan of Tessa Gratton ever since I met her at a Maggie Stiefvater autograph event. She is also sort of local, living in the state right next to mine. For the most part I prefer her YA, although I did read most of her adult fantasy book. The publisher reached out to me about this one, and I wasn’t sure at first since I hadn’t read the first book. In fact I don’t even remember hearing about the first one in this series! But they told me this was a standalone/companion to that book. So I went ahead and gave it a try. While it still was a little too high fantasy for my personal tastes, it did still have a storyline and characters that kept me going because I wanted to know what would happen and how they were all connected.
It started out slow for me. So much of the in-depth descriptions of people and places and things that high fantasy is known for, and that some people love, but that slows my reading waaaaay down. What was going on was intriguing enough that I had to keep going though. About a quarter of the way through we finally got to see what were the two characters that had seemed to be the main characters finally interact. And then they went on a journey. Again, something high fantasy is well known for. There were also certain details given or left out that left me confused about certain characters or things or plot points or events. For the most part as the story continued they were answered. So it was a way that any other type of good story would do that, to keep you going with breadcrumbs to follow to the rewarding ending. All of the travels and wants and needs were pretty much solved by the end, even if maybe not in the way expected.
This book had a lot of great LGBTQ representation, specifically more of the gender fluid type of person. There was a really great reference/example/parable that I think related to the whole concept of dead-naming that we are struggling with these days. While usually this type of story or character might tend to be in a more contemporary/realistic setting for YA, I feel like the way Gratton did this was fantasy was creative and really just perfect. I don’t know if I’ll go back and try to read the first companion book in this series, or if I’d read any new ones, but I do know exactly who I can recommend this to, and will keep it in my arsenal of book recs for future students and others.