“You don’t cut a flower half through then wait and watch as it slowly shrivels to death. And you don’t stop a story before you reach the end.”

There are many stories about the woods. About the mysteries surrounding its trees and its magical inhabitants. There are stories about a dragon. And about all the girls who have been called by the woods and how all except one, disappeared without a trace.

The woods are alive and sometimes they cross the border into its neighboring Kingdom, often retreating after a while. But not this summer. For months the villagers have been talking about the woods, about how the trees have been moving in on the Kingdom, how the crops have been disappearing slowly but surely. But the trees do not go away this year. And panic, fear and mistrust are spreading like wildfire. The King must do something about it.

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Marni is a flower girl who lives in the outskirts of the Kingdom with no one but her beloved Gramps for company. Their humble house sits by the woods and she can hear its tempting call. When she was small, she would venture into the woods often—but never going too far or for too long. The temptation is getting worse now, but Marni doesn’t really dream about disappearing into the woods.

Instead, she dreams about her dead mother. And about righting wrongs and about revenge. If she didn’t have her Gramps to worry about, she would go after the king and kill him. Her past is filled tragedy and sadness; her future is unknown.

Because Marni is the daughter of the dragon. But she is also the niece of the King and his only heir. She thinks about all of the “what ifs” and she wonders about her dual heritage and her rightful place in the world.

Rebecca Hahn's A Creature of Moonlight is an impressive debut novel. What’s most impressive about it, beyond the confidence of the writing—which is lovely and poetic, meandering and descriptive without ever getting lost or descending into ridiculous purple prose—is Marni’s voice and her narrative arc. Her voice comes through with her strong sense of purpose that shines through her quietness. It’s also an idiomatic narration stemming from her down-to-earth lifestyle.

As for the narrative, the story is the coming-of-age of a girl who understands the difficult position she is in and who is always and forever torn between two worlds. The narrative takes her through both worlds to which she rightfully has claims. Months are spent in court learning its ups and downs—from politics and diplomacy and becoming friends with an aunt she didn’t know she had to fending off marriage proposals and attacks on her life. And months are spent in the woods getting to know a life that speaks to her core—f magic, flight and freedom never experienced before. It’s a book about choices and identity that beautifully portrays incapacitating grief and fear as well as loyalty, friendship and love.  

Finally, it would be impossible for me to write about A Creature of Moonlight and not consider the implications of the worldbuilding in terms of gender. It is, after all, only girls who disappear into the woods. Who feel their lives are such that they have no other choice than to escape into another world. Although I feel there could have been more consideration about how structural societal problems could affect that “choosing” because we know that “making a choice” is not as easy or straightforward as making one’s mind up if the deck is stacked against you. That said, I do appreciate the lengths the narrative takes to show different girls, different backgrounds, different choices and motivations. And one of my favorite things about the book is the lovely relationship that develops between Marni and the Queen. In the hands of a less sympathetic writer, the Queen could have been a stereotypical villainess; here, she is a loving, supportive person. I enjoyed and appreciated their relationship very much—especially the surprising turn it takes in the end.  

I loved this book. The biggest compliment I can pay it is to say it reminded me a lot of the lovely writing by Franny Billingsley.

In Book Smugglerish: a satisfied 8 out of 10.

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.