The Five Daughters of The Moon

      Publisher: Tor 

      RRP: £11.99

      Author: Leena Likitalo 

      Published:  2017-07-25




The Crescent Empire teeters on the edge of a revolution, and the Five Daughters of the Moon are the ones to determine its future. Alina, six, fears Gagargi Prataslav and his Great Thinking Machine. Merile, eleven, cares only for her dogs, but she smells that something is afoul with the gagargi. By chance, she learns that the machine devours human souls for fuel, and yet no one believes her claim. Sibilia, fifteen, has fallen in love for the first time in her life. She couldn’t care less about the rumors about the gagargi and his machine. Elise, sixteen, follows the captain of her heart to orphanages and workhouses. But soon she realizes that the unhappiness amongst her people runs much deeper that anyone could have predicted. And Celestia, twenty-two, who will be the Empress one day, has been drawn to the gagargi. But which one of them was the first to mention the idea of a coup?


A dark fairy-tale of revolution.


The Five Daughters of the Moon feels almost ethereal; the revolution and suffering of the ordinary people seem very distant from the lives of the main characters who, at least at first, play their lives out in an entirely different world of high privilege, cocooned by small concerns: balls, dresses, gifts, pets and so on. Another element that adds to the dreamlike quality is the frequent links to fairy tales; not the cute Disney kind, of course, but rather the darker versions as originally penned by the Brothers Grimm, with imagery such as the moon, swan motifs and a mysterious witch all hinting at these timeless and terrifying stories. The titular five sisters themselves feel like a peek at the truth that lies behind the typically underwritten and under-described lives of storybook princesses.

Here in The Five Daughters of the Moon, however, the storybook clashes with the stark reality of the cost of a highly privileged royalty; outside of their ivory tower, poverty and violence that is neither romantic nor necessarily heroic has a high price of suffering, with elements of steampunk, industrial revolution and sinister technology creeping in as the narrative continues.

Leena Likitalo must be congratulated on a very well-written novel; it is no simple task to pen a manuscript where each chapter is written from an alternating point of view, but she manages it flawlessly. The downside to this, however, is that if you prefer one character’s narration or story above the others you may find yourself impatiently waiting for their turn to roll around; moreover, occasionally the pacing suffers as the overall plot is pulled in too many directions at once. Regardless, Likitalo manages to hold the reader’s interest and pull the story onwards through the different threads of each sister, showing different facets of the same tale through multiple pairs of eyes.

In this story there are no simple sides to choose from and a multitude of interesting ideas. The sisters, while sheltered and the recipient of wealth their family has clearly taken cruelly from others, are neither complete saints or monsters, although some are more innocent than others. On the other side of the coin, however, the leadership of the revolution and the tools they use are far more complex than traditional notions of “good” and “evil” as well.

While the royal protagonists could have been written as archtypes (or, indeed, stereotypes) waiting to be married off, Likitalo instead chooses to give them agency in their romantic pursuits as part of her worldbuilding; they wait to be confirmed adults when, quite independent of marriage (but with some political and class restrictions) they are permitted to take lovers at their discretion, for a length of time of their choosing. Whilst it's never made clear whether this privilege is restricted to the royal family or permitted for all women, it is nonetheless a refreshing change from the usual fantasy tropes.

Overall, The Five Daughters of the Moon is highly recommended.  As with a lot of such fiction its only fault is, perhaps, that it is a little short, but as ever this is because it does what it does very well and leaves the reader wanting more - although the story so far doesn’t require a longer novel. Hopefully the rest of the series will continue the saga and provide room for Likitalo’s fantastic world to expand.