Book Review: Moonshadow – Eye of the Beast by Simon Higgins

Moonshadow is the youngest agent of the Grey Light Order. As spies for the Shogun, the order must stop fanatical lords re-igniting civil war. Moon’s first mission: use his unusual powers to steal the plans for a foreign secret weapon that could forever change the way battles are fought. His lurking enemies: a legendary assassin, rogue samurai and perhaps most dangerous of all…a mysterious, beautiful girl.
Secret allies. Advanced sword skills. Unique powers. And courage. Will it be enough to save the world?

I first read Moonshadow: Eye of the Beast when I was around 14. I was just getting into anime at that point, so I rapidly devoured the book and loved it for the cool ninjas and the historical Japanese background. I could never find the sequel until this year, when I unearthed an American edition in an op shop. I was amazingly excited until I realized that I could recall very little about what happened in the Eye of the Beast. I knew there was a young ninja called Moonshadow and a rival girl-ninja. That was it. Naturally, a reread was required and while I intend to read the sequel (I’ve waited nearly a decade after all), I need to accept that I am too old for this series.

I still love the cool ninjas and historical settings. The more generalised ninja skills are explained realistically, and the magical techniques are varied and interesting. I also loved that every technique has to be developed – these people weren’t born being able to discern the future or to see through animals’ eyes but instead had to work to develop this skill. At times I found this version of the Edo Period to be romanticised, I can appreciate the skilled way that Simon Higgins blended fact and fiction to create a version of historical Japan in which Moonshadow and the Grey Light Order can exist realistically. What I couldn’t appreciate was the exposition. Using flashback scenes to introduce or develop characters is a major peeve of mine, and the technique is used to develop all of Moonshadow’s mentors. Eye of the Beast opened with Moonshadow’s final test and graduation from training, so flashbacks were the easiest way of developing both him and his mentors while maintaining the pace of the story. I would’ve found it far more engaging if the perspective shifted more often from Moonshadow’s perspective to key characters that needed development, such as Heron and Eagle. While the perspective does shift a few times within the story, it is tacked onto the end of chapters and used to foreshadow events surrounding Moonshadow. The foreshadowing was unnecessary, and served only to make the predictable YA plot more predictable. That and the lack of true character development made the book seem very one dimensional and clichéd.

All in all, while I’d definitely recommend this book to a 12 year old who is interested in ninjas/martial arts/Japan, I’d hesitate to lend it to an adult with similar interests. Eye of the Beast suits its audience, but I didn’t find it to be one of the YA books that can enthral both adults and children alike.



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