The Moon Coin is a delightful fantasy story about Lily and her brother Jasper. Their Uncle Ebb has always told them tales (not stories—there’s a difference) of the Moon Realm. After Ebb disappears, Lily finds the Moon Coin necklace her uncle always wore and she learns that those tales were based on a real place.
The moons of the Moon Realm are being conquered one by one by the villainous Wrengfoul. Their only hope is to unite to rise up against him, but the moons don’t trust one another. Uncle Ebb was working to bring them together when he disappeared, but Lily isn’t quite ready to fill his shoes.
Lily and Jasper live in a version of modern Earth, although there seems to be a bit of magic in the Pennsylvania forest where they live. Ebb invents incredible creatures and toys, but there are also iPods, flashlights, and the Indy 500. Lily is the main character in this book, and she’s engaging and believable—I think a lot of kids will be able to identify with her.
There are hints of much more story to come, which make this feel like a bedtime tale being told to the reader. For instance, a character makes an expression that Jasper will later call “Ember’s working face” but Jasper hasn’t yet come to the Moon Realms. We know he’ll someday get there and that he’ll meet Ember who will apparently be a recurring character. We’re hearing this story after it’s already played out.
The illustrations are gorgeous. The author, Richard Due, has kindly provided his interview of the artist, Carolyn Arcabascio. This is one of those books I’d highly suggest buying hardcopy so you can fully appreciate the art. It certainly wouldn’t be the same on my monochromatic Kindle. (Note: the “secondlooksbooks” seller on the Amazon link is the brick & mortar book store in Maryland owned & operated by the author, so you can order the book through the author.)
Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Wrengfoul’s forces include the insectoid scarraman—in the first battle that Lily witnesses, the bugs are overrunning the moon of Barreth. The Rinn (the intelligent and magical cat-like creatures that live there) fight against them, and it’s kind of gross. There’s crunching and goo and all the other things you’d expect when smashing huge beetles.
On another moon, Lily hears in somewhat graphic detail about the killing of a dragon. The body is harvested, which is also a bit graphic. There is sadness around the death of the dragon, although it’s generally agreed that this needed to happen.
Uncle Ebb swears Jasper and Lily to secrecy about the tales. Every time they let something slip to their parents, their parents get upset and the stories stop for a while. Then when Ebb thinks he can trust them to be quiet again, the tales start up once more. This leads to the kids feeling that they have to hide things from their parents. Jasper has a lot of trouble with this—he’s by his nature an honest kid. Lily, on the other hand, enjoys creating her own version of the truth, twisting and hiding facts to suit her purposes.
Once she’s in the Moon Realm and Lily realizes that what she thought were stories are true, she feels unmoored. What do her parents know? Why didn’t Ebb tell her the tales were true? Does she know anything for sure? Being on the other side of secrets doesn’t make her very happy.
Lily does hide the truth and embroider facts, but this feels consistent with her character. It doesn’t seem like a crutch to allow the story to move forward.
Lily is somewhat surprised when she learns that some of the warriors and other powerful people are women. However, no one else seems to find it particularly noteworthy. Many of the female characters are strong in personality, magic, intelligence, and/or physical prowess. Men also serve many roles, including warriors, leaders, advisors, etc.
There are nine moons that somehow revolve around one another in a way that defies astrophysics. The upshot of this is that each moon believes it’s the true world and that the others are all moons revolving around it. Lily laughs to herself when someone refers to the Earth as a moon. This assumption of superiority is part of what prevents the moons from coming together to fight against Wrengfoul. Although the characters don’t question this assumption, the reader can easily see the problem.
Things are not as they seem
The situation in the Moon Realms is complex. Thanks to curses and other such magic, things are often not quite as they appear. The story implicitly challenges the reader to wait, to learn more, and to think about things before jumping to conclusions.
Lily is a vegetarian. When the dragon is harvested, it makes her a bit ill. The cook at the camp keeps trying to get her to eat some of the meat, suggesting that the brain isn’t really meat or that the grease should be fine for her to eat. When she continues to refuse to eat anything from the dragon, the cook asks, aghast, “But how will you grow?” He does, however, continue to prepare vegetarian dishes for her.
I would highly recommend this for anyone who enjoys fantasy. It’s suitable for ages 8 and up, although younger readers might prefer to have it read out loud to them. For those who love Narnia, it has a similar feel but is less dated and sexist. Lily is the main character of this book, but it will appeal equally to boys and girls. It’s the first book of a series, leaving off on a bit of a cliffhanger.
Disclaimer: The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The Moon Coin by Richard Due and Carolyn Arcabascio
Published in 2012 by Gibbering Gnome Press
First novel in the Moon Realm series*
You can read an excerpt here
Read a hard copy provided to me by the author
*The sequel, The Dragondain, is currently available as an ebook. (Personally, I’m waiting for the print copy in November to better appreciate the illustrations!)