Ever since Lord of the Rings came out – and even more since the advent of Dungeons and Dragons – fantasy has been struggling with an identity problem. Not every fantasy book is based on Tolkien or Gygax (and in fact, it’s much smaller than many people think) but it’s easy to see where their influences on the genre have been permanent. This has been changing recently, especially with the influx of diverse authorship, own-voices material and interest in other types of fantasy, but it’s hard to get away from.
Two Dark Moons (and the Shale Project as a whole; more on that later!) is more than just a breath of fresh air. It’s a lungful of a mountain breeze – a complex self-sufficient world that doesn’t just make room for trans identity, but is built off of trans and non-binary identity, makes it an intrinsic part of its lore.
In the hmun of Ateng, your role in life and your destiny is governed by which phase of the two moons you are born under. It determines your pronouns, your assigned gender, your personality and the role you are meant to take in the hmun. It’s important to be absolutely clear here that when Two Dark Moons talks about gender, it doesn’t give a fig about biology; whether a character has a uterus, testosterone, etc. is so completely unimportant to the narrative that it never comes up. You’d think this wouldn’t be such a revolutionary concept, but after years of reading male writers describe breasts with such “loving” detail, and the heterosexist, cissexist assumptions of sex scenes in novels, it really is one of the most validating reading experiences I’ve ever had.
Ateng is hardly an idyllic palace, though. The hmun subsist off the land and are semi-nomadic, travelling between different mountain peaks, but an attack of saoni (lizard-people; there is a diacritic on the word but my browser is refusing to cooperate) leaves the Sky Bridge destroyed and a whole generation of young adults stranded on another mountain. In addition to this, not every phase of the moons is equal; children born under the dark phase of the moons are meant to be abandoned, since they bring bad luck. This sets up a fascinating dynamic where misgendering as we understand it doesn’t exist, but Sohmeng is suffering the equivalent – lying about the phase she was born under in order to survive and be accepted.
Two Dark Moons is absolutely gorgeous, and I could keep gushing, but here’s the best news: I received an ARC of this for an honest review, which means it’s launching today. You should definitely get a copy, and check out the rest of Shale while you’re at it. (I will make this fandom a Thing if it kills me, dang it. Read Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming!)
Trigger warnings for this book include: (fantasy equivalent) misgendering, heights, starvation, abandonment, very big lizards (they’re cute, but still!)