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Reviewed by Nell Mace-David
Opening sentence
‘The saint rubs his eyes, and an inky black cloud comes over them, until there are no whites left. He blinks at us with a blank expression once. Twice. A third time. And then out of nowhere, he bares his teeth and snarls like a tiger.'
In The Last Fallen Moon by Graci Kim, Riley Oh is wracked with guilt over the loss of the Gom clan’s magic. Even if what she did saved her sister Hattie, she is still the reason that the Gom no longer have a patron goddess, and she feels terrible about it. Let’s just say, the Gom aren’t exactly thrilled either. Their clan motto may be ‘Service and Sacrifice’, but the last thing they would sacrifice is their magic. Most of the Gom are diplomatic about it, but some aren’t so kind. Their message? ‘Go to hell’. And so, Riley decides to do just that.

The Land of the Dead, or the Spirit Realm, is ruled by King Yeomra the Great. There are seven judges, one for each of the hells, which are collectively called Jiok. These judges look at your life and see if you had the qualities they look for, like honesty and respect. If you don’t, then you get a punishment sentence for a thousand years or so. Everyone who lacks one of the seven qualities spends time in Jiok, and everyone must have a trial. From there, once punishment is complete, you can go on to heaven, or Cheondang, and from there, rebirth. Or that’s how it used to be, anyway.

Riley decides to go to the Spirit Realm, not because she thinks she deserves punishment, but because she thinks there is someone down there who could become the new patron god of the Gom. If Riley can find the possible new god, then the Gom can do magic again, Riley will stop getting attacked, and everyone’s happy. There’s a slight problem though. Turns out, the only way to get to the Spirit Realm is to die.

So, apart from having to find a loophole to get into the Spirit Realm, this should be easy, right? Get in, find a new patron god, get out. With a little (or a lot) of help from Dahl, the new kid with a bucket list and a strange key obsession, this should be even easier. Wrong. The Spirit Realm isn’t anything like the stories, there’s more to it than meets the eye. And it needs more help than Riley does.

This second instalment in the Gifted Clans trilogy is full of mystery and danger, hyping the series to go out with a bang.

Here’s the thing. Generally, I don’t really like second books in trilogies. Most of the time, they seem kind of empty. But Graci Kim just proved me wrong. She showed me that the middle of a story is just as important as the beginning and the end, and this one certainly wasn’t without plot twists. I love it when you kind of know what’s going on before the main character does, and just when you think you have everything down, Kim switches it up in ways you could never imagine.

Now, I’m all for plot twists, but there is one in The Last Fallen Moon that is less of a twist and more of a complete change of direction. In some places, this is great, but I feel like it would have been better if there had been some more clues to it along the way. Then you would get that oh-so-satisfying moment when everything drops into place, and you wonder how you didn’t see it before. This would also keep the story moving after Dahl’s big reveal, where I feel there was a bit of a gap.

Plot confusion aside, this is a brilliant story. Kim’s humor just keeps getting better, there were even a few moments where I laughed out loud. Then there are the bits that are so full of emotion. I love that the resounding themes of family and belonging keep returning, it really carries the story along. On the opposite end of the spectrum, this is really a book about death. All cultures have different ways of dealing with this great unknown. We all share it, but we also have very different perspectives on it, and I really appreciated the chance to look at this one.

I just want to say one last thing about Jiok, or the seven hells. Throughout all kinds of mythology, the afterlife always has some kind of punishment involved, whether it is eternal or not. Korean mythology is great in that everyone will get to Cheondang and rebirth, eventually. With Kim’s Spirit Realm revamp, this is taken even further with the realization that punishing people is not going to make them change. You can make them pay for the things they did wrong, but that is just going to make everything worse. Maybe the new system that the afterlife takes on isn’t perfect, but at least it is showing people a way out, and I think that is a step in the right direction.

Anyways, the Gifted Clans trilogy is turning out to be an amazing read, though I would advise reading the books in order, as you’ll be in for a bit of a shock otherwise. If you read The Last Fallen Star, then you should read this. But if you like contemporary fantasy, or you just want to learn about a new culture, then you should also read this. Basically, I would recommend this series to anyone, and I hope you love it as much as I do. Happy reading!

- Nell is 15, homeschooled, and lived in Dunedin.
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
ISBN: 9781368073141
Format: Hardback
Publication: 2022
Ages: 10+
Themes: Fantasy, Korean mythology, family