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Review: The Moonday Letters - Emmi Itäranta

Genre: Sci-fi

Published: Titan Books, July 2022

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Discovering Emmi Itäranta’s previous novel The City of Woven Streets was such a wonderful surprise, back when it was first released. Although not a full five-star read from a story- and character perspective, it was Itäranta’s beautiful prose and ability to create vivid atmosphere, completely pulled me in. Following this hidden gem, I was very excited to read more from her voice. Her latest release brings back some of what I enjoyed about her previous work, but also a lot more of what I didn’t enjoy, therefore making the whole feel like an unbalanced experience that didn’t work for me personally.

The Moonday Letters combines a mystery and a love story, inside a sci-fi setting. Lumi is an Earth-born healer whose Mars-born spouse Sol disappears unexpectedly on a work trip. As Lumi begins her quest to find Sol, she delves gradually deeper into Sol’s secrets – and her own.

The prose, worldbuilding and the boundaries for the story to take place in where once again immaculate, just like in The City of Woven Streets. Itäranta knows just the right words to pick to bring her world to life in front of your eyes, alongside with the feeling that it’s supposed to invoke. The Moonlight Letters presents a world that is rich in melancholy and hope, that has depths of mythology and history to back it all up. Massive credits go to translator (whom I cannot find the name of) as well, for capturing those nuances within the English version. Unfortunately, the set-up and presentation were stronger than everything else. The stage was set beautifully, the backdrop was gorgeous, but then the show didn’t get off the road, and the characters fumbled their lines. For a “sci-fi mystery”, The Moonday Letters is very light on the mystery and plot, and heavy on the relationship between Lumi and Sol. The fact that neither of them felt very memorable as individual characters, combined with their relationship being set up almost exclusively through letters to another, made it difficult for me to connect or get invested in them. When so much of your plot hinges on two characters finding their way back to each other, but you as a reader can’t feel the chemistry between them, my investment quickly waned. Add an unbalanced, but overall glacial pacing (an issue I overlooked in The City of Woven Streets because I liked the rest of it) and I found myself at times struggling to even continue.

Note that epistolary style novels, especially in which the central relationship develops mostly through letters, are something I’ve struggled with in the past before. It may be partly a “it’s not the book, it’s me”-situations. If you are a fan of this genre, and are looking for a lesser known author to support, Itäranta is one to check out! Personally, I’m hoping her next novel and I get along better.

As a final thought: I truly hope the publisher will consider releaseing an audio-version of this novel. Not just to make stories available to a broader audience, but also because I feel like the characterisation (and differentiation) in this novel would greatly benefit from a good audio-cast.

Many thanks to Titan Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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