Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez
Ten years ago, the Llacsans overthrew the Illustrians and took over La Ciudad with an ancient relic filled with powerful magic. Now, as the food stores for the last remaining Illustrians runs dry and their general is missing, the Llacsan king sends a bleak message: the Condesa must marry him, or all Illustrians will die.
It seems bleak, but there is one trick left up their sleeve: Ximena, the decoy Condesa. She will infiltrate La Ciudad, find the relic, and return her people to glory.
This was a pleasantly surprising YA fantasy, that took many of the tropes of YA and turned them on their heads!
Feisty Girl About to Topple Cruel Government
While it started off as somewhat stereotypical, with a former ruling elite forced from power and striving to return to their past positions of glory, this was more a critique of Bolivian political history than anything else. I know absolutely nothing of Bolivian history, but there were some things that made me go, “hmm, I bet this is a call-out to something specific.” This was one reason that made the “Girl Goes Revolution” trope a lot different—because instead of bland girl-power-against-evil, this had personal and cultural history and pain written all over it, along with the nuance of real life.
Ximena is feisty and gung-ho about freeing her people, but after meeting a masked vigilante, a captive princess and other Llacsans, she starts to listen and realizes that the Illustrian rule wasn’t great for all people—just Illustrians. And that while the Llacscans were colonizers (they had run out the previous indigenous peoples hundreds of years previously), the Illustrians were no better—they had unseated the Llacsans from power and had systematically removed Llacsan culture, language, art and way of life over four hundred years of rule.
The juxtaposition of Illustrian white-ness (literally, everything in Illustrian culture is white—from their clothes to their art to their architecture to their religion) to the Llacsan over-saturation of color, was so symbolic of previous eradication and colonization in Bolivia. Literal nothingness overtaking and wiping out abundance. Anywho, lots of parallels to the Spanish colonization and the Incan empire.
Back to Ximena and the trope. Anywho, because of all of this history, Ximena begins to realize that there is no strict good vs bad in this fight—someone is going to win in the end, but is Catalina (the real Condesa) really the best person for the job? Would Catalina just replace one bad ruler with another, and retake the Illustrian throne without any consideration of the Llacsan peoples and their well-being? What makes a government? Can two cultures with lots of painful history coexist?
The Killings, Or, This Book Goes There
While a lot of YA seems to refrain from death of named characters or death in general (or the pristine heroine actually killing someone), this book goes there. Right away, two seemingly very important characters die.
And don’t get attached, because this is war and revolution and things happen.
It’s YA Game of Thrones, and I loved it.
Okay, what YA book doesn’t have The Boy? Fine, the sapphic ones, but my point still stands. The Boy™ is one of my least favorite YA tropes, because 1) that is how he is referred to all the time and 2) it perpetuates the false idea that you’re gonna find your soulmate at 17.
Granted, this book falls into that trap, but at least the dude is kinda interesting? Although I had hoped that it would have been the other choice instead of who was chosen at the end, because I did not like him and I was totally voting for another character to win Ximena’s heart. Or there to not be a romantic love interest at all.
Anywho, the romance aspect felt shoe-horned in and was kinda there just to be there and make it a YA fantasy.
Because the Rules of YA Fantasy state that there cannot be a heroine without The Boy™ (exceptions made for sapphic relationships).
Other Things I Liked
The worldbuilding. Previously mentioned above so I’ll keep this short, but it felt real, with real history and meaning and nuance. 100% because it is #ownvoices and based on real history, but it was done very well. I also spent 90% of the book hungry because the food all sounded delicious.
Things That Could Have Been a Little Better or Just..Not Been There At All
Ximena as decoy. Damn this girl is a terrible decoy Condesa. For someone who has been the decoy for about ten years, she lacks any hint of subtlety, leadership (people skills—she’s got the logistics down pat) or refinement. From the minute she gets to La Ciudad, I was like, “She’s going to be discovered in a heartbeat.” But, nope.
El Lobo. Did he have to be this dude? Really? Really? I was hoping he’d be someone else who was mentioned a bajillion times but never made an appearance, but it wasn’t him.
The characters. This is a huge cast with lots of different peoples and cultures and everything else, and there is some politicking about other countries and whatnot and how the Big Bad has transformed farmland into drugland, but not a whole lot of other countries waiting to pounce on a kingdom in a weakened state, or seeking external allies. Also, there were a couple of characters who weren’t developed fully or at all (Catalina), characters who were Super Important and died right away to further Ximena’s growth and reliance on Llacsan characters, and characters who were Super Important but never appeared at all on page.
The magic. Chiefly, Ximena’s magic. Her ability to weave moonlight was awesome, but the extra bits seemed extraneous and also mostly just padding and fluff to increase word-count and make it more Disneyfied. “See kids? Cute animals! Ignore the beheadings and death! Cute snakes!”
Also, I felt like there should have been more focus on the king and his blood mage and all of that business. Primarily, the king’s motivations? I just didn’t get it.
Yes, this wasn’t perfect, but it was much more nuanced than most YA fantasy of late, with a biting critique on an all-or-nothing, black-or-white morality and Bolivian politics that I wasn’t expecting to be so…biting.
There were a lot of threads left dangling in the wind, so I hope that this gets a sequel (which it looks like it will be!). Hopefully the sequel ties everything together neatly.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
Woven in Moonlight released 7 January 2020 by Page Street Books.