Sometimes, all it takes is a striking cover to catch my interest. Alright, I’ll admit it, a lot of times that’s all it takes. But if you then bait me with mythology and a fantasy-Bolivian setting, a spy at court who’s also a decoy condesa, plus magic to do with moonlight and weaving – I have literally no way to stay away from that book. I’m so glad that I ended up enjoying this as much as I did, even though it turned out to be less fantasy and more exploration of a people who has been through revolution and simply yearns for peace.
WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT
by Isabel Ibañez
Published: Page Street Books, 2020
Hardback: 384 pages
Series: Wovenin Moonlight #1
My rating: 7/10
Opening line: My banged-up spoon scrapes the bottom of a barrel that should’ve held enough dried beans to last for three more months.
A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.
Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.
When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.
She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.
Ximena has lived almost her whole life pretending to be someone she is not: the condesa Catalina, rightful heir to Inkasisa, and leader of the impending revolution to take back what’s hers. Although the real condesa is Ximena’s best friend, it is Ximena who carries all the burdens of tough decisions and the threat of being in the public eye. This becomes all the more dangerous when King Atoc, the usurper, decides he will marry to condesa in order to cement his claim to the throne. Ximena goes to court, ostentatiously to follow the King’s order, but really looking for the Estrella, a secret weapon that may help her people rise up again and claim back what they have lost.
There were some things that Ibañez did really well in her story of revolution and romance and a people past war-time, and there are others that could have been done better. Because my overall enjoyment outweighed my nitpicks, I’ll start with the good stuff.
Ximena is a great protagonist. She may be somewhat impulsive and headstrong, but she is open minded, full of empathy, and willing to learn. She also has her heart in the right place and doesn’t shy away from rethinking things she’s been taught all her life were true. The side characters were all somewhat overdrawn, but they did a great job in showing that the two peoples in conflict aren’t actually all that different from one another. Everyone just wants to live a happy life, with food on their table and a roof over their head – whether it’s Ximena’s Illustrians or Atoc’s Llacsans.
I also really loved the magic in this book, although its execution was one of the weaker points. As the title suggests, moonlight and weaving both play a part. Ximena can use moondust as a sort of sleeping powder which comes in pretty handy when you have to knock out your guards in order to explore the castle. She is also a gifted weaver whose tapestries are… let’s say not quite ordinary. I don’t want to spoil what exactly the magic is here, but it’s a brilliant idea that simply wasn’t used or explored enough. If I were in Ximena’s position and had her magic, this story may have turned out very differently. Maybe the author thought that would be too much for what is essentially a YA fantasy romance, or maybe she never wanted the magic to be so dominant. The fact that the magic doesn’t do all that much doesn’t really hurt the story, but I can’t help but feel there was potential for more.
But the main themes of this book are clear from the start. How to get back (or even to find for the first time) a way of living that can work for all people, even the ones who seem irrevocably on opposing sides of a fight? And how to become who you truly are when you’ve been pretending to be someone else all your life? Ximena, young as she is, has to deal with both of these tough questions. Not too much is said about the revolution that happened when Ximena was little, except that it cost her her parents and her people their rule. But Ximena also discovers what it was like for the other side. Llacsans didn’t have a great life before the revolution. And while they also may not have a great life under Atoc’s rule, who can fault them for escaping what amounts to slavery? Ximena learns all these things throught the people she meets. She enters the Llacsan world filled with prejudice and her own firm ideas on what the world is like, so it comes as quite a shock to see that she likes some of these people who are supposed to be her sworn enemies!
There is also a masked vigilante, El Lobo, who poses something of a mystery. He steals from the rich and gives to the poor but he doesn’t seem to make a difference between Illustrian and Llacsan, and that doesn’t go with Ximena’s world view.
While both El Lobo’s identity and the love story were rather obvious and predictable from early on, I didn’t mind the lack of surprise at their eventual reveal. That’s not what this book is about. The heart of it is its people and the question of how a divided country can find a way to exist in peace together. It’s a very pertinent question in this day and age.
This may not be a great fantasy book but it is a great book, period. It’s about people coming together with open minds, being open to new world views, trying to do the right thing even if that means sacrificing something they personally love. It’s about a young girl finding her place in the world and figuring out who she is when she’s not pretending to be her best friend. And most importantly, while the ending comes to a satisfying conclusion for this story, things aren’t all happy and perfect! A divided people can’t simply be swayed to accept what they’d feared or hated for so many years. But you have to start somewhere and Ximena plans to do her best for her home, with old and new friends by her side. And that’s all anyone can really do.
Also, make sure you have snacks on hand when you read this. There is a lot of food porn that made me crave all the things! 🙂
MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good