Woven in Moonlight (2020) is a lushly imagined YA fantasy based on Bolivian history and culture, and featuring a creative form of magic based on weaving. The plot is exciting, filled with twists and turns and betrayals. For me, though, I also found that it had some elements that distracted me from the story, and some others that made less sense when I thought about them later.
Ximena is a young girl who lost her family when the indigenous Llacsans rose up against the colonizing Illustrians. The only survivor of the Illustrian royal family was Condesa Catalina. Ximena, who resembles the Condesa, was picked up off the streets and raised as a decoy for Catalina. Now everyone thinks she’s the Condesa, and when the Llacsan ruler Atoc demands the Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena who must travel to his palace for the wedding. She’s hoping that she can find Atoc’s powerful magical weapon before the ceremony and unleash it on the Llacsans.
I had issues with Ximena from early on. It started when she impulsively ordered all the Llacsan emissaries killed. First of all, killing messengers is frowned upon pretty much everywhere. Second, she’s not the real Condesa — wouldn’t it be better just to detain them until she could ask Catalina what she wanted done with them, instead of creating an international incident on a whim? This action would have repercussions later, and Ximena’s impulsiveness and temper would continue to be a problem throughout Woven in Moonlight.
Really, there are a couple of things about the decoy situation that made me scratch my head. One is that if Ximena was truly supposed to be able to serve as Catalina’s decoy in any situation that might arise, then why was her training pretty much all combat and absolutely zero protocol, such that she had no idea how to act in a court setting? Second, once Ximena is ensconced in Atoc’s palace, she keeps hearing reports of what the Illustrians are up to, and blaming Catalina for not keeping them under control. My reaction to this was, “But they don’t know she’s the Condesa! They think she’s just some girl ordering them around.” Later, though, it seems that Catalina did reveal her identity to the Illustrians, so then I wondered why they believed her, even though the senior general who knew the truth was no longer around to confirm it.
Ximena hates everything about the Llacsans at first, thinking of them as dirty and ungrateful. Part of her character arc is realizing that while Atoc himself is a bad guy, the Llacsans are regular people just like herself, and that the Illustrians were not the benevolent rulers they believed themselves to be. This works pretty well, but it means she’s pretty unpleasant early on. The redemption arc of a bigot can be really satisfying, but some readers understandably won’t want to come along for that ride.
Even after Ximena starts to come around, she can be frustrating in other ways. She is given a book about the history of Inkasisa that it takes her a long time to read. She has a … special item … that allows her to pick locks, and then doesn’t bring it along when she goes to break into Atoc’s office. (She only gets in because the dashing masked vigilante El Lobo happens to be breaking in at the same time. He teases her for not being prepared, and he’s right!) This all leads up to one really big oversight with dire consequences.
All of this said, there are many things to like in Woven by Moonlight. As I mentioned above, the plot is engaging, with plenty of dramatic moments and cool visuals. The weaving magic is a great touch, and some of the results of it are downright adorable. Isabel Ibañez also fleshes out her world with wonderful details about food and clothing.
A sequel, Written in Starlight, is planned for 2021. I found enough to enjoy in this first installment that I’ll probably check it out, but I’m worried that — since it’s focused on Catalina — it might cover too much of the same ground in terms of the character arc. I’m more interested in Tamaya’s story!