Woven In Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Release Date: January 7, 2020
Available Through The Book Depository: Woven In Moonlight
Book Of The Month YA (January 2020 YA Pick)
Cover Design: Isabel Ibañez
Summary: 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.
*Received a print ARC from the publisher*
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: Woven In Moonlight is a Bolivian-inspired YA Fantasy that focuses on politics and history! Ximena is a stand-in for the Illustrian’s heir, whose on a mission to help her people and get Catalina on the throne. When Ximena’s role takes her deep into the palace of the Llacsans, she learns more about where she fits into this revolution and what her job as a decoy Condesa means for the future of Inkasisa! Ibañez’s standalone debut layers intricate politics, fascinating characters, and a vibrant, magical world inspired by Bolivian culture!
I’d been looking forward to this debut for a couple years at this point and knowing it’s a Latinx YA Fantasy, I was even more hyped to read this book! Now that I’ve finally finished it, I wish I could go back and re-read it all over again!
Woven In Moonlight is a magical novel that’s deeply rooted in politics that’s explored through our introspective 1st person POV of Ximena Rojas!
Set in the country of Inkasisa, the Illustrians & Llacsans are battling over who will rule Inkasisa. The world itself is inspired by the author’s Bolivian culture! We follow Ximena, whose a stand-in for the Illustrian royal, Catalina! When the current ruler Atoc demands the Illustrian royal’s hand in marriage, Ximena has to go in her place.
It wouldn’t be a YA Fantasy novel without some magic, so early on in the novel we get beautifully written sentences that introduce the unique magic system!
“Illustris magic― magic from the heavens…manifests in different ways…” (9).
While there’s definitely a variety of abilities that are explained such as Moonsight, the ability to light darkened rooms, and reading fortunes through constellations, Ibañez beautifully described Ximena’s ability which allows her to create thread from moonlight!
There’s a deeply personal and introspective look into Ximena’s ability that you can sense through the lush, emotionally-driven descriptions. The reader really gets a sense of how this magic is so special to her! It’s also one of the more developed abilities we see throughout WIM and it was a lot of fun getting to explore the different facets to her magic from the thread to something very special that happens when she looks more closely at her woven tapestries!
As Ximena becomes immersed in the world of the Llacsans we delve even deeper into the politics, their royalty, and palace life. She’s on a mission to find the Estrella, which is an ancient relic that could give Illustrians a chance to reclaim their power. However, Ximena also has to make sure that her true identity is never found out.
Luckily, Ximena uses her ability to weave through moonlight as a way to hopefully keep in touch with the Illustrians and her closest friend Catalina. An important arc to her story and development is that throughout the novel, she learns more about the Llacsans of the palace, while also reflecting on these two sides of Inkasisa and where she fits in.
Throughout Woven In Moonlight as Ximena connects more with the Llacasan’s in the castillo like Rumi, Juan Carlos (his cousin), and the secretive princess Tamaya!
Ibañez’s writing perfectly balances the world, its layered politics, and the personal arcs of our main characters! Also woven into Ximena’s perspective is the Spanish language, weather and architecture, the most wonderful descriptions of Bolivian food, and focus on crafts such as textiles & weaving!
Some of the most memorable descriptions of this novel definitely included the delicious food and detail of Bolivian cuisine (which is mentioned in a glossary). I loved that they were often placed in quiet moments of the story when Ximena was planning or exploring the Cuidad Blanca!
I appreciated these descriptions so much because coming from a Latin American background, I felt such a deep connection to the world! There’s also deeply interwoven messages about identity, family, loss, revolution that are very clear from the start of the novel and become even more layered into the story as it progresses!
As mentioned before, the magic system was incredibly unique, especially Ximena’s ability and I appreciated how it was explored through the plot as Ximena finds a way to stay in contact with the resistance.
Just reading the descriptions of how she was weaving thread through moonlight were moving and beautifully explored why the art of crafts tied in so well with Ximena’s own personal journey to create something for herself!
While the magic itself is very light, I appreciated how it was a used more for developing the political layers of the story!
Identity was an important theme that I found was beautifully explored throughout WIM! Ximena was switched with Catalina 10 years ago when she joined the resistance and only a select few truly know that she’s a decoy. But it isn’t until she’s forced to go to Atoc’s palace where we see her skills as a decoy are truly tested. I found that Ximena’s new life in the palace forces her to confront who she really is and how her role as a decoy has made her realize she isn’t entirely sure where she fits in this revolution.
Through the use of a 1st person POV, the world of Inkasisa is painted through a unique lens where we really get a focus on politics and characters!
For me, I can often find it difficult to fully immerse myself in a world if the perspective is too driven by characters or internal emotion, but Ibañez delivered Ximena’s POV spectacularly!
I adored her narrative voice so much! Ximena is a fierce heroine who has lost a lot to the war between Illustrians & Llacsans that in realty has left her alone. Her parents died almost 10 years before and throughout the novel, she’s constantly confronted with losing those close to her! Ximena’s loneliness is present throughout the novel in distinct ways that really show how its such a vital piece to her as a character: her distance to others, how she navigates her role as Condesa while connecting with Llacsans at the palace, and how she grapples with the loss of people in her life that are like family to her!
I found that Ibañez deeply explored this element of loneliness through Ximena’s POV in such a subtle but impactful way! Ximena’s internal voice as we follow her journey is told through introspective and perceptive narrative that allows her to reflect on important choices she has to make when she begins to question her mission and how she can better help Inkasisa!
Also, what made this such a unique reading experience is that although, you go into YA Fantasy expecting epic adventure, constant action, etc. I appreciated that this was more of a slow-paced fantasy, but it really works because your able to be more rooted into the rich atmosphere and setting! So when there were big action scenes, they felt more impactful for sure!
The cast of characters were fantastic, there were always interesting dynamics to be explored throughout the story! I felt that there were many surprising sides to them that are developed throughout the novel and what made that fun was how they were perceived through Ximena’s POV. A vital thread that links all this together is Ximena’s duty to Catalina, her friend who is like a sister to her and what she’s willing to risk to get her on the throne. Their bond is incredibly important to her and alongside Ximena & Tamaya’s friendship, I adored the focus on female friendships in general throughout this novel! There’s also Rumi’s dynamic/friendship with Ximena and while I felt they could have had just a bit more page time together, it was really fun to read.
Some of my favorite characters include, the mysterious princess Tamaya, Rumi, and a mysterious vigilante known as El Lobo, who doesn’t side with either the Illustrians or Llacsans!
Ximena has grown up hearing stories about El Lobo who doesn’t really align with anyone, but fights for those who need it! She’s surprised to find him in a room of the castle one night when she’s trying to gather more intel on the Estrella, she runs into the famous vigilante! From the very beginning I loved their dynamic and how they become unlikely allies–there’s great banter between them and I loved the solving the mystery as to who he really was!
Next I wanted to discuss why I lowered my rating to 4 Stars: The plot itself continued to surprise me and I loved following Ximena’s journey. There’s tons of intrigue, mystery, and politics wrapped up into this story! However, there were moments I found the writing was very focused on Ximena’s internal POV. She really comes to life through a 1st person POV which is fantastic! But, because we’re really in her head and focus on a lot of internal/emotional dialogue, there were elements of the story could have been developed even more!
It felt like there were elements that could have been expanded on, because Ibañez made them such important and vital parts of the world itself! Such as the setting of Inkasisa, delving deeper into the history, and more interactions between the characters! I also felt the ending was a bit rushed, but left on a very real note that has me wanting more from the unique cast of characters!
With WIM being a standalone I definitely see there was a lot that Ibañez wanted to introduce in regards to Inkasisa’s setting, climate, culture, daily life, and history (which was fantastic 💞!!) I just wish there was even more exploration to all those wonderful elements!
Also as I’ve read other reviews about WIM from fellow Latinx bloggers, I wanted to highlight an important point that they’ve discussed, when it comes to how privilege was poorly handled through Ximena’s POV. These past few weeks have been hectic for me and as I read this book it really was just to escape into an immersive world, so with that said I personally had overlooked this element of the story! However, here are 2 wonderful bloggers whose reviews delve into how WIM handled colonization, privilege & how those discussions could have been improved! I recommend checking them out:
Woven In Moonlight is a delightful YA Fantasy that’s rooted in Bolivian culture and is deeply explored through the politics, world, and intriguing story that’s presented from Ximena’s wonderful POV! Ibañez ‘s debut is an immersive tale that delves deep into history and politics, while also being an action-packed, character-driven tale! This is a wonderful debut filled with surprises, set in a unique world that you want to keep exploring!