Set in a lush but dangerous world, Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez is a true delight and wonderful addition to the fantasy genre.
Ximena is a decoy for the Condesa, the last remaining Illustrian royal. When she was just a girl, a violent revolution forced what remained of the Illustrians to flee to a compound in the mountains while a false king took the throne.
When the Illustrians find themselves running out of supplies, the false king’s command for the Condesa to return and marry him presents the perfect opportunity to retake the throne through a revolution of their own. As a decoy, it’s Ximena’s responsibility to keep the Condesa safe, so she goes in her stead.
But once she reaches the city, everything and nothing is quite what she thought. When some she considered enemies turn out to not be the monsters she believed them to be, her mission to seek out an all-powerful weapon for her Condesa to wield and regain the throne becomes even more complicated.
Ximena must decide whether she must use her skills, namely her ability to turn moonlight into thread, as well as her heart to avenge her people or forge a new path.
Woven in Moonlight has everything you’d want in a satisfying read and standalone novel. From its compelling story of rebellion and revolution, to its nuanced and layered characters, to its rich setting, Woven in Moonlight is one of those books that you’ll want to read in its entirety in one sitting.
On paper, the story feels like one we’ve all read a thousand times over: A revolution forces an entire people into hiding, so they must work and sacrifice to reclaim what they believe to be rightfully theirs.
What makes this book stand out from all the rest, however, is the way in which it subverts expectations of good and evil from the very beginning. The lines between conquerors and conquered, victors and victims, righteous and wronged are incredibly (and purposefully) blurred and constantly shifting. The concept of “good and evil” doesn’t even remain constant here.
But why would it? Conflicts are never good versus bad. Nothing in life is ever that simple. Moreover, who’s to judge what category each side falls into? It’s a matter of perspective.
Woven in Moonlight not only understands that, but works hard to humanize absolutely everyone and, in doing so, cast everything and everyone in a metaphorical shades of grey rather than black in white.
Inspired by the current political situation in Bolivia, this book also offers really interesting commentary on upheavals and the conditions that can drive anyone to make choices that can turn them into tyrants.
Not only that, but how all choices have consequences. Ibañez does a great job in humanizing the antagonists and clarifying not only their origins but their motivations, which adds even more nuance to the grey-ness.
The antagonists aren’t the only ones with richness and innumerable layers to their characters. Each and every character in this book, even the non-human ones, have a wonderful amount of depth. They’re all so lovingly and carefully drawn to the point where they feel like real living and breathing beings, human or otherwise.
Ximena is the perfect point of view character because, while she’s badass and capable, she’s flawed and makes some pretty terrible mistakes. However, what makes her special is that she owns her mistakes immediately and always works to do better.
She is always ready to sacrifice herself or her way of life for what she knows to be right, and it’s a treat to follow her as she grows and comes more into her own (rather than staying in the Condesa’s shadow).
Though she’s very much independent and in charge of her personal growth, Ximena is often surrounded by others, usually those she initially considers enemies, who push her out of her comfort zones and broaden her mind.
Characters like a quiet healer, charismatic guard, noble princess, and elusive vigilante constantly challenge her, both physically and mentally, and force her to reexamine everything.
But these characters are more than just catalysts. They’re individuals in their own right, with their own motivations and backstories. It’s fascinating to view these characters through Ximena’s eyes while also pick up on details about them that she did not.
The fragility of the characters’ ties to each other make every interaction impossible to predict. So many terrible things happen (and have happened) to each and every one of these characters, but their hope and interactions with each other keep the novel from becoming downtrodden and dark.
Of course, true to YA fantasy form, there very much is a romance that plays out throughout the course of the book. It’s the slowest of slow burns, but it would’ve felt unnatural and unearned had it burned any faster.
The two characters are well-matched, bringing out the best in each other, and again, constantly challenging each other’s perspectives. It’s a true joy to watch this romance unfold.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch upon the magical elements that make this novel such an enjoyable fantasy. Woven throughout without calling too much attention to themselves, the abilities and small sparks of magic are delightful and fresh.
The magic here acts more like a MacGuffin in that the story and character actions, as well as some motivations, depend on it but it’s not the most important aspect of the novel.
In fact, it’s so well-integrated that, at times, I forgot I was reading a fantasy novel. The origins of the magical elements are never questioned or really made clear, but they’re not necessary and I find it more effective that they’re included as just “normal” without need of exploration or rules.
Honestly, food, not magic, is the true star of Woven in Moonlight. I’m not usually one for descriptions, but after every depiction of a meal or special kind of drink, I found myself Googling recipes and photos. This book made me so hungry for Bolivian food (which I’ve never tried before) that I couldn’t help but search for local authentic Bolivian restaurants so that I could try everything.
It’s honestly hard to believe that Woven in Moonlight is Isabel Ibañez’s debut novel. Every aspect of this book is skillfully crafted and masterfully handled. From the nuanced characters to the lush scenery and riveting story, the great care Ibañez took to create and develop this world really pays off.
Not only that, but it’s even more difficult to believe that she designed her own cover! When we revealed the Woven in Moonlight cover last summer, I was blown away by it even then, before I’d actually cracked the book open. But it so perfectly illustrates the texture of the world of Inkasia: harsh and troubled, but not without beauty and camaraderie in unexpected places.
Woven in Moonlight is a beautiful and lovingly-written novel that reads like a salve for the imagination as well as the soul. It’s dangerous and hopeful, exciting and lush. It’s rare standalone novel that completely satisfies while also leaving the door open for another book in the world and even more exploration in the minds of its readers.
It may only be the start of 2020, but Woven in Moonlight promises to be one of the best novels you’ll pick up this year.
Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez is available now. Be sure to order your copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, or your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” shelf!