Woven in Moonlight was one of my most anticipated reads for the first quarter of 2020, and when I finally got the chance to read it for #PhilMythReadathon (check out my TBR video here, or the announcement video here) I was super eager to get started.
Unfortunately, I ended up feeling a bit uncomfortable about how the book’s plot ultimately ended up panning out – enough to write a whole review about it, apparently.
Please keep in mind the following things: I am not Latinx and I am not Bolivian. Therefore take all of my criticism with a grain of salt.
Also, please be aware that this review contains spoilers (although I tried to keep them as vague as possible). So if you haven’t read Woven in Moonlight yet, you might want to skip this post!
What’s the book all about?
Woven in Moonlight is the story of Ximena, a girl whose entire world is upended by a revolution. For decades, the Illustrians have ruled over the country of Inkasisa – including a group of people known as the Llacsans. All that changes when the Llacsans finally revolt, depose and execute the Condesa, and send the remaining Illustrians fleeing to a magical fortress in the mountains.
The new Condesa is a young girl named Catalina. Her closest friend is the aforementioned Ximena, her loyal bodyguard and decoy – a la Padmé Amidala. Together, the two lead the Illustrian resistance which aims to take back Inkasisa and put Catalina on the throne. However, a wrench is thrown into their plans when Ana, whose magic keeps the fortress hidden, is kidnapped by Atoc, the king of the Llacsans. Atoc says that he’ll return Ana to them, if the Condesa returns to Inkasisa and marries him.
Ximena agrees to go in place of Catalina, but she also has another purpose: to locate the Estrella, the weapon the Llacsans used that enabled them to defeat the Illustrians and take over Inkasisa. However, when she arrives in Inkasisa, she discovers that the Illustrians may not have actually been the benevolent rulers she thought they were.
It was actually pretty well-written.
Here’s the thing. From a literary standpoint, Woven in Moonlight was not at all a bad read. And there were actually things I liked.
For one, I absolutely adored the way that Bolivian food was very lovingly described. I looked up every dish that was mentioned and made mental notes to try and cook them while the Philippines is in lockdown. Protip? Do not read this book while hungry.
The Llacsan side characters were also super compelling and excellently portrayed (with the exception of the villain, Atoc, whom I found cartoonish and unbelievable – a veritable caricature of an actually existing evil and cruel man). I especially liked the Princess Tamaya, Atoc’s sister; and the healer Rumi. Both of them come to play important parts in Ximena’s journey, and later on in the liberation of Inkasisa. I also really liked the guard Juan Carlos, who Atoc assigns to keep an eye on Ximena.
Also, as simplistic as the ending was, and how easy saving the day turned out to be, I actually didn’t mind all that much. I liked how the plot turned out, and I actually liked the way that the story ended with all the loose threads tied up in a neat little bow. To be honest? This book would have been the perfect quarantine/lockdown read. It’s high stakes so it still engages you, but it’s not anxiety-inducing and you’re assured of the happy ending.
Here’s what ruined the reading experience for me.
I could not get over how much I disliked the main character.
First off, the Llacsans are meant to be representative of an indigenous group, while the Illustrians are meant to be similar to white or mestizo Latinx folks. And from the moment Ximena arrives in Inkasisa, she does nothing but criticise the Llacsan fashion styles and architecture. In everything she does for like…60% of the book, Ximena shows herself to not just be unlikeable and rude, but downright prejudiced and bigoted.
I get that the point of the story was to show Ximena changing her ways and getting better, but that “redemption arc” was so unbelievable it honestly had me rolling my eyes so many times. When a character doesn’t accept that she’s wrong and take steps to undo her prejudice and bigotry until the very last quarter of a book, that’s not a redemption arc. That’s not character development. That’s lazy.
Also, Cande (who wrote a magnificent review of this book here) put it best:
I really don’t have the power in me, the patience in this year, to read about privileged people learning that oh, marginalized people are people and should be respected.
Which leads me to my main point, and the title of this piece. Why is the voice of an oppressor being centred in a narrative of indigenous people rising up and taking back their powder and independence?
Throughout the entire story, it’s made very clear that Ximena was just so unaware of how privileged she was. She makes use of all the classic rhetoric that privileged people use when discussing marginalised communities: She had a nanny that was Llacsan and she loved her! The Illustrians helped the Llacsans! And so much more. As someone whose own country was colonised – twice – by people who thought they were helping us, it was pretty grating to read stuff like this.
To make matters worse, the main meat of the story is the Llacsans gaining their independence – first from the Illustrians, then from Atoc’s brutal rule. At the end of it, the main events of Woven in Moonlight are all about how a subjugated people free themselves from a tyrant’s grip; first the Condesa’s, then Atoc’s. It’s all about them fighting for their dignity and right to self-governance. So why then in the name of all that is holy is an Illustrian telling this story?
Honestly, I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the protagonist had been Princess Tamaya, or Rumi. Heck, even the Llacsan maid who serves Ximena. Someone who actually has skin in the game of seeing the Llacasans achieve self-determination.
In the end, in a political climate where governments the world over are still screwing indigenous folks, this was not a book I could enjoy.
☕ Have you read this book? What did you think?
☕ Do you agree, or do you have opposing opinions?
☕ What are you favourite books by indigenous authors?