Okay, okay. It’s fantasy again, but this time it is Bolivian mythological and historical fantasy…
Ximena has been a decoy for the real Condessa, Catalina, for 10 years. When the Illustrians’ home was taken over by the conqueror Atoc and his magical relic, Ximena’s people fled the city to seek refuge in the hills. Knowing that the conqueror would not rest until the Condessa of the Illustrians was killed, Ximena was raised to be the real Condessa’s decoy. When Ximena is forcibly taken to be Atoc’s new wife, she must find a way to save herself and her people from inside the enemy’s walls. Can she trust anyone– including the masked vigilante whose motives for disrupting Atoc’s plans are still unclear?
I wanted to fall in love with this, but it just fell short in a few areas. My biggest complaint is that there just wasn’t enough to the story. My copy was a small-sized hardback with not quite 400 pages. I liked many aspects, but, in my opinion, they weren’t utilized to their fullest. Here are a few examples.
There is magic, even moon magic, but magic doesn’t play much of a role in the entire novel. We know that several characters have magic, but besides the main protagonist and the main antagonist, we rarely see or hear of anyone else doing magic. And even the main magic users’ powers aren’t fleshed out enough to know how they work or the extent of what they can do. Some characters get tired after using magic, but then others don’t seem to? I wanted the magic to play a bigger role or be explained a little more clearly. There is a lot that could have been done with all of the different magic the side characters possess too.
The main character is a decoy in enemy territory, and she has trained her whole life to be and act like the Condessa. Yet, she slips up often and lets her true self show or gives things away unintentionally. She also warms up to the enemy faction rather quickly, often having flirty/silly banter with them. There’s a romance that also heats up a little too quickly for me to be invested in. I liked the main character’s fierceness and heart, though. The other characters were interesting, but they (and their magic!) could have played a bigger role. A couple of characters were killed off so quickly, and even though we are told how important they were to the main character, I wasn’t attached enough to feel much loss.
I was a little bored around the midpoint of the novel. I expected more complex political maneuvering, but most of the novel is spent with Ximena in her small room as she worries about what to do. She sneaks out a few times rather easily, which I also didn’t think was realistic. She did some spying around, but I felt like a lot more could have been done with her being in enemy territory. She felt rather passive in general when I felt that she should have been doing more planning and plotting, especially since she was a trained decoy.
So, what’s there to like? I liked the writing. It is descriptive and pretty, especially the colors, flavors, and smells of the setting, but it doesn’t go overboard with lyrical prose. I liked that we were in Ximena’s head a lot because it was intriguing to see how she felt and why. She struggled with her own identity versus being a decoy, which made sense. I really liked the magic, but as I said before, I wish it had been used more throughout the novel or played a bigger role in the plot. The whole setting was interesting as was the political plot and revolution aspect, but the plot wasn’t particularly complex. It was fairly easy to see where things were going. However, I really appreciated reading something new in YA fantasy. I’ve certainly never read a fantasy inspired by Bolivian history and myth, so I was happy to expand my love of fantasy by reading this novel.
If you’re new to YA fantasy, or looking for something light in tone and depth but unique, I would recommend this novel. I gave it three solid stars out of five.