Written in Starlight by Isabel Ibañez (book review)
GENRE: YA Fantasy LENGTH: 359 pages
Following the events of Woven in Moonlight Catalina, the heir to Inkasisa, has been banished to the Yanu Jungle. There she struggles to survive while tracking down the legendary indigenous Illari people in the hopes of forging an alliance with them to reclaim her throne.
I was undeniably wary about Catalina being the protagonist. In Woven in Moonlight she was immature and stubborn. In this novel, however, she is a caterpillar transforming into a beautiful butterfly. She grew so much as a character as the story progressed.
Manuel is Catalina's guard whom she's known since childhood and is in love with. They had good chemistry which really shone in their intimate interludes together. My only tiny gripe with this novel is that Catalina was too pushy towards him.
We get to know three Illari characters. Chaska is a seer who helps to enlighten Catalina and who is stern without ever being condescending. Sonco is the Illari's leader and is a true gentleman. His cousin Kusi is a warrior with a tough exterior. All three were distinct and added something to the story.
The last thing I want to touch on in this section is the cameos. Ximena (the protagonist from Woven in Moonlight) and Rumi (another main character from Moonlight) both appear in the novel. It was nice as a fan to get to be reunited with them.
The novel is told from the first person perspective of Catalina. Being in Catalina's head really helped to make her a more sympathetic character. Ibañez's writing has a lot of poetic metaphors without being overly flowery. She's a talented writer who can appeal to a variety of readers. Like its predecessor this novel features some Spañish words mixed in. I really like this as it is a fun way to add to your vocabulary.
Compared to Moonlight, Starlight moves más rápido (faster). This is a book for readers such as myself who like books where something is always happening and the stakes never seem to settle. The novel is still infused with quieter, more intimate moments, but they are mere breathers to prepare you for the next adventure waiting around the corner.
The world of this novel and its predecessor are inspired by Bolivia where Ibañez's parents are from with this one specifically being inspired by her father's childhood. This is a wonderful example of how to take existing world building and lore and expand upon it that more authors should follow. It makes the world feel like it has something new to offer the reader without the reader feeling overwhelmed. We travel to more locations (the Yanu Jungle), see more types of magic (shapeshifting, moonsight), and learn more about the world's gods.
This novel is technically considered a companion to Woven in Moonlight rather than a direct sequel However, I highly recommend reading Moonlight prior to reading this novel as it's important for context.
This story reminded me a lot of another YA fantasy, Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller. Both feature banished female heirs who are forced to survive in a deadly woods/jungle to redeem themselves. It also reminded me of my recent read Among the Beasts and Briars by Ashley Poston as both deal with female characters who are alone, forced to travel through a dangerous woods to a mystical city. I recommend checking those books out if you enjoyed Starlight.
While there was a lot of connective tissue between this novel and its predecessor I was pleased with how different the reading experiences were. Both are wonderful in their own ways. This book was a fun, fast read and a solid follow up from Moonlight. The only thing keeping it from a full 5 stars was that I don't condone how Catalina didn't respect Manuel's attempts to be professional and not engage in romance. I look forward to seeing what Ibañez writes next whether it's in this universe or another.
FINAL RATING: 4.5⭐️
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