Two Moon Princess

Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban is a time/space traveling YA fantasy novel, colored with the influence of Spanish culture and Californian history. Princess Andrea, the fourth and youngest daughter of the King and Queen, dreams of being a knight but fears her father will not allow her to continue her training now that she's getting older. As suspected, even after she wins an archery contest, Andrea is told that it is now time for her to set such masculine things aside and study to be a lady with her mother's guidance. What the king says is law, so really the only thing that will get her out of this is a magic portal to another universe.
Funny how that can happen in fantasy novels, right?
After struggling to be what she is not, Andrea discovers her kingdom's long-hidden secret, a portal that opens once a month and allows travelers to pass between worlds. Of course, she doesn't totally know what it is until she stumbles through to present day California, where the slightly strange uncle (who would occasionally visit court for short sojourns) turns out to be from this (the real/reader's) world and he's not terribly pleased to have his otherworld niece suddenly appear. In addition, Andrea's mom is actually from California and chose to stay in the other universe for love of Andrea's father, but her uncle bops back and forth between the two worlds, writing off his long absences from his University of California archaeology professorship as "time in the field." Her uncle insists that Andrea must go back to her country/universe when the portal opens again, but that means she's got a month to explore life in our world. As Andrea acclimatizes to California (it helps that her people have ridiculously awesome memories that allow her to learn English practically overnight) and its ways, she begins to appreciate the freedom this world can offer that would be denied to her back home, no matter her station. Unfortunately, though, even when she's given permission by her parents to stay in California for a while, a mistake lands Andrea and her California crush, John, back in her former home and the ultimate consequences of this action lead to war within her world. Now it's up to Andrea to find a way to stop the war and along the way, she discovers that not everything in her world is worth leaving behind, but she ultimately will have to choose between the two.

First off, I really wanted to like this book. I was looking forward to the incorporation of old Spanish culture and California history. As a former California Catholic school student, the missions were a big part of grade school curriculum (my small-scale foam-board mission, btw, rocked the socks off everyone else's in the school) and I still have a soft spot for this morally questionable part of my culture. At least with the mission component in this book, I wasn't too disappointed -- these bits and the flavor they provided were interesting and I wanted more. Unfortunately, it was everything else that got annoying. Time was all wonky -- in Andrea's world (which has two moons, btw, hence the title) the calendar is longer and so she starts the book as "nearly fourteen," but in our world, this mean she's seventeen. (Let me tell you that it's a BIG difference for a reader when she blithely reads along, picturing a fourteen-year-old and then suddenly she's enrolled in college classes and thinking about kissing boys in a this-isn't-too-soon-at-all kind of way.) It was also frustrating to know the whole "the portal only opens every month" bit meant that lots of time gets skimmed over in the course of the story and it seems just a little too convenient that no one (like her uncle's real-world daughter, perhaps?) gets all that concerned when someone is unreachable for a whole frickin' month. In general, I found that this story tended to drag on in places (for the first half, I came amazingly close to setting the book aside because things were going so slowly and I pretty much never give up on a book). Eventually, it picked up when the direction that we were headed in became a bit clearer, but that took quite a long while. I will give the novel credit for not giving away the details about who will be playing what part (aka the "villians," the love interest, etc.) but sometimes that came at the cost of twisting people from their original presentations to ascribe actions to them that don't seem all that believable or sympathetic.

On the whole, I didn't really like any of the characters. All the men (save one, later on) seem to be real jerks -- especially Andrea's uncle who, given that he's a professor from modern-day California, you might expect to be less of a dick towards women -- and the women are easily dismissed as being one-note or lacking in definition. Ultimately, though, the real fault I had with this novel was Andrea -- it's entirely possible to still enjoy a novel where you dislike the main character (it can even be an interesting experience, really), but it's much harder when you find them annoying and, quite frankly, a bit slow on the uptake. When I thought she was fourteen, her intelligence level might have been forgiven, but at seventeen, she came across as rather dim indeed. It wasn't that she was klutzy or forgetful or endearingly clueless... she was actually a little dumb. She never thought things through and never seemed to understand that actions have repercussions and, as a princess, you'd think she'd be a bit more aware here. She grows a pair towards the end of the novel, but it happens a bit too quickly for any brave actions to be really believable as character development and, instead, it's like a new Andrea is suddenly on the scene. The thing that kept me reading was the plot -- I honestly wasn't sure where things were going for a while and I dislike giving up on things, so I stuck it out. The romance angle (once you it came to fruition) was interesting, even though I liked the hero far more than Andrea, but once it became a possibility, the ultimate end result was clear and there were no further twists.

Alas, while I honestly appreciate the introduction on diversity and different cultures into literature (particularly YA), I just wasn't won over by Two Moon Princess. Given a different heroine, perhaps I could have warmed to it, but Andrea just wasn't up to the task of shouldering this novel. It's quite a shame, really, as this novel had potential and some very interesting details to its credit, but it just wasn't my cup of tea in the end.

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