Something Completely Different: Two Moon Princess by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban

To Andrea, the life of a princess is not a dream; it’s tedious and stifling. But the certainties of her life, both good and bad, are thrown into chaos when she accidentally travels to an alternative world, from a cave on a forbidden beach in her family’s kingdom to the warm and carefree life of Southern California. Then a careless visit to the cave results in terrible consequences: a brewing war between kingdoms, her sister’s love for the wrong man, Andrea’s own conflicted feelings for an enemy leader, and dark family secrets exposed. Andrea needs to act to resolve problems which she helped to create, and she faces many difficult choices, torn between duty and desire on so many levels. Readers will enjoy the mix of traditional elements of the fantasy genre, with fresh ideas and a look at our culture through the eyes of a stranger.
Two Moon Princess is one of those books that I wasn’t initially sure what to make of, mostly because I wasn’t – and honestly am still not – quite sure of what it was trying to be. Or do. And though by the end I did finally suss out what it was trying to say, three hundred or so pages of dumb and unlikable characters doing dumb and unlikable things had worn my patience with the story too much to care.

My first and biggest problem with Two Moon Princess is this: I have no idea what age group it’s intended for. When we start the book, our heroine, Andrea, is supposed to be fourteen years old, and even then, she reads at least two years younger. She’s immature, thoughtless, and absolutely oblivious to the world in a way you wouldn’t expect any fourteen-year-old girl, much less a princess, to be. But it gets worse – we fast-forward through about a year in the first quarter of the book, putting Andrea at fifteen when the story proper begins, and once she makes the inevitable cross over from her world to ours, it’s revealed that time passes differently where Andrea comes from, and that her true age is seventeen.

Seven-fucking-teen, and this girl has all the emotional maturity, understanding, and depth of a child half her age. I seriously just gaped when I read this, because the only way I’d been able to excuse the preceding crapload of one-note characterizations, shoddy storytelling, childish actions, and whiny, annoying heroine was by relegating it as “for kids”.

But then Andrea crosses into our world, and all of the sudden this JF novel has YA aspirations, what with Andrea suddenly being seventeen, and caring about boys and clothes and dating and actually enrolling in college, of all things. It’s incredibly jarring, because not two pages before she steps into our world, she’s watching her older sisters participate in a ball from a tree house, and you would swear she’d thought boys had cooties.

Andrea’s childish attitude isn’t the only factor in establishing the book’s younger voice, though. Like I mentioned before, Ferreiro-Esteban’s writing has a lot of issues that you’d think would only fly in a book read by tots who don’t know any better. The dialogue all around is awkward – modern teenagers spout off long, stilted tirades almost completely devoid of contractions, medieval teenagers whine like spoiled children, and the adults speak like…well, people out of a Renaissance fair. Like people who think adding “doth” to every other sentence and dropping contractions make them authentically medieval.

Ferreiro-Esteban’s characterization and plotting are all over the place, too. It takes a full three-quarters of the book for the ultimate conflict and destination to become clear; the rest we spend fast-forwarding through months of Andrea’s life while being told what she does and does not like about it, pausing every once in a while to meet characters or witness a scene or two that may be relevant later. Or being treated to completely irrelevant tours of California missions!

Characters like her older sisters Sabela (the Smart One), Margarida (the Nice One), cousin Kelsey, and especially Rosa (the designated Mean Sister), are cartoonishly one-dimensional, and do whatever Ferreiro-Esteban requires to move the plot along, whether it’s believable or not.

Andrea’s mother is especially guilty of this, and is one of the biggest, gaping plot holes/my pet peeves of the book. She is a modern woman from our world who not only agreed to become queen of a medieval kingdom after staying there for one month as a child, but also did absolutely nothing with her power to try and change the society for anyone. Nor did she ever tell her daughters about the (far more liberated) world from which she came, or encourage them to do anything but conform to a backwards society’s expectations of their gender. In fact, she discouraged deviation, especially in Andrea and her desire to be a knight (though this is explained to some degree), even though SHE HERSELF was a doctor. Just…what? What? What level-headed, intelligent, educated Californian woman would voluntarily doom herself to a life of chamber pots and patriarchy, or her girl-children to one of only needle point, legitimized elitism, and arranged marriage? And never try to change it?!

That’s the only way you’d get me into one of those deals. If a medieval Spanish Lord from an alternate universe came to me and asked me to be his Queen, I’d be like “Maybe. But first, we need to talk about indoor plumbing and equal rights, because my ass is not spending fifty years shitting in a bowl, mending skirts, and popping out babies.”

When the characters aren’t frustratingly unbelievable, they’re painfully stupid. Andrea is relentlessly short-sighted, even after spending months supposedly maturing and expanding her horizons in California. For example, to escape a storm after a night on the beach, she leads her sort-of love interest to the fucking cave that serves as a portal to her world, and yet is surprised when whoops! they get transported to her world. I mean, really, how could she ever have known there was a full moon behind those storm clouds? It’s not like she has, you know, a watch to keep track of that or anything (she does)! And what kind of moron would take cover in the gateway to another dimension, anyway? She didn’t want to go back, so doesn’t it make sense that she would avoid that cave at all costs, in case something like this happened and stranded her back in her homeland for an entire month?

Once she and sorta-boyfriend get stranded (improbably – what, is the gate only good for one go a month? They can’t walk in and then back out again?) and shit hits the fan, every plan she formulates to fix things is childishly naive and astoundingly ignorant of even the most basic political awareness. By any normal standard of strategy or common sense, none of them should work, but occasionally they do, and you have to shake your head and chalk it up to the expectation of a JF audience, because no one over the age of ten would buy that.

Stupider still is Andrea’s horrifyingly undeveloped pseudo-boyfriend, John, who only exists to serve as catalyst for the book’s climax. For starters, he is easily convinced that Andrea’s two-mooned world is some sort of super high-tech planetarium projection, and her medieval castle and court just a Renaissance-Fair-esque reproduction by era enthusiasts (her parents). That speaks badly of both characters, really – that Andrea would try to explain her world away with an excuse that stupid, and that her previously personality-less boyfriend would be dumb enough to believe her.

The worst part is that, for the book to progress in the way Ferreiro-Esteban wants it to, John has to get stupider, and he is by far the most mind-bogglingly, delusionally oblivious member of the cast. He honestly believes that starting a war in an alternate universe full of war-crazed medieval Spaniards for the honor of a girl he met and fell in “love” with over the course of like a week is a totally reasonable, non-irrational course of action, and that he – a basketball-playing college jock – could possibly stand a chance in combat against soldiers and noblemen with a lifetime of fighting experience backing them up. I’m sorry, but not even the dumbest of the dumbest frat boys is stupid enough to believe any portion of that, let alone all of it, and yet the book’s entire conflict hinges on this.

Ugh, we should just stamp them all as “Too Stupid to Live” and get on with it.

That aside, there were some aspects of Two Moon Princess that I did appreciate. For one, it’s one of the few YA/JF/MG novels that feature a non-white heroine and culture as the primary influence in its fantasy world. Andrea is Spanish, and her homeland is full of Dons and Dona’s, and the fashions and customs are similar to those of Spain back in the day. This is due to an accidental influx of Spanish soldiers several hundred years earlier, at least, according to Andrea’s Uncle’s assessment of her world’s history. They conquered the native “Xarens”, interbreeding and mingling until they absorbed the culture and evolved into the present society.

Personally I didn’t quite understand why, with essentially the same, if not more time to evolve than our world, Andrea’s homeland was still so firmly stuck in the middle ages. Surely they should have developed a little, yet somehow bridges are the height of technology. Really?

Even so, I would have liked to see more in the way of world development, because what I did see only made me ask more questions. Like, how big is Andrea’s world? Are there more than two opposing Kingdoms? There have to be/have been inhabitants other than that Spanish and Xaren, so where are they? What are their traditions? But we don’t see much beyond Andrea’s kingdom and that of their enemy Don Julian, and there wasn’t much difference between the two as far as I could tell. It’s a shame, too, because I was far more interested in those questions than Andrea’s ~exciting Californian lifestyle~.

Second, I’ll admit, the last quarter of the book in which we understood where it was going and what the ultimate goal was, was far more interesting than the rest had been. I’m one of those people who generally needs a clear conflict or destination, or at least some core mystery that needs to be solved, so chapters of meandering just don’t work well for me. Two Moon Princess had too many of those for my taste, and too many false starts and unexplored potential plot threads before it finally found its way.

I also enjoyed the eventual subversion of traditional rebel-princess themes. While Andrea has always wanted to be a knight, once she actually sees and experiences battle, she realizes such violence doesn’t interest her. It’s part of her evolution as a character, which, while clunky, was still at least present. She comes to understand more about the world, about how – SHOCK OF ALL SHOCKS – powerful men might have less than altruistic motives, and apparently go a bit power-mad (even ones who will later turn out to be misunderstood love interests) and need only the slightest provocation to go to war, and aren’t they stupid shits, leaving us women to clean up the mess.

We also learn that war kills people and there’s no honor or glory in it, the other side is made up of people just like you, blah blah. It’s a worthwhile lesson, I suppose, but once we get to the point that Andrea learns it, it’s related a bit heavy-handed-ly.

The relationship between Andrea and her eventual True Love Interest, Don Julian, was more than a little awkward, too. At worst, it’s a twenty-year-old man falling for a fifteen-year-old girl. Even taking off the extra two years from his age and adding Andrea’s, the maturity difference is enough to make it skeevy. Andrea is still mentally about ten, and Julian seems much, much older. Like thirty. It’s pretty uncomfortable.

All in all, I just…can’t recommend Two Moon Princess. The characters are irritating and stupid, if they’re not assholes or caricatures, and the story takes far too long to get on track to be worth holding out for. When all is said and done, the Spanish setting is really the only thing this book has going for it, and it’s just not enough.

two stars


This review copy was provided by NetGalley.

 

One Response

  1. turn-the-page.net

    October 10, 2011 8:29 pm, Reply

    Brilliant review – Im impressed you even finished it. I’ve given up about a third of the way. Its so badly written and childish I couldn’t see the point in forcing myself to continue. I went onto Goodreads to find out if I was the only one not impressed and found your review 🙂

    Amy @ Turn the Page

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