Review of The Hacienda by Isabel Canas

la hacienda by isabel canas

It’s October, Hispanic Heritage Month! As such I’m reviewing the first novel of a rising, young star in Hispanic literature, Isabel Canas and her book, The Hacienda. The novel is set in tempestuous nineteenth century Mexico, 1823. The book is unabashedly Mexican Gothic. Think Adams Family, Telemundo, without the comedy. The first character we meet is Beatriz, a naive young bride, moving to a higher social status with marriage to lackluster Rodolfo. She emerges from her bridal carriage to see her new home, Hacienda San Isidro, the second major character of the novel. Immediately she realizes that her new husband Rodolfo was not, in fact, the master of this house. That role belongs to her new and previously unmentioned sister-in-law, Juana. Within days of his arrival with Beatriz, Rodolfo bugs off to Mexico City on political duties, leaving Beatriz alone with San Isidro and Juana. Oh, yes, by this time Beatriz also learns that she’s not the first bride that Rodolfo has dumped on San Isidro with Juana. The first wife died mysteriously soon after her arrival. Beatriz brushes off this interesting bit of information and immerses herself in the plantation’s main enterprise, the production of pulque. For those of my readers who are not familiar with the national alcoholic beverage of Mexico during this period, pulque is made from the sharp-pointed cactus called maguey. It is a fermented brew of maguey squeezings which is milky white and tastes of sour beer. It is so disgusting in appearance and consistency that only the lower classes or Yarqui Native Mexicans will drink the stuff. In the same fields the plantation also produces agave which could be distilled into a more refined and exquisite beverage, tequila, but is not. As Beatriz wields her machete in the fields (see book dust jacket: Beatriz in tightly stayed, red dress with beloved, pointy maguey and San Isidro in background on a darkly ominous evening), the third character in this gothic triangle appears. Andres is a local priest who spent seven years in seminary shrouded in the Inquisition. If ever there is an acting part for Adam Driver, it is Andres.

All the elements of Mexican Gothic are now in play. Beatriz, married but alone in a malevolent, haunted house that even Juana cannot control. San Isidro, the previously mentioned bad and probably murderous house, frightens everyone, except Andres. By far the most interest character in this novel is Andres, the priest who is beginning to realize his witch super-powers. In Mexican culture, witches, or brujas are widely acknowledged and sought after for advice or for medical purposes. But, unlike Andres, bruja are women. I’ve never heard of anyone with mysterious skills, called a witch in Mexican culture. The blending of Catholic faith with supernatural elements is also not unusual in Mexican culture. When I envision Andres, I see a man attempting to straddle two worlds, the Catholic faith of upper-class Mexicans and the shaman heritage of Native Mexicans. Andres attempts to hide his witch character and his possible mixed heritage but fails.

At the end of the book, where Andres and Beatriz confess their mutual attraction, don’t expect any bodice ripping scenes. This is Mexican Gothic, which is mostly blood, weird atmosphere, and house on fire scenes, not sex. Having subdued the evil house spirits, Andres is in control of San Isidro, and he asked Beatriz to stay with him now that both Rodolfo and sister Juana are dead. Surprisingly, Beatriz, tired of controlling men and their malevolent houses, opts to leave him and move in with her mother, a now wealthy widow also free of male social dominance and who lives a great distance from San Isidro. Andres is left to contemplate a love that never will be. Now that all the women are either dead or gone, who is going to tend the angry maguey cactus is unclear.

The three main characters are very convincing, the atmosphere is well suited for October, and I look forward to more books from Isabel Canas.

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Praise for Borderland Mysteries

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