I mentioned in an earlier review how much I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Her book, Mexican Gothic, is fantastic and really won me over to gothic novels. So when I glimpsed The Hacienda on the shelf, I immediately gravitated towards it.
Set in Mexico in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence (which ended in 1821), The Hacienda follows a young woman named Beatriz. Beatriz’s father, a respected general, ended up on the losing side of the war. As a result, Beatriz and her mother lost their home, their status, and everything they. In dire financial straits, Beatriz is determined to do whatever it takes to get her mother and herself out of this situation.
A solution appears in the form of Rodolfo, a wealthy man about whom Beatriz knows very little. Still, he owns a hacienda, he has good social standing, and he’s enchanted by Beatriz. Despite her mother’s protests, Beatriz marries him and heads out to the hacienda.
Beatriz has everything planned out: establish herself as the mistress of the hacienda, make the house a home, and then bring her mother to join her. But the household – and the house – have other plans. From the moment she steps through the door, Beatriz gets an ominous feeling. Rodolfo’s sister seems suspicious, and the kitchen help are constantly burning incense and scratching symbols in the doorways. Then there’s the mystery of what happened to Rodolfo’s first wife and whether history may be repeating.
While all of this is going on, we meet Padre Andrés, a young Indigenous Catholic priest with deep connections to the hacienda and his own haunted past. As forces outside their control conspire against them, the priest and the new bride are drawn together.
This is a fast moving story and even when you have a good guess of what’s going to happen, you still want to keep reading to see how it plays out. There’s romance, of course – what kind of gothic novel wouldn’t have one? It’s a well-built romance, and one that stays true to the characters and their situations.
Cañas also does a wonderful job of situating readers in the historical landscape of revolutionary Mexico. Without becoming an academic paper, Cañas interrogates the impact of race and colonialism in Mexican society. It’s a complex topic, and yet it weaves in seamlessly with the story of a haunted house.
Part of the reason Beatriz jumps at the chance to marry a man like Rodolfo is her awareness that her father’s disgraced reputation in this new order and her darker skin tone significantly limit her marriage prospects. Meanwhile, Padre Andrés also grapples with his ethnic heritage, the spiritual practices he learned from his grandmother, and the faith instilled in him by the Catholic Church. The blending of Catholicism and Indigenous beliefs also rang true and was a welcomed addition to the story.
Most importantly, The Hacienda is a fun, engaging, and enthralling story. We get to jump between perspectives of Beatriz and Andrés, with a little bit of back and forth through time. Cañas handles both deftly. There was never a feeling of “ugh, did we have to switch characters” or anything like that. Instead, the two side complimented each other well and added to the depth of the story.
The Hacienda is Cañas’ debut novel and if this is her first, I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next!