The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

Cover of The Hacienda by Isabel Ceñas against a white backdrop with a red rose next to it.

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!

Find it here

All The Murmuring Bones by A.G. Slatter

All the Murmuring Bones with a shell, sea monster, and dolphin around it.

I’m a big fan of authors taking old epics and myths and retelling the with an emphasis on women characters (like Circe by Madeline Miller, The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec, and A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – I’ll be reviewing another of her books here soon!).  A.G. Slatter’s All The Murmuring Bones is a gothic fairy tale full of Celtic mythological creatures. Selkies, kelpies, wights, and more, roam the land-and sea-scape.

“One for the house, one for the church, and one for the sea.” So goes the creed for the O’Malley family.  Generations ago, the O’Malleys struck a deal with the merpeople.  The mer would protect the O’Malley family’s ships and fortunes at sea. In return, the O’Malleys would sacrifice a child each generation.  For a long time, the deal was beneficial to the family (even if not for those sacrificed) and the O’Malley clan grew in fortune, status, and power.  But the desire to keep that power in the family led to fewer births and fewer children for the sea.  Soon, ships began sinking and fortunes began shrinking. 

Enter young Miren O’Malley, the only child raised at the old family manor of Hob’s Hallow after her parents left her there with her grandparents. Determine to revive the family’s legacy, Miren’s grandmother has plans for Miren.  But Miren’s cleverness and independence is a strong match for her grandmother and she refuses to be a pawn.  There are whispers of another home where she might find some answers.  Yet the land is full of perils – as is the water. 

This was a really fun and fascinating tale.  I wasn’t that familiar with a lot of the mythology from this region, so I enjoyed learning more. Slatter did an excellent job of blending them in as part of every-day life for the people who lived there.  Ghouls are just another thing you need to avoid on the road, like a pothole.  The first born children of the O’Malley clan must be branded so the mer do not kill them.  A dead body might tell you how they died. Just the way life goes! In addition to the fairy tale we’re reading, Miren weaves in her own fairy tales and stories with which she grew up, so you get a lot of story for one book. 

I feel like this would be even better to read in the fall, curled up under a blanket, listening to the wind make skeletal branches dance outside your window, casting shadows upon your walls and tapping eerily on the panes. But regardless of when you decide to read it, I’m sure you’ll enjoy All the Murmuring Bones!

Find it online:

All the Murmuring Bones