The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

My quest to read every retelling and remix of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca continues! This time around it’s The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas, featuring a mashup of themes and characters from Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Mexican Gothic, and The Death of Jane Lawrence, and a tense descent into bigotry, ghosts, magic, sin, and forging your own path.

Beatriz is the daughter of a general disgraced and murdered at the end of the Mexican War of Independence. She’s never gotten over it, not least because it forced her and her mother to move in with her high-class (and pale-skinned) Tia Fernanda – who never let Beatriz forget what a favor she was doing for them. A proposal from the landowning widower Rodolfo Solorzano seemed to be an unexpected gift that would allow Beatriz and her mother to claim their own home, status, and freedom. Her mother’s refusal to go along with it only strengthened Beatriz’ resolve, and she soon arrives at the hacienda San Isidro ready to make it her own. But little does she know what lurks in the house… between whispers of Rodolfo’s first wife, hostility from Rodolfo’s sister, and sinister red eyes in the darkness, Beatriz is in way over her head. She turns to the local church and finds herself leaning on the unusual young priest Andres in an increasingly terrifying fight for survival.

This is no mere retelling; many of the elements are unique and intriguing. Beatriz feels like a very unique character to me because of her defiant (and desperate) ambition to claw her way to a better life and a true home. Her noble young hero Andres is also refreshing, not least because he gets his own voice in alternating chapters and has his own journey of self-discovery to go on. Even the house itself is different — in this case the house is a nearly sentient character that holds all its history and expresses itself in its own way. All of these attributes are fresh, interesting to read, and deeply expressive of the culture and locale in which this book is set. The reader never forgets all the history that has soaked into the land, nor do they lose sight of the vital cultural contexts — oppressive religion, classism and colorist bigotry, or the violence and hardship of war.

While readable and refreshing, not everything about this book worked for me. The sinister happenings at the hands of “the darkness” were a bit too vague for me to really picture and latch onto, and the romantic plot was too slow-burn for my taste. But if you’re deeply scared of the dark and love forbidden and star-crossed romances, you’ll probably love this book.

Even if you’re like me and DON’T love those elements, there’s a lot to like about this book, so if you like ghost stories, murder mysteries, and romances — with a heaping helping of historical context and sprinkled with feminist and anti-racist social commentary, definitely give this book a try.

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