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Book: “The Hacienda” by Isabel Cañas
Publishing Info: Berkley, May 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Mexican Gothic meets Rebecca in this debut supernatural suspense novel, set in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence, about a remote house, a sinister haunting, and the woman pulled into their clutches…
In the overthrow of the Mexican government, Beatriz’s father is executed and her home destroyed. When handsome Don Rodolfo Solórzano proposes, Beatriz ignores the rumors surrounding his first wife’s sudden demise, choosing instead to seize the security his estate in the countryside provides. She will have her own home again, no matter the cost. But Hacienda San Isidro is not the sanctuary she imagined.
When Rodolfo returns to work in the capital, visions and voices invade Beatriz’s sleep. The weight of invisible eyes follows her every move. Rodolfo’s sister, Juana, scoffs at Beatriz’s fears—but why does she refuse to enter the house at night? Why does the cook burn copal incense at the edge of the kitchen and mark its doorway with strange symbols? What really happened to the first Doña Solórzano?
Beatriz only knows two things for certain: Something is wrong with the hacienda. And no one there will help her. Desperate for help, she clings to the young priest, Padre Andrés, as an ally. No ordinary priest, Andrés will have to rely on his skills as a witch to fight off the malevolent presence haunting the hacienda and protect the woman for whom he feels a powerful, forbidden attraction. But even he might not be enough to battle the darkness. Far from a refuge, San Isidro may be Beatriz’s doom.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I am a little embarrassed to admit that Isabel Cañas’s debut Gothic horror novel “The Hacienda” was just sitting on my Kindle for months. I requested it pretty early out from the release date, and I know that when I do that books do tend to just sit. By the time I deemed it right to pick up, the chiding ‘downloaded on ___’ indicator was staring at me and making me fidget. And then when I started it, I felt myself all the more annoyed because holy COW. This book was immediately awesome! With a description that has “Mexican Gothic” meets “Rebecca” I knew it was going to be a treat, but boy howdy was I not ready for the treat that it was. I absolutely LOVED “The Hacienda”.
Right off the top I want to say that the ghost story and Gothic elements are ON POINT. Cañas knows how to set the scene and slowly build the dread, pretty much starting right from Beatríz’s arrival to Hacienda San Isidro when she sees gutted rodents strewn about the courtyard. Cats are the culprits, she is told, though there is tension in the air, and it slowly builds and consumes until the tension is unbearable. There are plenty of haunted house moments applied here, from cold spots to slamming doors, to glowing eyes seen in the darkness for a fleeting second, to skeletons found in hidden places. It soon becomes clear to Beatríz that there is something haunting this estate, and as she tries desperately to get someone to believe her, it’s the servants and the locals who have the most insight. When most Priests scoff at her, one, Padre Andrés, answers her call for an exorcism. I loved Beatríz as a tormented and determined protagonist, as she both fits the bill for a Gothic heroine while also pushing against stereotypes as she refuses to be gaslit over what is happening in the home. And I also really liked Andrés, whose Father Karas-esque test of faith hides the fact that he is, at his heart, a witch whose practices have been hidden and repressed by the colonial culture that has taken root (more on that soon). They make a great horror story team, as they are easy to root for a relate to and make you become very invested very quickly. Which makes the haunting they are dealing with all the scarier. And makes the forbidden attraction between them even more high stakes. And yes, SWOON WORTHY.
But there are also a lot of underpinning themes regarding classism, racism, colonialism, and political upheaval that make “The Hacidenda” all the richer when it comes to the story it aims to tell. The aforementioned priest/witch, Andrés, basically went into the priesthood to hide his witchcraft and folk healing that has been passed down through the generations, as the Inquisition came to Mexico and practicing such would make him a target. The previous mistress, Doña Catalina, was abusive and cruel to her servants, who are of lower social standing and are also mostly mestizo in their heritage, and she sees them as subhuman. Juana, the half sister of Don Rodolfo, is a child of a hacendado but as a woman with a mysterious family background has no social claim to his wealth. And even Beatríz has connections to these political themes, as her father was murdered by Don Rodolfo’s party, and as a woman has few options and sees marriage to him as a way to keep herself safe. It’s when these real life horrors and injustices are applied to the horror tale that it really stands out, bringing in a critique of colonized Mexico and the damage it has done to the people who live there. Cañas has a fantastic authors note at the back of this book that really puts it all into context, and she weaves it in perfectly.
And on top of all that, I really loved Cañas’s writing style. She has the right flow, the most haunting and at times beautiful imagery, and paces everything just right. This is a fantastic debut.
“The Hacienda” is can’t miss horror fiction. Scary and thoughtful and a must read to be sure.
Rating 9: Gothic and creepy with ghosts, witchcraft, and commentary, “The Hacienda” is a great horror novel that can’t be missed!