"An engaging adventure novel filled with action, mystery and romance."– Kirkus Reviews
The final installment of the adventures of an 18th-century sorcerer in New Mexico.
McFarland (What the Owl Saw, 2014, etc.) continues his series of mystical historical novels featuring the heroic young brujo Don Carlos Buenaventura, who, in 1706, lives in the Spanish Empire’s town of Santa Fe (now in modern-day New Mexico). He hides his sorcerous identity from other members of his community by taking the alternate identity of Don Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca, an ordinary young man from an aristocratic Catholic family. For some of his career, Don Carlos has also been hiding from a fellow sorcerer, Don Malvolio, who hounded him through many lifetimes and even killed him in his last existence. As this concluding volume opens, Don Carlos continues to juggle the natural and supernatural sides of his life: he’s pursuing a new career as mogul in the West Coast’s booming real estate market and a romantic relationship with the beautiful widow Inéz de Recalde. More recently, though, others have been pursuing him: Inquisition officials have heard rumors of a powerful brujo in Santa Fe and have sent a commission to ferret him out. McFarland’s genial, involving narrative vividly realizes the world of Colonial Santa Fe, and its people feel very believably of their time. In the supernatural segments, there’s never much doubt that Don Carlos will prevail (“When I’m in good form, I make for a challenging opponent,” he says at one point), but the scenes remain gripping. McFarland is quite skilled at providing seamless background information so that each of the books in the series could, in a pinch, stand alone. However, readers are nonetheless advised to read the first two installments before beginning this third, as a great deal of nuance, especially regarding Don Carlos’ knowledge of and belief in himself, would otherwise be lost.
A very satisfying blend of the historical novels of James Michener and the spiritual accounts of Carlos Castaneda.
McFarland (The Brujo’s Way, 2013) offers his second volume of adventures of an 18th century New Mexico wizard.
In 1706, Don Carlos Buenaventura, a deliberative, noble figure, is currently in his sixth lifetime. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he follows “The Brujo’s Way,” a pure, heroic philosophical approach that clears his mind, allowing him to use his mystical powers, which include manipulating energy and transforming himself and others into various kinds of animals. Through the centuries, he’s opposed the machinations of a fellow super-being, Don Malvolio. In this latest novel, Don Carlos is aided by a woman named Inez, who also possesses rudimentary bruja powers, although of a different nature than his own. They, along with other allies, encounter a trio of newcomers to Santa Fe: a magician and two dancers. Don Carlos finds them intriguing, but he’s suspicious that they may be his enemy’s disciples. As in the previous volume, McFarland gives readers much more than a mere contest between good and evil sorcerers in the distant wake of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Along the way, he incorporates a great deal of Santa Fe history and culture, as well as plenty of Pueblo mysticism. In the tradition of Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan books, characters often expound on life and philosophy; however, in that same tradition, it’s at the expense of natural-seeming dialogue or interactions. Don Carlos, in particular, comes across as disconnected from the exigencies of daily reality (other characters actually comment on it), which makes the book’s dramatic ending feel a bit jury-rigged. The story’s final act feels too much like a bridge to a potential third installment to deliver as much satisfaction as it otherwise might have. That said, the bulk of the book is every bit as fascinating and comprehensive as its predecessor.
A lavishly detailed, if slightly wooden, look at the mystical underside of a vanished Santa Fe world.
McFarland’s (Inside Greenwich Village: A New York City Neighborhood, 1898-1918, 2001) novel chronicles the adventures of a sorcerer in the American Southwest during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
It’s not uncommon for picaresque novels to begin with the birth of their hero, as this first volume in McFarland’s Buenaventura series does. It’s far less common for the hero to be humming his favorite songs while he’s being born. Don Carlos Buenaventura manages it, however, because he’s actually an old and experienced brujo—a reincarnated sorcerer who embarks on his sixth life as part of an aristocratic family in 1670s Mexico City. As a teenager, he has a series of adventures along the Camino Real and in Santa Fe (now in New Mexico) in the wake of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. He gradually recovers memories of his past lives and recalls the dangers of his present life—his superhuman nature might be detected by humans, for example, or by members of the evil Moon Moiety, an order of brujos dedicated to the eradication of Don Carlos’ Sun Moiety and led by the evil Don Malvolio. In the course of McFarland’s crowded but expertly paced narrative, Don Carlos encounters card sharps, warrior Apaches, evil sorcerers and a beguiling swordswoman named Inez who teaches him, among many other things, the art of fencing. She speaks more accurately than she knows when she tells him that a “little mystery in a relationship can be a good thing.” Although Don Carlos may be entering his sixth life, McFarland engagingly portrays him as a naïve youth, innocent in the ways of his mysterious craft; he may be able to transform himself easily into a hawk or an owl, but the restraint and wisdom that his master Don Serafino preaches comes much harder to him. Like any good adventure hero, he’s instinctively both a lover and a fighter.
An engaging adventure novel filled with action, mystery and romance.