A first novel, set in the early 16th century during the Spanish conquest of present-day New Mexico, details the adventures of one Mar°a AngÇlica as she both observes and takes part in the founding of Santa Fe. The story opens in 1598 as the Royal Spanish governor, Don Juan de O§ate, leads priests, soldiers, and settlers toward the conquest and colonization of Indian lands north of the Rio Grande. Mar°a AngÇlica is the gorgeous, sexy wife of brutal Captain Vicente de Vizcarra, whose only interest is in finding personal wealth. Mar°a, viciously abused by her husband, quickly seeks an affair with another officer, but their love ends when the young man is killed. Despondent, Mar°a rebounds to the arms of Rohona, a handsome but deliberately maimed Indian slave given by the governor to her husband as a reward for his bravery in battle. For the next two decades, the stories of these star-crossed conquistadors unfold through tragedy, disaster, war, corruption, and imperial politics, all punctuated with religious and racial bigotry and with the cruel arrogance of European interlopers into the bucolic and previously idyllic world of the American Indian. Harrigan provides more or less accurate historical background and detail, and the narrative is bolstered by the intrigue of power struggles between Don Juan and his superiors and underlings. At the same time, credibility is strained by Mar°a's maintenance of her allure and beauty in spite of her subjection to the worst hardships the outpost colony can offer. Meanwhile, there's plenty of soft-core, inoffensive erotica. Generally unoriginal, though a splendid sense of character and language keeps the story moving—until a romantic formula rises at end to conquer and squelch an otherwise satisfying debut.
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