With this first volume of a projected trilogy about 19th-century revolutionary Spanish America, the prolific Fuentes (Constancia, 1990; Christopher Unborn, 1989; etc.) offers a baggy, robust tale about a political kidnapping and its human consequences. Baltasar Bustos, the son of a wealthy Argentine ranch owner, is influenced by Rousseau and the political anti-Royalist climate in 1810 to "turn books into action." He kidnaps the newborn child of a presiding judge of the Supreme Court, the Marquis of Cabra, but in so doing glimpses the Marquise, Ofelia Salamanca, and falls in love with her. Bustos then spends the rest of the story trying to redeem himself by searching first for the kidnapped child, sent away to live the life of a prostitute's child, and then searching for the Marquise when she too disappears. Against this backdrop, Fuentes offers a gallery of straw dogs and mouthpieces who speak for one side or the other as the absolutist Catholic empire of Spain struggles against both principled revolutionaries, who want to create "a rationalist, liberal, and perhaps Protestant freedom," and against various other factions--mestizos and various cutthroats. Meanwhile, Bustos, immersed in a "political and moral anguish" beyond "the immediate division between mine and yours," changes stripes frequently, either to survive or to disguise his true purpose--finding the Marquise--until his search becomes "celebrated" and an aura of myth accumulates around him and the Marquise, who, he eventually learns, is herself a revolutionary double-agent. Exasperatingly expository and episodic--but, still, Fuentes manages to persuade us of the Spanish-American rationale for a continuing revolution and to explore (very unsystematically) the "possibility of establishing a relationship with God through language.