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.