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.