A historical novel continues the story of Col. Alejandro Luis De La Voca Rivera, a swashbuckling military hero stationed in colonial New Spain.
The time frame for Diaz’s (Shadows Under the Sun, 2016) sequel is never specifically stated, but the action takes place during the period of Spain’s rule over what is today Mexico and New Mexico. Albuquerque and Santa Fe are already established outposts, governed by an elite class that traces its roots to the Iberian Peninsula. As the tale opens, Alejandro has just arrived in the Yucatán town of Campeche, having traveled from Santa Fe in part to deliver a package of correspondence to the beautiful young widow Maria Angela Alvarez Candelaria from her brother. Alejandro and Angela were once engaged; now their romance is rekindled. The story follows the couple during their first few years of marriage while they are living in Mexico and on their subsequent journey back to Spain to spend time at Alejandro’s ancestral home. In Madrid, Angela is presented to the king and queen and learns that her husband is a marquis, quite popular with the royal family (“Her mind raced with the day’s wonderful memories. There was the grand palace with servants everywhere…lunch and countless hours of discourse with the most noble of nobles. She had also discovered that she was a noble woman by marriage and now felt silly at having repeated over and over during the walk back, ‘Marquesa de Carzola’ ”). Unfortunately, she becomes so enchanted with frivolous palace life that she is diminished as a three-dimensional character, losing the depth and compassion that made her so charming in the first volume and the earlier half of this one. Diaz also introduces an element of mysticism to this installment. Alejandro’s adopted daughter delivers a grim prophecy, resulting in a pervasive sense of melancholy that leaches joy from the second half of the narrative. As he did in his earlier work, the author frequently juxtaposes the colonel’s fierceness in combat with his innate tenderness, sense of justice, loyalty toward his men, deep religious convictions, and concern for the poor and needy. Diaz fills the adventure with bloody battles, political intrigue, schemes, and revenge.
Debates about empires and lavish depictions of culture bring moments of relief in a haunting drama that reflects a Federico García Lorca-esque focus on life’s inevitable tragedies.