I’ve been waiting to get my hands on a copy of The Hacienda since January. I expected gothic horror, and what I got was a full-on haunted house story. Set in Mexico just after the Mexican War of Independence, the scars of that war are visible everywhere. Beatriz, our main character, is forced to move in with relatives after her father, a general on the wrong side of the war, is disappeared and their house burned down in the night. Beatriz sees her only hope of a better life in marriage to the dashing Rodolfo. Though Beatriz’s mother disapproved of the match based on Rodolfo’s politics, Beatriz is eager to install herself in Rodolfo’s hacienda San Isidro and make a new home for herself and her mother.
Of course, in the way of these stories, things immediately start to go wrong. First, there is Juana, Rodolfo’s sister, who runs the hacienda’s operations. Rodolfo and Juana clearly do not get along, and Juana refuses to enter the house at night. The cook/housekeeper, Ana Luisa, burns incense in the kitchen all day. And then there’s the house itself: full of mysteriously banging doors, inexplicably drafty rooms, and general creeping dread. Beatriz finds an ally in a local priest, who may also be a witch, working together in an attempt to cleanse the house of its evil.
All in all, this is a pretty solid haunted house book. I enjoyed the historical setting in Mexico – there’s a lot here that I didn’t know. For instance, I didn’t realize that the word hacienda doesn’t just mean “big house” – it really means something like a Mexican plantation, with a lot of the same connotations regarding power and labor (although here it’s colonists of Spanish decent and local labor, as opposed to chattel slavery). The author also creates a compelling picture of the powerlessness and isolation that even higher-class women were subject to. My only real criticisms were that I wish the author had explored the folk-religion stuff a bit more, and I thought the romantic plot was absolutely ridiculous. A good book that mostly suffers for not being Mexican Gothic, which I happened to read first and absolutely adored.