The Hacienda, by Isabel Cañas

Beatriz was willing to pay a high price to escape her detested aunt and uncle’s home in Mexico City. When the handsome landowner, Don Rodolfo Solórzano, sweeps into her life and proposes, she thought it was a miracle. But then she travels to his estate in Apan, in rural Hidalgo, Mexico, and encounters the Hacienda San Isidro. This place immediately shows Beatriz that she’s going to have to pay a hefty toll in exchange for, perhaps, finally becoming the mistress of her own home. The Hacienda, by Isabel Cañas, is a hair-raising, atmospheric tale of ghosts and terror in the wake of the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821). I loved every page of this book. In fact, my only quibble is that I wanted more!

Before we meet Isabel, a prologue introduces us to the lovelorn priest Andrés, who sets the stage by pouring out his emotional anguish at the departure of the woman he loves—presumably Beatriz. His heightened emotions also hint at the trials the pair of them have just faced. The narrative then whisks us back to the day that Beatriz first arrives at San Isidro. Andrés and Beatriz take turns telling the story of what happens at San Isidro, with Andrés occasionally dipping back into the past to reveal important details about the Solórzano family’s dark past.

When Beatriz takes her first step into San Isidro, she immediately feels unwelcome. It’s not entirely due to the servants (although they are deeply uncommunicative) or because of Rodolfo’s sister (brusque and also secretive). Rather, it seems like the hacienda itself hates Beatriz. Her first hours and first night in the house are a torment of freezing drafts, loud noises, and a feeling of growing malevolence. The house doesn’t just want Beatriz gone; it seems like it wants her dead. And as is typical for a nineteenth-century society, no one believes Beatriz, except for the unusually sympathetic Andrés.

Andrés fascinates me. Although he is a Catholic priest, he grew up under the tutelage of his Indigenous grandmother. Andrés has a lot more to offer the people of his flock than Christian rites. He’s had to keep that side of himself deeply under wraps, however, since the recently expelled Mexican Inquisition took a very dim view of those sorts of things. Not that life is smooth sailing for Andrés with the Inquisition gone. As the son of a Spaniard and an Indigenous mother, Andrés faces a more virulent form of racism than the high-class-but-also-mestizo Beatriz. Because Andrés carries some of his grandmother’s knowledge, he forms a link to the precolonial past and I very much wanted to know more about that. Unfortunately, Andrés was sent away as a young boy to study to be a priest (the ultimate camouflage) and his grandmother passed away before he could come back to Apan and learn more.

Thankfully for Beatriz, not only does Andrés believe Beatriz when she tells him that the hacienda is murderously haunted, but he has the knowledge to try and banish whatever lurks in its dark corners. I was hooked from the first page of The Hacienda and the battles Andrés and Beatriz wage with its spirit had me furiously reading so that I could find out what happened next. The characters are fantastic. The family secrets were devastating. But what really made the book was the haunted house. For me, the Hacienda San Isidro is right up there with Hill House. I plan on obnoxiously recommending this book to every reader I encounter this year. The Hacienda is a run, don’t walk, to get a copy kind of book.

Hacienda of Xcanchakan, Yucatán, Mexico (Image via Wikipedia)

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