Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Lorena Hughes' The Spanish Daughter takes readers to vibrant 1920s coastal Ecuador

Lorena Hughes’ second novel drops a murder mystery into a simmering tale of sibling rivalry, gender-bending impersonation, and chocolate, and the result is scrumptiously readable. As in her debut, The Sisters of Alameda Street (2017), The Spanish Daughter vibrantly recreates the author’s native Ecuador.

In 1920, the coastal city of Vinces is known for its European architecture and cacao production. An experienced chocolatier, María Purificación de Lafont y Toledo, called Puri, sails from Seville to claim an inheritance from her late father, cacao plantation owner Don Armand, who had abandoned her and her mother decades earlier. She discovers, to her shock, that someone wants her dead.

Aboard the ship to Ecuador, Puri’s husband Cristóbal is killed in an attack meant for her, and so Puri disguises herself as Cristóbal—lowering her voice, wearing his clothes, and donning false facial hair—to determine who wanted to steal her rightful legacy. Puri surprisingly learns that her father had a second family, but while her half-siblings are resentful over Don Armand’s will, they treat “Don Cristóbal” with respect and don’t seem especially murderous.

This family has secrets aplenty, though, and Puri must sneak around the hacienda without letting her disguise slip, a challenge when she’s not comfortable riding horses, and when the dashing plantation administrator takes her drinking and to visit prostitutes (these scenes and Puri’s reactions are hilarious). The story explores gender roles with thought-provoking understanding. The plot feels initially jumpy when the viewpoint switches to Puri’s half-sisters at different times in the past, but these segments serve to illustrate family dynamics while adding to the puzzle.

It almost seems impossible there could be a satisfying ending to this complex state of affairs, but there is, very much so, and the novel’s atmosphere is as rich as Puri’s chocolate recipes.

The Spanish Daughter was published last December by Kensington, and I reviewed it from NetGalley for the Historical Novels Review. I'd also reviewed The Sisters of Alameda Street when it came out and look forward to more works by this author.

1 comment:

  1. Love this review. I am interested in read this book really soon, even do not being so close to the genre.