Last month, I was thrilled to win an ARC of The Spanish Daughter by Lorena Hughes. It was already one of my most anticipated books of December (it will be out on the 28th), so I was excited to get a chance to read it early. Spoiler: I loved it! This is definitely a book you’ll want to pre-order.
|The Spanish Daughter by Lorena Hughes|
|Genre||Historical Fiction; Mystery|
|Number of Pages||292|
|Format I Read||Paperback (ARC)|
|Original Publication Date||December 28, 2021|
Set against the lush backdrop of early twentieth century Ecuador and inspired by the real-life history of the coastal town known as the birthplace of cacao, this captivating #OwnVoices novel from the award-winning author of The Sisters of Alameda tells the story of a resourceful young chocolatier who must impersonate a man in order to survive…
As a child in Spain, Puri always knew her passion for chocolate was inherited from her father. But it’s not until his death that she learns of something else she’s inherited—a cocoa plantation in Vinces, Ecuador, a town nicknamed “Paris Chiquito.” Eager to claim her birthright and filled with hope for a new life after the devastation of WWI, she and her husband Cristóbal set out across the Atlantic Ocean. But it soon becomes clear, someone is angered by Puri’s claim to the plantation…
When a mercenary sent to murder her aboard the ship accidentally kills Cristóbal instead, Puri dons her husband’s clothes and assumes his identity, hoping to stay safe while she searches for the truth of her father’s legacy in Ecuador. Though freed from the rules that women are expected to follow, Puri confronts other challenges at the plantation—newfound siblings, hidden affairs, and her father’s dark secrets. Then there are the dangers awakened by her attraction to an enigmatic man as she tries to learn the identity of an enemy who is still at large, threatening the future she is determined to claim.
When I started reading The Spanish Daughter, I went into it expecting a lush and dramatic historical fiction novel, maybe with some romance and dark family secrets. I wasn’t prepared for how much it would read like a mystery, even a thriller. From the first chapter, though, it was clear I was in for a much more exciting and twisty story.
María Purificación – Puri for short – has come into a large inheritance after her dad passes away. She hasn’t seen him since she was two years old, when he left her and her mother in Spain to travel to Ecuador and start a cacao plantation. He ended up staying there for 26 years and starting a new family. But on the boat ride over from Spain, Puri’s husband Cristóbal is killed when saving her from an attempted murder. It seems that someone is angry that Puri has inherited so much… angry enough to kill. But who sent the assassin?
Fearing she’s still in danger, Puri poses as her husband upon arriving in Ecuador. Luckily, with her taller than average height and lower than average voice – plus a fake beard she swiped on the ship – Puri is able to convince those around her that she is, in fact, Cristóbal and that Puri died while at sea.
The Spanish Daughter quickly develops into a gripping historical mystery. While staying with her long-lost half-sisters, Puri acts as her own detective. She gets to know everyone in Vinces, uncovering secrets and helping them out in their times of need. From innocent lies that snowballed out of control, to illicit affairs and secret offspring, everyone seems to have something to hide and a potential motive for eliminating Puri.
Interspersed with the main story in 1920, we also get flashbacks to earlier in the century when Puri’s two half-sisters – Angélica and Catalina – were younger. What experiences shaped them? How have they changed over the years? By looking at their pasts, shocking secrets arise that will change your perspective on what’s going on in 1920. Luckily, Puri is pretty good at sniffing out the secrets and putting puzzle pieces together. She’s like Nancy Drew, subtly sleuthing around and getting people to talk as she zeroes in on the clues.
But acting like Cristóbal certainly has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. It’s fun to see Puri struggle to behave like a man. Especially early on, she momentarily forgets that no one will hold the door open for her, chokes down whiskey, and at one point accidentally giggles. It’s at once nerve-wracking (don’t get found out yet!) and comical. However, as the days and weeks go by, Puri also starts to change her perspective on men. They’re not a monolith; they’re individuals with different personalities and goals. It also changes Puri’s perspective on her relationships with other women.
I enjoyed each of the characters in The Spanish Daughter, and grew to be quite fond of them, mistakes and all. Much like Puri herself, by the end, I felt empathy toward each of them, even the culprit behind it all. These characters definitely inhabit the gray space between good and evil. They each have likable qualities, but they also have darker sides to them.
In addition to the intriguing characters and plot, I also loved getting to know Ecuador. This is only the third book I’ve read that’s set there, and the only one that takes place (almost) entirely there. It was interesting to learn about Ecuador’s cacao boom in the early 20th century and how the city of Vinces attracted such a large French population. I never knew there was a Paris Chiquito in South America!
I flew through The Spanish Daughter, and I enjoyed every chapter until the end left me wanting more. Luckily, according to the author’s acknowledgements, there will be a sequel! It will follow Puri’s next adventures, and I already can’t wait to read it.
The Spanish Daughter is a contemplative yet fun historical mystery filled with insights about Ecuador, chocolate, and cross-dressing. This is my first book by Lorena Hughes, but I will definitely go back and read her first novel, The Sisters of Alameda Street, soon. I’ll also eagerly await The Spanish Daughter‘s sequel, because I want more of Puri and her complicated family.
About the Author
Lorena Hughes is the award-winning author of The Spanish Daughter and The Sisters of Alameda Street. Born and raised in Ecuador, she moved to the United States when she was eighteen. Her previous work has won first place at the 2011 Southwest Writers International Contest in the historical fiction category, earned an honorable mention at the 2012 Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and placed quarter-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakout Novel Award. Named one of 9 Rising Latina Authors You Don’t Want to Miss by HIP LATINA, she’s the coordinator of the UNM Writers Conference.