Review: The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

cover of The HaciendaThe Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
Berkley (May 2022)
352 pages; $20.99 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

Lost to the wilds of war, death, and deceit, The Hacienda ensnares readers in its malevolent maw.

In Isabel Cañas’ debut novel, dread and unease snake up the spine of both the reader and characters in a tone as haunting as the mothers of gothic stories like Elizabeth Gaskell and Daphne du Maurier.

The Hacienda, set in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence, conjures a battle of the soul. Following her father’s death and her home’s destruction, a desperate need for security leads Beatriz to a wealthy husband, Rodolfo. Beatriz claims the Hacienda San Isidro as her sanctuary, ignoring rumors of the demise of the previous woman of the house.

Soon after arriving at Hacienda San Isidro, Rodolfo returns to work in the capital. Beatriz is quick to order furniture and address the state of the garden, all in the hopes of her disproving mother visiting.

Rodolfo’s sister, Juana, refuses to enter the house at night, and the cook marks the kitchen doorway with strange symbols. And something else visits Beatriz while she tosses and turns, trying to sleep. She feels invisible eyes follow her every move.

The setup here is familiar, calling upon Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. But, Cañas introduces a peculiar young priest with forbidden skills that elevate this story into something entirely its own.

While I adored Mexican Gothic and named it my favorite read of 2021, some said it was too slow.

The Hacienda masterfully blends the slow, chilling build of dread and unease of gothic horror but quickly shifts gears into heart-hammering, meaty, skull-splitting horror, including an exorcism gone wrong and some, scared to death, left where they sleep, eyes wide in abject terror.

As atmospheric as The Haunting of Hill House, with all the familial turmoil of The Fall of the House of the Usher, Cañas’ debut is much more than a haunted house story. Its flame crackles with friction between Beatriz, Juana, and the unnerving realization of what really happened to Rodolfo’s first wife.

In The Hacienda, sanctuary is but an illusion. Vengeance hisses and unfurls cold, skeletal truth.

Cañas’ debut is, without a doubt, my favorite read of 2022 so far.

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