I have always been fascinated by time travel stories, especially ones that feature people of color being sent to the past. Novels like Kindred by Octavia Butler and A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott brilliantly illustrate the oppressiveness of institutionalized racism and how modern people are helpless under its weight no matter how brave and strong-willed they may be. These stories are brutally honest about the realities people of color faced before the Civil Rights movement. And they should be! Nothing infuriates me more than when young people, but especially young people of color, idealize 1920s or 1950s in American history. We should never forget how bleak and traumatic those times were for people of color.
To these naive young people (whom I’ve encountered personally), I would recommend that they read Santa Muerte by Lucina Stone to gain some much-needed perspective on the 1920s. I’d also recommend it because it’s a hell of a fun book that includes the magic recipe for an exciting story: time travel, immortal witches, and mysterious otherworldly realms and dimensions.
A brief plot overview
Santa Muerte is book 1 of “The Daniela Story.” It follows Daniela Delgado, a half-Mexican, half-Italian 20-year old college student who attempts suicide after a traumatizing experience with her boyfriend. This suicide attempt near an ancient tree triggers powers within her that she never knew she had. Mysteriously, Daniela is transported back in time to the Roaring 20s in New Jersey. From there the story soar and catapults itself into strange and exciting places I never expected. Along the way, Daniela helps a 16-year-old girl named Daphne escape from her abusive father, meets a mysterious and intoxicating man who is more dangerous than he first appears, and takes an unexpected trip to Mexico that uncovers her family’s secret history. All this and many more fascinating things happen in only 240 pages, if you can believe that.
There is much to like about Santa Muerte, though it didn’t meet its full potential for me. Because it is such a short novel packed heavily with intricate plot details, sometimes the action felt rushed and details remained unclear or muddled by novel’s end. As mentioned earlier, I do enjoy a good time-travel story, but time travel plots can get complicated and I had trouble keeping up with some of these plot threads. There were also a few too many questions unanswered for my liking. I completely understand that they will be answered in later entries, though. I just have to be patient!
A few other critiques. Some of the dialogue for people who were supposed to live in 1923 was not always convincing. Admittedly, I am not an expert in 1920s vernacular, but some of it sounded a bit modern or out of place. Would someone from that time use phrases such as, “sure as shit doesn’t seem that way,” or “you must have pissed her off real good,” or “your grandmother is the head bitch” (of the coven)? Can any experts in 1920s vernacular confirm?
Moreover, I felt the point of view switched around too frequently for such a slim novel. Given that this is supposed to be Daniela’s story, I thought she would play a bigger role in the plot. Reading more chapters from Daniela’s perspective would have allowed more time to bond and sympathize with Daniela. Don’t get me wrong, the other perspectives (her mothers, a detective, Daphne) are done well and add a larger and more exciting scope to the story that Daniela alone can’t offer. If the novel were longer and provided more chapters from Daniela’s perspective, then I would take no issue with this at all because all the characters were quite memorable and I’d love to keep following their stories in book 2.
What I loved about the book.
- The time travel is actually explained! In novels like Kindred, the time-travel is not always explored or explained. Santa Muerte does offer some answers, though we only get a taste of it because there is much plot to explore in future installments. The explanation made a lot of sense. You will see for yourself if you read it!
- Witches/brujas are wicked cool. The story incorporates enough brujeria and Mexican folklore to tease at much greater things to come. I’m hooked and eager to see Daniela grow into the powerful witch she is destined to be.
- Daniela has two moms! One of my favorite things about the story was getting to know Emma and Monica, two strong and intelligent women who love their daughter and would sacrifice much to protect her. Positive representation of families led by same-sex parents is vitally important. This book depicts Daniela’s moms as sympathetic, flawed, and believably human (one of them is an immortal witch, but you get my point).
- You can finish this book in a few hours. Sometimes you’re in the mood for a quick page-turner that you can devour in one sitting. This is that book. There is so much action and so many outlandish and incredibly cool things happening that can’t help moving on to the next chapter until the book is over.
- The women in the story are incredible! Most of the major characters in this book are powerful and inspiring women who kick serious ass. Daniela’s grandmother, Anaya, is both terrifying and deserves your respect. Men play a smaller role in the story, which allows these amazing women to take center stage. In my eyes, this makes for a better book.
Daniela’s story is short, thrilling, and full of mysteries. I closed the book with a several questions unanswered, but enough had been teased for me to be fascinated by the tantalizing prospects of what is to come for Daniela. Once she realizes her full potential as a witch and the power of her bloodline, I expect Daniela will be a force to be reckoned with. For now, she has much to learn but I’ll happily join her on her next adventure as she grows into her powers and learns to acknowledge her flaws and embrace her strengths.
I don’t quite know if I should classify Santa Muerte as Young Adult or Adult fiction. It fits somewhere in between, in my opinion, so perhaps it’s New Adult speculative fiction? If so, this may be the first book of its kind that I’ve ever read. Despite minor flaws, I do recommend this promising start to a new series — to fans of speculative fiction, to lovers of witches/brujas, and to people who enjoy reading about kick-ass women in their stories.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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P.S. – My blog’s theme was broken/corrupted after I installed the latest WordPress version, which is why my blog looks a bit different. I’ve tried to approximate the old look with a default theme, but plan on eventually buying a new one altogether. It was time for a change!
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