Review: Santa Muerte by Lucina Stone

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. 

 

Critique

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! 

Santa Muerte by Lucina Stone

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. 

 

Final thoughts

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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Santa Muerte (The Daniela Story #1)


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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33 thoughts on “Review: Santa Muerte by Lucina Stone

  1. This book sounds amazing! All the plus sides of it are things that I look for in a book, and although the last “time traveling” book I read was a bust, I can’t wait to check this one out 🙂 Great review.

  2. Such a great review, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about this book 🙂 I enjoy time travelling stories, but it’s a bit frustrating when it’s not explained too much – I am glad to hear that’s not the case here. And I’m all for powerful women in a book, so, yes yes yes! 😀

    1. Yeah, it’s such a fun read, Ceillie!
      I didn’t mind the inconsistent language too much because there were so many cool things happening.
      This is definitely not a spoiler, but I’m interested to see if there will be more time traveling in future books, perhaps to other decades or centuries. That’d be amazing. 😀

  3. This one’s on my TBR! It sounds so good. I absolutely love everything to do with witches and time travelling and seeing it incorporate Mexican folklore makes it even better. The cover is gorgeous too. I’ll definitely have to try and read it soon. Also, short books are everything 😅 Great review, Naz!

    1. It’s such a fun and short little book! Even we can finish it relatively quickly lol. I feel so accomplished when I can finish a book in a day. 🙌
      Glad to see you also love time traveling and witches! I’m kind of obsessed with witches, actually, so I’m UBER pumped for Labyrinth Lost.

    1. I should have done a little research to confirm if the language was accurate, but it didn’t feel right. It was just in a few parts, though, so it wasn’t a big deal. Do you find that many writers get language in historical fiction wrong?

  4. Sounds interesting! I’m not an expert on the 1920s, but have quite a bit of historical knowledge in general, and think that ‘sure as sh**’ is a fairly early expression, ‘pi**ed her off…’ hmmm, I wouldn’t argue either way on that one, ‘b*tch’ was definitely in use by this point. It depends, really, on the context – if this was a middle-class family, they would probably not be using this language. For a respectable working-class family, it would be unusual, but possible. Criminals, people drunk in dive-bars, etc., would probably be more casual about those phrases, and use them quite a lot (swearing is a little more common now, but not all that much – the context usage is probably pretty much the same.) Sorry, that explanation ended up a lot longer than I was planning – I’m a bit of a history nerd (as well as all the other types of nerd.)

    1. Nerds of all kinds are my favorite people! Thanks for your input. The people were working-class to middle class. There were definitely drunks and criminals in the story as well, so I understood their coarse language. The language only felt out of place in a few parts, but I definitely noticed it! I figure the author will be more careful about phrasing in future books in the series.

  5. Fabulous review Naz!

    I am not an expert on the 1920s era, however I can’t imagine someone saying “sure as shit…” etc. etc. I read a lot of historical fiction, and nothing bothers me more than dialogue that isn’t true to the era.

    Mexican culture and folklore fascinate me. I was never really exposed to Mexican culture much until I inherited a sister-in-law who is Mexican-American. I have loved learning about Mexican traditions and customs from her, and appreciate that she shares her culture with us.

    Maybe I can convince her to do a buddy read with me 🙂

    1. Oh, she’d love the book! If she can overlook a few missteps in language accuracy.
      I totally get that for historical fiction buffs, getting language right is a big deal and it should be!
      Do you find thatt newer or debut authors tend it get it wrong more frequently?

  6. I have gone on a small investigation and learned that the earliest OED-accredited use of “sure as shit” was in 1954. Not impossible that it would have been in use earlier than that, but thirty years is a looooong span of time for a phrase like that to never show up in print.

    Whenever I’m in doubt about slang, I ask Jonathon Green, @MisterSlang on Twitter. He is a fount of wisdom. 😀

  7. This sounds really cool, with the strong women and positive representation of same sex parents. And witches!

    By the way, this is the first time I’ve visited your blog since the redesign and it looks really great!

    1. Most books with witches get automatic interest from me. hehe
      Thanks! I actually like the design too, and it’s just the basic/default one of the one I had previously. I had paid for the premium version, but it didn’t really offer enough features to justify the price and it had so many glitches! I’m perfectly happy with the free version for now.

  8. In response to your comment: “Nothing infuriates me more than when young people, but especially young people of color, idealize 1920s or 1950s in American history.”

    I used to teach from a textbook that examined American life, from gender to family to jobs, etc. There were several essays included within about how people idealize “the good old days” (though young people don’t really define when that was.” However, census studies show that people during typical “good old days” time periods were much more miserable than modern people. Sure, things may be “confusing” now that women AND men both work and parent, and we have to talk with our partners to make it happen smoothly, but there is no quiet resentment, no secrets unfulfilled if you really want to make them happen.

    About the language: I do know that people in farming communities in the U.S. who are mostly uneducated (about up to 8th grade) tend to use the same poor grammar we do today (like “I seen”), but they also say “et” instead of “eat” (as in, “have you et?”). I’m thinking the swearing wouldn’t happen so much… I do know that I once heard my dad get so angry he said to someone “I’ll never darken your door again!” and I absolutely LAUGHED MY ASS OFF. It was angry, funny, and poetic. I’ve since learned that people in the late 1800s/early 1900s used to use that expression all the time. Where my dad got it, I have no idea.

    1. I don’t know how I missed this comment!! Sorry, Melanie D:
      Young people definitely do not define what the good old days are. Hhmmph
      At this point, I forget exactly who used the terms that seemed anachronistic to me, but there was a farming family in the story and some unsavory figures, so perhaps the language wasn’t too far-fetched, but it still felt a little off.

      I have never heard “I’ll never darken your door again,” though I can guess what it means. I would laugh too. lol Perhaps now that I know of it, I will catch it on TV or in a movie or something. I’ll remember you for introducing me to it!

  9. This is just bait!! It sounds fantastic and also like a fun read, time travel, brujas, few dudes near the main story, yass😍I don’t even need time travel explained but it’s a nice bonus. Will there be a sequel? I have to admit that I only found out that NA Stands for new adult this year. But I still don’t quite get what is and isn’t NA🙈

  10. Great review! There is much I love that you wrote about – the significance of realistic same-sex parents, powerful women taking the center stage, a biracial main character (AH! I got really excited), and the explanation of how time traffic works. Definitely will keep this in mind for a quick and fun read.

  11. I love that this book features strong women, and a two-mom family! As usual, I’m going to ask if you think it’s okay for a 15-year-old. It sounds like something she would like.
    I often struggle with the fact that I’m not an expert on dialogue, now or in the past, but I really notice it if it doesn’t sound right, or when it does. But then I think, what do I know about it? How can I know that something feels authentic when I really have no way of knowing? But, I just decide to trust myself. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. 🙂

    1. Hi, Naomi. 🙂
      There isn’t sex, but there is some cursing and a bit of violence. Aside from the occasional F word, everything else should be fine for a 15-year-old.

      I think I’m going to start marking age appropriateness for YA and MG books. It would be very useful for parents and teachers!

    1. I don’t think I have EVER read a book that has a family of same-sex parents. I just realized this! Well, I’ve read like short stories in a graphic novel, but that only lasted like 15 pages. Never in a full novel. That kind of representation is so rare.

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