Courtesy Penguin Random House

The tale of a haunted house is a classic, but oftentimes can feel stale. Thankfully, we reside in a booming era of horror, with many diverse and welcomed perspectives breathing fresh air into the familiar. Author Isabel Cañas does this and more in her debut horror novel, THE HACIENDA. Taking on the haunted house subgenre, readers are catapulted back to Mexico post-War of Independence, which Cañas illustrates for us quite vividly on the page. Through the relatable protagonist, Beatriz, readers are taken through her struggles as she fights for control, stability, and – ultimately – sanity in her newfound haunted home.

THE HACIENDA primarily follows Beatriz Hernández Valenzuela. Already, readers are let into her world and the complicated social balance of this time period. Beatriz is the daughter of an insurgent general and a woman who has been shunned by her family for marrying beneath her. After her father’s execution, Beatriz and her mother are left in a worse social position. Having to crawl back to her only remaining relatives, Beatriz and her mother must play the part in high society, with Beatriz having to navigate the additional complexity of being mestiza (of mixed blood). Desperate to get her and her mother out of the situation, Beatriz tries to find a suitor, anyone really, who can provide an escape. This lands her in the arms of Don Rodolfo Eligio Solórzano, a man who is of high standing, handsome, and was also on the winning side of the war.

The two get married despite Beatriz’s mother’s protests, and Beatriz relocates to Rodolfo’s estate. At first, she is excited to have a home that is hers. A source of stability and safety after the pain and chaos of the war. And while the people of the household aren’t overtly receptive to her presence, she is determined to make things work. However, it’s not long before she notices something is off. Something is watching her, taunting her, and gradually begins to drive her insane. Desperation, again, takes hold, and she seeks out the only person she believes may be able to help her – Padre Andrés. Andrés is willing to help, but he too has things to keep hidden. Whether he’s a beacon of hope or a harbinger of something dangerous, you’ll have to read THE HACIENDA to find out.

The story is told from both Andrés’s and Beatriz’s perspectives, which helps provide an extra depth to the horror that unfolds. As the events of THE HACIENDA progress, we are introduced to the different reactions to the gradual evil that has taken root. Andrés, a person familiar with the home and the region in which he grew up, is shocked. Of note is the fact that Andrés legitimizes the fear that Beatriz feels. He doesn’t gaslight her (an all-too-common trope seen in horror featuring women gradually becoming hysterical) and provides the necessary support that the struggling Beatriz needs in such unfamiliar territory.

Make no mistake, though. Beatriz cannot be so easily dismissed as a damsel in distress. She’s determined and intelligent. Readers see her struggle to navigate the various complexities of Mexican society, especially the added complications brought on by being the daughter of the opposing side’s general. Her desire for a home as a foundation of security and safety will resonate with many. Her battle with whatever is plaguing the home is a battle for not just her sanity, but for something that can reassure her of her place in the world. Something that is undeniably hers. You’d be hard-pressed to dislike Beatriz.

Cañas also does an incredible job at providing vivid details of the scenery. Given the time period THE HACIENDA takes place in, it’s clear from the very beginning the level of research and care taken to visually capture the era and transport readers back in time. The immersive quality of the storytelling takes a bit to adjust to at the beginning but, as soon as the reader acclimates to the flow, it’s all too easy to slip under and let the words take you away.

Many have compared THE HACIENDA to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I understand why. Beatriz is a heroine entering a haunted home as an outsider. She is entering a domain that isn’t quite hers, especially as a mestiza woman. That said, her intellect and adaptability make it so that she almost transcends beyond familiar past protagonists. The politics and social dynamics of the time period play a clear part in how elements of the story evolve. There’s a supernatural element as well that I won’t dive into too much detail on that provides a clear distinction that sets THE HACIENDA at a different level plot-wise.

From the characterization, the setting, and the delicious details Cañas infuses into her writing, it can be easily said that THE HACIENDA has no comparison. It is a piece with a clear identity and voice separated apart from what came before.

Isabel Cañas’s debut horror novel, THE HACIENDA, is available to purchase now.

We hope you like our review of THE HACIENDA. As a disclosure, Nightmarish Conjurings may collect a share of sales via the affiliate link above, which will then be used to pay writers in the future. 

Sarah Musnicky
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