My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There is something deeply satisfying about reading a novel dealing with the turmoil of making a marriage work. Most romance novels are about the courtship, the journey from Point A to Point B, and the "Happily Ever After". But we all know real life doesn't work that way, and in the hands of a talented author we can get a glimpse into the real work of life, making a marriage grow and become stronger.
Marco Mondragon and Paloma Vega (The Double Cross) are now married in Spanish New Mexico where Marco is the Juez de Campo, a brand inspector who's the closest thing to a judicial officer in the isolated royal colony. He and Paloma are settling in to newlywed life, though Paloma deeply regrets their lack of children, something he shared with his first wife before she and the children died of cholera.
Their happiness is disrupted by news that "la viruela"--smallpox--is coming. Some of the people have been inoculated, most have not, and many fear inoculation because it can bring on the disease. Marco's own brother died of inoculation (not vaccination--that method was not yet in common use). An English physician offers Marco a bargain: if he's escorted deep into Comanche territory to find his kidnapped daughter, he'll inoculate Paloma and others.
It is a devil's bargain, for entering Comanche land is almost certainly a death sentence, yet Marco agrees, the inoculation occurs, and after her recovery Paloma insists on accompanying them on their dangerous journey.
Marco and the Devil's Bargain is a tale of good people making difficult choices. Paloma and Marco share a love that endures through disease and death, struggling to find their place in a harsh, yet beautiful land. The secondary characters make the story real, particularly Toshua, their Indian brother, and Anthony Gill, the Englishman burdened by a secret.
This second book in the Spanish Brand series is sure to please Ms. Kelly's fans. It's a lovingly crafted novel of marriage and growth, and a glimpse into what's left out of traditional US history books, the role played by the Spanish settlers who preceded the Anglo-Americans into Florida, Louisiana Territory and the Southwest. I look forward to more books from Ms. Kelly in this setting.
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