A review by bklassen
The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

dark mysterious sad tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


Quick disclaimer: I have never read Rebecca, but I love a good haunted house story. Alas, this book did not strike me as spooky, at all. And if I’m reading about a haunted house, I want to be scared silly, so let that be a gauge for you.

Another disclaimer: I listened to the audiobook at the recommendation of a Booktuber, and I didn’t love it. The actors (playing Beatriz and Padre Andrés separately) were okay, but Andrés at least had more inflection in his voice. The VA for Beatriz felt uninspired, boring, and quite monotone, which does not help when paired with the story/writing. So huge disclaimer that the VA performances have certainly skewed my opinion of the book, and I hope that everyone else either likes the book and/or the audiobook, but it didn’t click with me.

This book certainly felt like a debut author, but not in a flattering way. It felt amateurish, and it was almost impossible to distinguish the two MCs voices apart (if it were not for having two separate actors). Beatriz was repetitive, boring, and just basic as hell. I understood that she married to her family out of a poor situation, but honestly, she droned on and on and kept insisting she was a general’s daughter, and yet rarely seemed to act like a general’s daughter.

Andres the priest was more interesting, due to his complicated history with the hacienda and his witch background, but I felt like the relationship between him and Beatriz was WAY too insta-love for my taste. Plus, he kept insisting that there was something dark within him that he kept caged, never to be released and hurt others. Kinda edgy, but okay. But then when he supposedly did “release the beast” within him, I never really felt the impact. It could have been that I had checked out at this point due to frustration and boredom with the writing and characters, but who knows.

As I mentioned earlier, the book was just not at all scary to me. And it surprised me how slow Beatriz was to catch onto things in the house, that they’re not the way they seem.

For instance, something insane would happen, like she opened her chest to find her silks saturated with blood. But then the next day she went to wash them and found that they were actually perfectly fine, clean, and dry. She says “huh, weird” and then goes about her day! She never questions what the hell she just hallucinated? Or later she finds a skeleton in the wall and brings people to see it, but when they get back, it’s just a regular wall. She’s a bit confused and doesn’t connect it to the bloody silks incident? It was just so odd.

Even still, she has the forethought to get a priest and cleanse the house, but never does any investigating to truly figure out who is possibly haunting the house.

My last complaint is that the book is stuffed to the gills with purple prose. I feel like this is part of my “amateur writing” comment earlier, which is that the writer has inserted way too flowery of phrases every freaking chance she gets. Not once does it feel like anything is described in plain language, and there also sometimes felt like overwriting in which the author painstakingly details things that the MC is doing as a way to (I assume) paint the picture for the reader. However, it comes off more like a less egregious version of the scene in Twilight when Meyer gives you every single freaking detail of Bella making dinner. It’s been a while since I’ve read Twilight, so forgive me if I don’t remember the details, I just remember that there was way too much description given to every step of prepping a meal.

It's just ironic because I’ve read other readers calling the writing “beautiful and spare” and I have to wonder if we read the same book.

However, I will say this of The Hacienda: I love the setting of post Mexican War of Independence, and I’m a big fan of authors taking classic literature and setting it in a different culture/country/time and using similar themes to apply to things that affect them, like sexism, racism, homophobia, and just general bigotry. Like Mexican Gothic or The City We Became, with authors taking ownership of Lovecraftian writing but applying it to nonwhite people or other cultures.

Or even The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and setting a version of the classic tale in Mexico and applying the themes and attitudes toward indigenous people and slaves. Brilliant. I'd love to read more from BIPOC authors reinterpreting classic works of fiction that have traditionally been very white. Like Wide Sargasso Sea about the Jamaican wife in Jane Eyre.

There is unfortunately a lot of comparison between The Hacienda and Mexican Gothic, which makes sense as they’re about plucky women in pastime Mexico and a haunted house, but they read as very different books to me. And based on what I’m seeing, I’d say if you love one, you don’t often love the other.