Marco and the Devil’s Bargain

Carla Kelly. Camel, $14.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-60381-229-0
In Kelly’s dramatic second Spanish Brand historical (after The Double Cross), Marco Mondragón, a genial lawman on the New Mexican frontier in 1782, fears that his young wife, Paloma, will be stricken by the approaching smallpox epidemic. When their Comanche friend, Toshua, rescues Anthony Gill, a white physician, from the desert, they strike the titular bargain: Anthony will inoculate Paloma and their neighbors, and Marco and Toshua will escort Anthony to a Comanche hideaway that he suspects harbors his kidnapped daughter. Kelly brings historical verisimilitude to the setting, and her story brims with compassion for the human condition. The slightly saccharine cliché of natives adopting colonizers as family is mitigated by powerful themes of disease, infertility, strength in the face of loss, and kindness between individuals whose cultures are at war. Though la viruela is, in some ways, the story’s main character, the love between Marco and Paloma, equal parts strong attachment and mutual high regard, takes emotional center stage, a satisfying oasis of beauty in the midst of stark harshness. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/14/2014
Release date: 09/01/2014
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