cover image The Barefoot Queen

The Barefoot Queen

Ildefonso Falcones, trans. from the Spanish by Mara Faye Lethem. Crown, $28 (640p) ISBN 978-0-8041-3948-9

Falcones follows The Cathedral of the Sea with a ponderous novel about two female friends, both strong and yet disenfranchised in 1748 Spain. Former slave Caridad lands penniless in Seville after her owner dies on the voyage from Cuba. Milagros Carmona is the beloved granddaughter of Melchor Vega, the gypsy who gives Caridad a temporary home that soon becomes permanent. Fearful Caridad bonds with Milagros and accustoms herself to gypsy life, finding work with the smuggled tobacco they sell, while Milagros struggles to accept the marriage her parents arrange. Milagros's fiancé is killed after she urges him to take revenge on a payo, or nongypsy, who has victimized Caridad, and the clan punishes Milagros for causing his death. Then Spain's king outlaws gypsy culture, scattering the family and the community. After the decree is gradually lifted, Milagros's singing and dancing talents make her famous, but the man she loves proves to be a cruelly abusive husband. When Melchor vows vengeance against Milagros's abuser, both Melchor's life and Caridad's the deep love for him are put at risk. This story lacks the focus and momentum that made Falcones's last novel so successful. He powerfully evokes the time and place, but the narrative is overly broad and slow-moving. (Nov.)