Rating: 3.5 stars, rounded to 4 stars on Goodreads
Short Review: Santa Muerte is a beautiful and ambitious debut book that manages to successfully integrate Mexican folklore and time travel.
I’m going to take you on a bit of a roundabout journey with this book review, but trust me, it all loops back around.
I hate time travel novels. When I say time travel, I mean long-term time travel—not Hermione going back in time to attend an extra course, but the kind that would put me in an era where people might not be so friendly. Truthfully, I’m caught somewhere in between wanting time travel books to realistically address how awful the past really was, and wanting them to ignore the dynamics altogether. For that reason, I tend to avoid the genre altogether, although I’m sure there are some gems that I’ve overlooked.
Santa Muerta: the Daniela story (Book 1) is one of those gems. When half Mexican, half Italian beauty Daniela Delgato attempts suicide, she is transported back in time to the Roaring 20s. Confused and in pain, she’s met by a suspicious small town white farmer with a gun. She embarks on a journey, accompanied by the farmer’s much-abused teenaged daughter, and to find her way home. What follows is a book like nothing I’ve ever read before: it handles time travel the way it should be handled, as more than just a change in vocabulary, cuisine, and fashion. Daniela is repeatedly called the n-word, has fruits thrown at her on the street, and is granted entry to places solely because she passes the “brown paper bag test.” In this respect, Santa Muerte is exactly what authors and readers are talking about when they demand diverse representation in books. Diverse characters fundamentally change the trajectory of a story, which author Lucina Stone uses to her advantage.
There’s an added dimension that makes this an even more fun read: Daniela is discovering her heritage as a witch. Lucina Stone’s integration of Mexican folklore keeps this from becoming cliché. Readers learn about folklore as Daniela’s mother and grandmother work together to find Daniela using ancient tactics.
There are so many layers within this book that it’s impossible to do it justice in a review. Through Daniela’s mothers, Stone addresses perceptions of LGBT couples in the Mexican community. Daniela’s grandmother, particularly her deep connection to Mexican culture, is a solid representation of homeland traditions that upper-class immigrants oftentimes leave behind. The people Daniela meets along the way in the 1920s allow for a comparison of contemporary racial tensions, and their centuries-old roots. There’s also a good bit of commentary on sexism and intimate partner violence. Somehow, Stone is able to include all of this without it coming across as overtly preachy.
With all of that crammed into a single book, 240 pages just wasn’t enough. I won’t spoil it, but the ending seemed a bit rushed, not giving enough time to fully explore last-minute developments. I also wanted Daniela to be a stronger character at the end—she grows so much, but I wanted her to be a bigger factor in her own rescue. I wanted her to be the badass that her tattoos and piercings implied.
I rated Santa Muerte 3.5 out of 5 stars, because it was a joy to read, even with the somewhat rushed ending. It’s an enthralling debut book, the first of what promises to be a dynamic series. It’s well written and researched, even though I wish there was even more folklore to explore. I highly recommend this book for people who are looking for a quick read that isn’t mind-numbing and overly simplistic. It could work for people who read primarily YA or adult fiction, because there’s so much being discussed. All that said, I’m looking forward to the next book—Daniela has some challenges ahead of her, and I know she’ll be ready to meet them!
Disclaimer: I received Santa Muerte in exchange for an honest review.