The Queen of the Valley
“The sense of place and the dynamics of a small town of that era are convincing and give us a glimpse of the history and culture of that period in South America.”
The Queen of the Valley is the sequel to The Spanish Daughter, and is set in 1925 in Colombia at the time of the violent Cali earthquake.
The story opens at the Hacienda La Reina with a dinner to raise funds for the school that Martin Sabater, the owner of the Hacienda and its cacao plantation; Lucas Ferreira, a photographer; Farid Manzur, a well-known doctor; and Farid’s embittered sister Camila, a nun, all attended. After the dinner and plenty to drink, Martin is pressured to show off his new Andalusian mare.
“Martin reluctantly accepted and before anyone else at the gala could stop it, a group of six enthusiasts . . . went on a ride around the cacao plantation in the middle of the night, the moon as their only guide.
Martin never came back.”
Puri travels to Cali to find Martin, who was unaware that he was the father of her child, and to find out how his cacao plantation is faring. She owns a chocolate shop and is disturbed by the apparent shortage of her key ingredient.
After the earthquake, things rapidly go awry for Puri, and she is forced to disguise herself as a nun to avoid the attention of highwaymen. When she finally arrives at the plantation, she discovers that Martin has vanished. The homestead is now being used as a hospital under the management of Dr. Manzur and, with an outbreak of cholera in the area, no one questions her credentials as a nun and she’s put to work as a nurse. One of her patients is Lucas who was injured in the earthquake. She is distraught to hear of Martin’s supposed death, and she is sure that there is more to the story than a drunken horse-ride.
However, as she investigates, Puri is in a dangerous situation. Anyone who recognizes her could expose her disguise, and she doesn’t know whom she can trust. She is also nervous after the disaster of the earthquake.
“After everything I’d seen in the last few days, I was apprehensive about this land. I could barely walk without fearing that the earth was going to crack open and swallow me. . . .”
In the midst of all this, there is the issue of the missing emeralds that Martin had apparently stolen from the owner who hoped he would become an investor in the emerald mine.
The story is related in first person by three of the characters—Puri, Lucas, and Camila. Each has a different perspective as a result of background and history, and each is suspicious of the others. However, Lucas and Puri combine to try to discover the story behind Martin’s disappearance and how Manzur has come to control the estate.
One of the attractions of the book is that we learn the stories of each of the strongly drawn characters going back to their school days, and, indeed, the mystery at the heart of the novel goes back that far also.
“An ember lit somewhere inside me. I wanted to punch him until his skull collapsed, until that stupid smile disappeared from his face. I wanted to destroy him—have him beg forgiveness.
My hands balled into tight fists and I found myself clenching my teeth.”
The sense of place and the dynamics of a small town of that era are convincing and give us a glimpse of the history and culture of that period in South America. Hopefully, Puri will return in another adventure.