★ ★ ★
The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones | 2013 (English edition 2014) | Crown Publishing | Hardcover $28.00
It’s January of 1748. Caridad is a recently freed Cuban slave wondering the streets of Seville. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When her path crosses with Milagros Carmona’s – a young, rebellious gypsy – the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the gypsy community, an exotic fringe society that will soon change her life forever. Over time they each fall in love with men who are fiercely loyal and ready to fight to the death for their rights as a free people. When all gypsies are declared outlaws by royal mandate, life in their community becomes perilous. From the tumultuous bustle of Seville to the theatres of Madrid, The Barefoot Queen is a historical fresco filled with charaters that live, love, suffer, and fight for what they believe.
I was delighted to receive an ARC of the English translation of this book from Crown Publishing via a Read It Forward giveaway! Even in paperback it is much thicker than I expected. This little beauty clocks in at over 650 pages.
Maybe I’ve just gotten too used to reading short’n’sweet YA lately, because between this and my Classics Club choice for last month I’m just a tiny bit exhausted.
I’ve not read any Falcones before now, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. And I’m afraid I don’t speak or read much Spanish at all, so it feels a bit odd to be judging a book in translation without having a good idea of its quality in its original language. Actually, it has been a long time since I’ve read something that was not originally written in English, which makes me sort of sad because I’m sure I’m missing out on some lovely books!
There were a couple of things I really liked about this book. Well, aside from the Crown version of the cover, which is bee-yew-tee-ful.
First, the setting (18th century Spain) is richly developed, and I am such a sucker for good worldbuilding. I have to admit that I know next to nothing about this period in Spanish history or about European gypsy culture, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the historical stuff. But Falcones does manage to make the reader feel immersed in the world of the story, which is usually a sign of well-researched historical fiction.
Second, the characters usually were very realistic. By that I mean that they seemed like nuanced, complicated, and deeply considered beings — not just vehicles for plot. If you don’t feel connected to at least one of the primary POV characters by the end of the book, well, you’re either a psychopath or a robot who needs an empathy software upgrade.
Unfortunately, this second positive point serves to highlight the one big negative point.
The plot moves so, so, so, so s l o w . . . .
This opinion may simply be a side effect of my having read so many plot-tastic YA and SFF books in the last year that I can no longer savour the beauty of a “Crock-Pot” plot. I don’t think so, though. After all, I recently enjoyed Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which is heavily padded with Victorian-style flowery language and introspection. The Barefoot Queen is a brick of a book to start with (the copy I was reading clocks in at 650+ pages). If you’re not a nut about either story settings or character development, you’re not going to get a lot of satisfaction out of this book until about 1/3 of the way through when the plot starts to pick up.
I’ve seen some reviews of The Barefoot Queen comparing it unfavorably to Falcones’s other books. As this is the first title by this author that I’ve tried, I can’t make any comparisons. However, this book did make me want to read other Falcones titles — I generally liked it, and if I generally liked The Barefoot Queen then there’s a very good chance I’ll like some of the “backlist” options that are supposed to be of even better quality.
Publication information: Falcones, Ildefonso. The Barefoot Queen. New York: Crown, 2014. Print.
Source: Publisher, via Read It Foward giveaway
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.