Review: Sun of Blood and Ruin by Mariely Lares

 

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Mariely Lares is a Mexican-American writer of fiction. Born in the only hospital of a small town in Southern California—which, fun fact, is also Cher’s birthplace—she grew up straddling two worlds, crossing the border almost every day. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she holds a degree in Computer Science Engineering and lives in San Diego, where she can be found doing all the outdoorsy things, rescuing dogs, and writing her next book.


FORMAT/INFO:
Sun of Blood and Ruin will be published on February 20th, 2024 by HarperVoyager in the US; it was published in the UK on September 28th, 2023. It is 384 pages and told in the first person from Leonora’s POV. It will be available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook format.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: To many, Lady Leonora is a fixture at the Spanish court in the New World, a woman on her way to becoming wed to the heir of the Spanish throne. But Leonora is also Pantera, the mythical freedom fighter who seeks to overthrow Spanish oppression of the indigenous peoples. But it’s not just the Spanish she needs to worry about, as signs and prophecies point towards an impending apocalypse, one that would wipe all humans from the region as ancient gods settle old scores.


Sun of Blood and Ruin
 is an interesting premise lost in an overstuffed and directionless plot. I’ve been ready to love this book since I first heard the words “gender-bent Zorro retelling.” And at first, it looked like I was at minimum going to have a pleasant time. Leonora uses both her position at court and her secret identity as the freedom fighter Pantera to try and bring an end to Spanish oppression of the native peoples in the region. There’s daring rooftop chases, a villainous general intent on capturing her, flirtatious encounters with a new captain (who seems to be pursuing his own secret agenda), and political infighting in the Spanish capital of the New World, all of which kept things interesting.

The problem is, the story never seems to know where it wants to focus and constantly bounces between events without ever giving them real depth and weight, especially towards the end of the book. Take the opening sequence, where Pantera is racing to rescue an ally. Aside from the man dispensing a grave warning about the end of the world, we’re barely told anything about him and his son, and they essentially aren’t referenced again until the final pages. They are a blip, an event that wraps up in a few pages without any real resonance. Who he was and why he was important to Leonora? I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you.

With everything happening so quickly it just all feels too surface level. Besides the conflict between the Spanish and the indigenous resistance fighters, there’s factional politics between the various tribes (none of which is explained very well). And then on top of that there’s gods lurking in the background with their own secrets and agendas. The rushing leaps from plot point to plot point left everything muddied and left me disconnected from the plot as I wasn’t allowed any time to sit with anything before we were on to the next plot element.

At the heart of it all is an aimless Lenora. I never understood her personal stakes. We meet her when she has already created Pantera, but I never really understood why. There is the obvious “oppression is bad,” but I lacked a personal emotional drive, a sense of where her arc was going.  This is compounded by a cast of one note characters, who come and go without leaving any impression.

In short, this entire book should have been split in two so that both parts had a lot more time to develop characters and depth. I could have spent an entire book watching Leonora navigate balancing her court duties with her secret life as Pantera, flirting with Andres while trying to figure out his secrets. I would have been equally fascinated to spend a book watching her being catapulted into the middle of clan politics, trying to find her place and help keep a fragile alliance between the tribes together. But because all these elements are jammed into a breezy 350 pages, the result is a book that felt increasingly chaotic as it raced to some sort of climax.

CONCLUSION: Sun of Blood and Ruin unfortunately tries to accomplish too much in too little a time. It at once wants to be both a grand epic saga of gods and men and a dashing heroic adventure; as a result, it ends up being neither. I truly wanted to be able to recommend this one, but sadly, the pieces just don’t fit together into a satisfying whole.

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