Historical Novel Set in Mexico Strains Credibility

Article excerpt

THERE are historical novels and there are historical romances.

Canadian author Oakland Ross holds out the promise of the former, but delivers a story akin to the latter.

The Empire of Yearning is the second volume in a projected trilogy set in Mexico. The Toronto journalist's first novel in the series was The Dark Virgin (2001), a tale about Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes's conquest of the Aztecs.

This book skips ahead three centuries, to the 1860s, and finds Prince Maximilian of Austria as Mexico's newly crowned emperor.

He's kept on the throne by dint of an occupying French army that recently defeated the forces of elected liberal president Benito Juarez, who's now in exile in northern Mexico.

The initial storyline is pretty anemic. However, it gets more robust as the narrative progresses. And the plot, once it finally starts to unfold, clips along nicely.

The main character is Diego Serrano, a bookish, one-armed anti-monarchist, whose lifelong friend, Baldemar Peralta, is in jail and due to be executed for his failed assassination attempt on a general of the ruling imperial regime.

Peralta's beautiful sister, operatic singer Angela, has tasked Serrano with somehow freeing her brother.

Serrano's a tongue-tied goof around Angela, clumsily trying to mask his romantic desires, even as he conspires with her to free her incarcerated brother.

In circumstances that defy all odds, and strain credibility, republican Serrano eventually ends up private secretary to the emperor. He finds he quite likes Maximilian, which leaves him conflicted, personally and politically.

Equally hard to credit, Peralta and a gaggle of his confederates are freed by the emperor in an amnesty. …