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Doña Manuela Sáenz was an illegitimate daughter of a Spanish nobleman who left her husband and became the lover and supporter of Simón BolívarShe was very much involved in his struggle for independence from Spain, rode beside him in battle and earned the title of “Libertadora del Libertador” when she helped him to escape mutinous officers plotting his death.

History tells us that Manuela Saenz lived an amazing life and accomplished great things, and her story has plenty of potential for a powerful novel. Unfortunately, this book fails to deliver that story, at least for this reader. The narrative is told in the  first person, mainly from Manuela’s POV, and interspersed with chapters from the POV of her two slaves, Jonotás and Natán.  Unfortunately Manuela comes across as a bit too modern, extremely self-centered and spends much of the first third of the book stamping her feet in order to get her way and pouting that she’ll only marry for *twu wuv*  (that trope is so old).I didn’t get a good feel for the historical period/settings and if it weren’t for the dates at the beginning of some chapters I might have thought I was reading about events in the early 20C instead of 19C.Too much of the first third of the book is spent on Manuela’s early life and would have been better served beginning around the time of her first meetings with Bolívar and then fleshing out the back history. And be warned, if you are like me and not familiar with this period in history, prepare to spend some time reading up on it elsewhere and even then some historical events barely get the briefest of mentions in passing conversations. A map and a brief narrative at the beginning might have helped alleviate some of that, but still…I thought it was the author’s job to show us. Oh well.

I really didn’t pick up on much chemistry between Manuela and Bolívar (you would have expected them to sizzle off the pages), nor did I even care what happened between them. I had imagined Manuela a strong formidable woman and not the self-centered shrew portrayed here. And the Bolívar in this book was most definitely was not the stuff of which legends are made of – more of an aging, whiny boor. Meh.

As for the writing itself, as a whole it was rather tepid and uninspiring but I’ll let you be the judge,

As the general lathered me in my most intimate parts, the lover in him returned and I would take his hardness and ride it like a mermaid at sea.”

“His concern for me was touching. After I promised I would, he kissed my face, my neck, my hair, and roared as if he were a famished lion about to tear into my flesh.

What really sent the book flying though, was Manuela’s narrative at the end which continues after her death (no I’m not spoiling, history tells us she died),

I placed my hand over my heart. it had stopped beating-I was dead”

And yes, this after death narrative continued for several more pages so we can hear about the spirit exiting the body and other touching stuff. In the end it’s an OK sort of novel, not terribly bad, but not terribly great either  – it just doesn’t live up to its potential. I’d very much like to see someone else take on Manuela’s story and run with it though.

FTC – library loot.

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