Jean Lopez’s historical novel is so compelling that I read it in one sitting. Based on historical fact, it tells the fascinating story of a young, idealistic lawyer, José Antonio, who became a fascist political leader at a tumultuous moment in Spanish history: the Civil War. It cleverly explores the relationship between personal charm and authoritarianism. His character is by far the most enthralling and best written in the book; I was less invested in the invented people. Lively dialogue and a constant sense of purpose and deep emotion kept me interested until the end. Short chapters allow the violence and drama to build at credible pace.
The quality of writing is very high. The author smoothly adopts her characters’ perspectives to give their rich and varied impressions on people and events. For example, we see José Antonio through the eyes of several others, including his aunt:
‘But of course all of José Antonio’s girlfriends had been beautiful. Tía Ma would have been surprised indeed if they had not been so. He reminded her of a little boy collecting butterflies.’
The author has clearly done a vast amount of research; the authenticity of detail makes it an informative portrait of a time. However, the first part has a great deal of factual exposition to the extent that passages felt like they were written in a different style (closer to that of historical non-fiction). This amount of information is perhaps beneficial as it grounds the reader in the veracity of the occurrences, but I would have preferred the literary voice to be more closely maintained. Additionally, I found the epilogue to be too long; I have always been taught that epilogues should be brief. From a proofreader’s perspective, I couldn’t help but notice a few rogue punctuation marks. These flaws are minor and should not prevent anyone from enjoying a seriously impressive and accomplished work that deserves to be widely read. I want a whole collection of Jean Lopez texts to teach me about world history through her original and absorbing prose.