Set in post-conquest Mexico, Mariely Lares’ Sun of Blood and Ruin is a fast-paced, smart historical fantasy. It is built around a multi-layered reimagining of the Zorro legend – the masked vigilante, the sorceress with a blade Pantera. Alas, that is not her sole identity. By day, Leonora de las Casas Tlazohtzin is a true lady, set to marry the Spanish crown prince. Weaving together narrative strands of identity, colonialism, indigenous belief and self-determination with swashbuckling adventure, Sun of Blood and Ruin introduces a powerful new voice to the genre.
Leonora is a great heroine to follow. She is headstrong and multi-faceted – and far from flawless. Often confronted with issues of her own making, she is fixing relationships as often as she coasts through. Navigating the constraints of being both Lady Leonora and Pantera is not an easy task, and perhaps one that dominates many of her relationships. It means that the reader misses out on seeing the person behind the mask at times, given that Lady Leonora is as much of a mask as Pantera is to the true Leonora. It doesn’t detract from the strory though, and is a small gripe to have with a novel as entertaining and enthralling as Sun of Blood and Ruin.
Grey morality takes an interesting form here, with a particularly striking passage early on, where Leonora discusses her selfishness illustrates. As Pantera, she intervenes and acts in a way that is seemingly against her own ideals – saving the crown prince from rebels. To her, she acted selfishly to protect him, to ensure a relative stability for the community, over following what might be more aligned with her more general wishes – but which would lead to bloodshed and outright war. Readers may consider this to be right or wrong, but it is a great example for a nuanced character who ultimately makes choices that she herself considers bad choices on a moral standpoint in order to work towards greater goals.
Throughout the story, Mariely Lares weaves in Mesoamerican mythology, on which her magic system is based. Especially in the middle parts, the reader gets to meet a host of elements inspired by these stories – a particular favourite is a mermaid-like creature that appears in a scene. However, most central is the concept of tonalli, life force. A part of every person, derived from the sun, and most often determined by when and where someone was born, tonalli is what needs to be trained and controlled to wield magic. It is strongly linked to knowing who you are, to a deep-reaching self-awareness. Combined with the story’s strong focus on masks and conscious unmasking, it sends a powerful and coherent message to readers to be themselves, to not let others control yourself.
Sun of Blood and Ruin is also full of dry humour, betrayal, a good dose of romance and adventure. In short, everything a reader could ask from a fantasy novel.