I’m beyond excited to write this review for The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones. I’m so not used to reading books this long, so it took me way longer than it should have. It ended up taking me almost 2 weeks. Yikes. I mean, seriously. Anyway, in the last blog post, I told you guys that before the hubby and I left town, we went on a last minute trip to the library. While we were there, I picked up this book in hopes that I would finish it before I got back to the city and I could write a spiffy review of it when I got back. I won’t lie to you guys – that really really didn’t happen the way I planned it out in my head. At all. Hmmf. Well, I’m super pumped to tell you all about it now, even if it is a bit late. So anyway, this book is another historical fiction piece and I’m realizing pretty quickly that this is one of the genres that fits nicely into my comfort zone. I have mad love for books set in the 1700s and the female protagonists make it even better. Alright, let’s get to the summary!
This book takes place in the mid-1700s in Spain. We are introduced to Caridad, a former Cuban slave, who is granted freedom when her master dies. Terribly confused and suffering from dehydration, Caridad meets up with an older gypsy man named Melchor. Melchor is a smuggler and we learn that he knows a thing or two about being trapped and oppressed as he has made his way through his imprisonment in the Spanish galleys. We watch as Caridad slowly starts to relax and befriend Melchor’s beautiful granddaughter, Milagros. At this point in the story, we shift gears and learn a bit about Milagros and her family. Milagros and her mother, Ana dance and read fortunes on the streets in exchange for payment, both of which turn out to be super important for the lìfe that Milagros ends up with. Milagros grows to be quite well-known for her dancing as well as her beauty. I loved Milagros’s fiery spirit, Melchor’s never-ending fight, and Caridad’s loyalty so so much! These characters balanced each other perfectly and I was rooting for them through the entire story.
“Now they all lied to each other, kept each other at a distance; it was as if their innocence had suddenly ended. It wasn’t that they were growing up or coming of age, it was simply that with their fathers’ decision — a word, a simple agreement made behind their backs — what had been true the night before meant nothing at sunrise.”
– The Barefoot Queen
As we grow to love these characters more and more, Falcones shows us another side of the story. He tells us about the oppression that was rained down on the gypsies during this time period in the form of mass imprisonment, forced labour camps, and the general willful extermination of the entire gypsy race. Yikes, that got serious pretty fast. When he described separations between mother and child, man and wife, and brothers and sisters, my heart ached for the entire culture. I longed tremendously for their escape and raged against any characters who got in the way. I may have been way, way too emotional about this whole situation.
Speaking of which, my emotions about this book ranged from heartbreak to excitement to elation. Basically, I loved the story and cheered for the spirited characters at every moment. The character who I related to the most was probably Milagros because I strongly remembered my teenage angst and the fights that I had with my parents while I read about hers. I remembered the transition from adolescence to adulthood and I felt like I was going through that awkward period all over again right along with her. I loved her character so much. Aside from the characters, my favourite part of this book was the amazing storytelling ability that Falcones has. He made me feel like I was in the middle of the action, watching the story happen right in front of my eyes. His description was incredible and his narratives were skillfully and beautifully woven through the story. What did I not like about the book? My first inclination is to say that there was nothing that I disliked about the story. But… giving the question a bit more thought, I would say that I wasn’t a huge fan of the amount of setting description. The images of the Spanish countryside just seemed to slow me down while I was reading. To be fair, I’ve never been a huge fan of setting descriptions, but it did help to put me in the middle of the story. Whatever. Basically, I loved the heck out of this book and I’m super glad that I found it. I would recommend this book to historical fiction buffs, people who want to learn about a different culture, people who dig really great storytellers, and people who love a sassy protagonist or two.