I had the pleasure of getting a very early copy of a book by an author I met through Rosie’s Book Review Team and has become a big favourite of mine since. She writes historical fiction, but in this case she has written what she calls a ‘biographical novel’, where she never deviates from the historical facts and tries to give a voice to many of the historical characters involved. I was impressed by the results, and I recommend you check them for yourselves.
There Will be Consequences by Loretta Miles Tollefson
“It’s August 3, 1837, and rebellion has broken out in northern New Mexico. By the end of the week, Governor Albino Pérez and key members of his administration will be dead, and a governor with indigenous ancestry will be installed in Santa Fe.
Trouble’s been brewing for over a year, fed by new laws restricting the right to vote, the threat of new taxes, and a governor who’s quicker to borrow money than distribute it. On top of that, Pérez has jailed the Santa Cruz de la Cañada alcalde for making a decision he didn’t like. The locals free the alcalde and go to war, campesinos and Pueblo warriors against the ricos of the south.
But the rich aren’t about to give up their privileges so easily. More people will die before the violence ends.
A deeply-researched biographical novel with implications for today, There Will be Consequences explores the events before, during, and after early August 1837 through the eyes of the people who participated in them. Twelve linked stories propel the narrative forward from the perspective of individuals as diverse as Albino Pérez, rebel governor José Angel Gonzales, Santa Fe gambler Gertrudis “Doña Tules” Barceló, Taos priest Antonio José Martinez, and that most flexible of New Mexico’s politicians, Manuel Armijo.”
About the author:
Loretta Miles Tollefson has been publishing fiction and poetry since 1975. (She’s not old–she started young!) Growing up in foothills of the Olympic Mountains in the log cabin her grandfather built and her father was born in led naturally to an interest in history and historical fiction. When she retired to the mountains of northern New Mexico, writing historical fiction set there was a logical result. The Moreno Valley Sketches books are the first in many planned books set there.
Before turning to historical fiction full time, Loretta wrote Crown of Laurel, a novel set in Seattle in the recession of the early 1980’s. Loretta holds a B.S. in Bible Education from Multnomah University in Portland, Oregon. This background informs her poetry collections Mary at the Cross: Voices from the New Testament and And Then Moses Was There: Voices from the Old Testament.
In the mid-1980’s, Loretta and her husband suffered the loss of their first child in the fifth month of pregnancy. Her poetry collection But Still My Child came out of that period and is designed to help others deal with the pain of miscarriage.
Loretta holds M.A.’s in Communication and in English Literature from the University of New Mexico. Most days, you’ll find her researching New Mexico history in the 1800’s and writing furiously. She publishes short historical fiction every week at LorettaMilesTollefson.Wordpress.com.
I was given access to a very early copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.
I have read and reviewed several of the author’s series of Old New Mexico novels, which includes some interlinked stories following the same characters, and others that explore in more detail the background of one of the side-characters, as well as different types of fiction, such as short stories and microfiction. I was initially intrigued by the setting of the stories, as it is a place that I know very little about but one I’ve always been interested in, and I have come to appreciate how much one can learn from a good historical novel while at the same time enjoying the fictional side of the story.
Here, Miles Tollefson takes on a new challenge that I think many of us will identify with: you are researching a historical period or an event and cannot find a detailed and unbiased account of what happened. The author goes into her thoughts and the particular difficulties she came across when researching the August 1837 rebellion in New Mexico in her author’s note, and it is a must-read, as is this book described as a ‘biographical novel’. Although it follows the events chronologically, each chapter is told from a different point of view, by characters who were directly involved or witnessed what happened, on both sides. And she does include a big variety of voices: women, children, priests, rich owners, governors (both rebel and official), military men, rebel fighters… sometimes right in the thick of the action, and sometimes in the outskirts of it, providing an immersive experience.
There are twelve chapters that could be read as independent episodes (making it ideal for people with little time who can only manage to snatch a few minutes to read, here and there), but together create a clear and vivid picture of the historical era and the people involved in those events. By writing each chapter from a different point of view, but always in the third person and in the present tense (not something I generally like, but it gives the narrative immediacy and a sense of continuity), it has the effect of a jigsaw puzzle, where each piece has been slightly twisted this way or that, but with a bit of effort, we can find a way to make them fit. The author does a great job of putting flesh in the bones of the facts she has found and of filling in the gaps in as non-judgmental a way as possible. She explains the biases in the reporting of the events she covers in her novel, and she excels at presenting each individual and their thoughts in their own terms, rather than trying to impose her interpretation on them. It is easy to see how the conflict would have escalated, with such differing and seemingly irreconcilable opinions, positions, and points of view. Even those characters whom we might totally disagree with are shown as human beings with their reasons and motives, and it does feel at times as if you were there, willing everybody to come to an agreement and avoid the bloodshed, but also knowing that it will happen nonetheless. This is a novel that will make people think about these kinds of conflicts, and, hopefully, also understand a bit better how easy it is to escalate matters when the positions become entrenched and people are unable to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes.
Readers don’t need to worry about not having read any of the author’s novels set in New Mexico or not knowing about this historical period, as that is not necessary to enjoy this book. (Enjoy never seems to be the best word when much of the book describes painful and violent events, but I am sure readers know what I mean). This book can be read independently, although I enjoyed learning more about the historical events that feature as background in some of the author’s novels I’ve read. Miles-Toffeson also incorporates a list of character biographies at the end, a vocabulary (including Spanish and unusual English terms used in the book), and also a short bibliography for those who might want to learn more about the historical events featured here.
This is a book about a rebellion, and there are some terribly hard scenes, so I would warn readers who need to avoid explicit violence and blood-shed, as some of the chapters are very hard (even for somebody who does not have an issue with it. Knowing that this is based on real events makes it more poignant). The writing is excellent throughout, descriptive enough without going into excessive detail, and it manages to turn readers into privileged witnesses of the action, down to the protagonists’ thoughts. I am no historian, so I cannot comment in detail on the accuracy of the language and/or events described, but the dialogue and the characters jump off the page, and at times one feels like grabbing the characters, shaking them, and giving them all a piece of your mind. Remember you can always check a sample of the book to see if the style of writing suits your taste. As my copy was a very early ARC, I have decided not to share any quotes from it, but I highlighted plenty of passages, and some have left a long-lasting impression.
I recommend this book to anybody interested in New Mexico’s story or historical fiction with a difference. I think there is much here that will interest writers who work in the same genre, as well as any reader looking for a gripping novel set within a changeable, dangerous, and exciting historical period.
Thanks to the author for providing me with an early copy of the book (and for the information about its progress), thanks to Rosie for helping me discover this author, thanks to all of you for reading, for sharing, for commenting, and always, remember to stay safe, and to keep smiling.