Sunday, May 10, 2009

Review: The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo

Amid the social whirl of Washington society balls, in the midst of the American Civil War, lovely young Alice Green meets a dashing Mexican aristocrat, Angelo Iturbide. Over the protests of her family, she marries Angelo, who is the son of Mexico's last failed (and executed) Emperor. When rebellious leader Santa Anna is exiled, Angelo feels it is safe to take Alice and move back to Mexico.

Alice quickly adapts to life in Mexico, embracing the culture and the food and tweaking her name to the more Spanish 'Alicia.' Soon she is pregnant and the couple have a healthy son who they name Agustin.

Not long after Agustin's birth, Mexico is invaded by the French army. They drive out the Mexican Republic's president, Benito Juarez, and it seems that all of Europe conspires to place a new Emperor on the throne. This time a Hapsburg (they rule everywhere else, why not Mexico, too?) in the form of Maximilian, Archduke of Austria. Unfortunately for Max, he is basically forced to accept the throne of Mexico and also forced to relinquish his birthright in the process. His wife, Carlota, is determined to go to Mexico, anything to escape the boredom of their European backwater.

From the start, Maximilian and Carlota are ineffective rulers, at best. They have no real interest in or talent for leading, Max would rather chase butterflies than attend to the business of running a country. They have some problem within their marriage, too. Though both are young (Max in his thirties, Carlota in her twenties), they have no children. They take the extraordinary step of requesting that the Iturbides turn over their two year old son, so he can be raised as the heir to the Mexican throne.

The reasons for this request are never explained fully. Alicia sees it as a fantastic opportunity for her son, to be educated in the best European schools and to have a future that his parents could never provide for him. She is assured that she will be able to see the boy daily. Angelo is totally against what amounts to giving his only child away. He resists and resists but finally is unable to stand against the pressure. They sign Agustin over to Maximilian and Carlota.

The instant the boy is safely ensconced in the palace, Angelo and Alicia are exiled and forced out of the country. Their efforts to reclaim their son are hampered by Mexico's slide into chaos as the government breaks down, Europe turns its back and the French Army begins to retreat.

This is a fascinating and complex novel about a little known period in Mexican history. The author's extensive research and richly detailed settings bring to life nineteenth century Mexico in a vast, colorful tapestry. From the lowly kitchen maid and the rough soldier to the bluest blood of the European aristocracy, we are treated to pieces of the story from every point of view. While I enjoyed the way the author wove together the many characters, I did find the profusion of them slowed down the narrative a bit for me. A reference chart would have been helpful for keeping them straight.

All in all, a very enjoyable book, a must read for the dedicated historical fiction fan.

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo is published by Unbridled Books. ISBN 978-1-932961-64-5

Here are some other blogs participating in the tour:

Booksie's Blog
Caribou's Mom
Darby's Closet
Devourer of Books
Drey's Library
Kylee's 2009 Blog
Medieval Bookworm
We Be Reading


Shannansbooks said...

I have been hearing so many wonderful things about this book I am gonna go check it out. Nice review.

bermudaonion said...

I need to read this book because I know so little about Mexican history. It sounds so good.

C.M. Mayo said...

Muchisimas gracias for your very thoughtful review. By the way, here's the whole "tussie-mussie" or cast of characters:

(wih links and more... and more to come...)

with kind regards, C.M. Mayo

Jennifer Taylor said...

Sounds like a great historical!

The Tome Traveller said...

Oh, thank you so much for the link! How wonderful!

Michele said...

I am so glad you reviewed this's in my pile waiting for me and I just think it holds so much promise!

Melissa said...

I think this one looks interesting, but I wonder if there are too many things going on at once. It sounds pretty complicated...

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Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.