In her ambitious novel about 19th-century Puerto Rico, bestselling memoirist Esmeralda Santiago (When I Was Puerto Rican) creates a bumper crop of characters in conflict. The plot of Conquistadora rides on the trajectory of Ana Larragoity Cubillas, a small, unwanted daughter of Spain whose deficit of riches, aristocratic looks and demure inclinations stunt her prospects in 1800s Sevilla. Ana bucks under the constraints of her convent school and revels in lightly supervised summers at her grandfather's farm, where she finishes off her suitability for mantilla matronhood by becoming entranced by the conquistadordiaries of a 16th-century ancestor who served under Ponce de León. Ana rails that she was born the wrong sex and 300 years too late, but she spies her chance when the twin brothers of a beloved classmate inherit a sugarcane plantation on the wilder coast of Puerto Rico.

Eighteen-year-old Ana launches her personal conquista plan of marriage, expatriation, moral fungibility and arduous work on the brothers' plantation in the Caribbean. It's Ana who has la buena cabeza for business, but her entire annexed family pays the price of her ambition, and four decades of economic and human strife based on slavery ensue. Like its heroine, the novel's prose exhibits more swagger than finesse, with some inelegant racy bits and chunks of dialogue that fail to evoke a 19th-century tonality, but overall Conquistadora is a satisfying and informative big read that delivers a powerful ending. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

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