Sylvia Moreno Garcia struck gold last year with Mexican Gothic, a book which took the best British gothic traditions and successfully transferred them to a creepy mid-20th Century Mexico. This has clearly led to a reconsideration of Moreno Garcia’s work so that some of her earlier releases are being rereleased, including her 2017 historical fantasy The Beautiful Ones.
The world of The Beautiful Ones is a pastiche of late 19th and early 20th Century central and south America. While the place names are unfamiliar and there is a hint of people with powers, the driving force of this society is money and gossip. When the book opens Hector has returned after ten years to the city of Loisail, still pursuing his long lost love Valérie. Hector left the city to develop his craft in telekinesis, becoming a world famous showman. While Valérie preserved her family’s fortunes by marrying into an even wealthier family. Still obsessed, despite her marriage to another, Hector seeks to get close to Valérie and he does so by formally courting her husband’s niece Nina, who also has powers like his.
Moreno Garcia clearly loves the telenovela, because the melodramatic story lines of this form of entertainment are all over this tale. A love triangle becomes a love quadrangle, the situation drives some characters to become more self-obsessed, impulsive and evil and others to become more pure and understanding. Tensions run high, opportunities are missed, intentions are misunderstood. But because it is so firmly based in this melodramatic style, The Beautiful Ones is also a breezy read – a classic romance with a dash of magic (literally a dash – Hector could just have easily been a world famous pianist or chess prodigy and the story, with one major exception, would have been pretty much the same).
Moreno-Garcia claims that each of her books is drawn from a different influence, and this may be true. What she shows both in this and in Mexican Gothic, is her ability to play on these well-established tropes and themes. And while it has taken her a while to find her “breakout” novel, it is pleasing to see that this success is shining a light back on some of her earlier work, more of which will be rereleased later in the year.