Author Pérez Valdez has carved out a unique niche in historical fiction by writing exclusively about Spanish missionaries of the 16th and 17th centuries. Espinas, a novel about Franciscan missionary Venerable Friar Antonio Margil de Jesús, was first published in Spanish in 2012 by the Franciscan Province of Saints Peter and Paul of Michoacán, Mexico. This edition is the first English translation.
Pérez Valdez has thoroughly researched the life of Friar Margil, who is credited with founding many missions throughout Mexico, Central and South America, and in what is today East Texas. But the book reads more like a work of nonfiction than a novel as Pérez Valdez retraces the friar’s arduous journeys in a journalistic style that lacks resonance. The facts are all there, recorded accurately, but the depth of character and sense of conflict that make for interesting fiction are absent; reading it puts one in mind of Butler’s Lives of the Saints.
The author points out in the prologue that Friar Margil is being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church. This fact explains the overly reverential tone the author takes in writing about Friar Margil. Clearly, this book is designed to further the cause of Friar Margil’s canonization, and one should keep that intention in mind when reading it.