Arauco

Written by John Caviglia
Review by Steve Donoghue

Cavigilia’s sprawling, utterly absorbing historical fiction debut is set the world of 16th-century freebooter Pedro de Valdivia, who sailed south from Peru in 1540 to conquer the land now known as Chile. De Valdivia is accompanied by both his mistress Ines de Suarez and his secretary, Juan de Cardena, who’s deeply infatuated with Ines. Caviglia invests these relationships with a refreshingly multi-faceted complexity, and plays his emotional human dramas against the wider backdrop of the conquering drives of the Spaniards and the fierce resistance they encounter from the native Mapuche.

The narrative brings us into the weird and colorfully-evoked world of the Mapuche with every bit as much conviction as it does the better-known world of the European conquerors. Caviglia provides dozens of compelling set-pieces of tense encounters, romantic reversals, and large-scale battles, while his book (much like the very evocative cover illustration by Tyler Jacobson) succeeds in conveying both the strangeness and the fascinating of a little-dramatized era in the history of Western colonization. This is extremely rich and rewarding historical fiction – highly recommended.