Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review of Caridad Piñeiro’s The Fifth Kingdom

For some reason I seem to be reading a lot of really great romantic suspense lately, and I just finished another RS novel, Caridad Piñeiro’s The Fifth Kingdom. I requested this book from NetGalley, because I was intrigued by the idea of an archaeologist looking for Montezuma’s tomb. As a Spanish Instructor, it was a pleasure to read a book that integrates Mexican history and culture so easily into the action of the plot, and the mythical aspects of that culture make for an unusual setting for the novel. The Fifth Kingdom was an engaging read that packs a powerful emotional punch, but I think it needed to be just a little bit longer to adequately resolve the complex family situations. I also should warn readers that the Prologue is uncomfortable to read, as it references torture involving a car battery and jumper cables. The violence in the prologue is not described in depth, however, and I think with a Romantic Suspense you expect some of that anyway.
The prologue begins with archaeologist Miranda Adams’ torture at the hands of a Mexican terrorist organization, Primera Mexica (PM). Dr. Adams has been searching for Montezuma’s tomb, and now that she’s discovered it, PM wants her to tell them the location. Realizing that providing the information would mean certain death, Dr. Adams refuses to talk. The action then shifts to New York, where CIA Special Agent Guillermo “Bill” Santana enters Dr. Deanna Vazquez’s history classroom. Deanna is a teacher at an elite Prep School, and Miranda Adams is her mother, although they have been estranged for years since Dr. Adams abandoned her family when Deanna was only thirteen. Bill Santana informs Deanna that her father has reported Miranda missing in Mexico, and they suspect she’s been abducted by a terrorist group aiding Mexican drug cartels. In spite of Deanna’s initial reluctance to join the search for her mother, she quickly changes her mind when she and Bill have to fight off two attackers just outside the school. Deanna learns that her mother’s hunt for Montezuma’s tomb has apparently been successful, and the CIA and FBI fear that she has uncovered some sort of weapon, making her a target of the Primera Mexica terrorist organization. While Deanna is skeptical about the presence of any weapon in the tomb, she agrees to help Bill and the CIA recover her mother. To add to Deanna’s emotional distress about her relationship with her mother, she’s very attracted to the CIA Special Agent. She and Bill Santana need to find a way to discover the truth about Montezuma’s tomb and the Primera Mexica, all while fighting their mutual attraction.
Ms. Piñeiro is very successful at creating evil villains and tense confrontations. We keep wondering if Deanna and Bill are going to find Miranda in time and if they do find her, what shape she’ll be in physically. The couple travel to Mexico City and pose as a recently engaged couple, hoping to establish some contacts that will provide information leading to Primera Mexica. This leads to an extended stand-off with the terrorists that will keep you turning the pages, questioning whether or not Bill and Deanna can escape with their lives. The action in the second half of the novel seems to fly by, because of their rescue of Miranda and attempts to secure the so-called weapon in the tomb.
The growing romance between Bill and Deanna is definitely a case of two wounded souls finding one another. Bill’s parents abandoned him when he was little, and he spent years bouncing between foster homes before finally settling in a good home with a military foster father. Despite working with the CIA, he’s never sought out his parents, so he’s able to relate to Deanna’s mixed feelings about having to rescue a woman who abandoned her. I particularly like that their romance develops gradually, rather than having them immediately jump into bed together. They’re clearly attracted to one another and the fake engagement they use as their cover story in Mexico City allows them to develop the relationship.
One thing that bothered me about the novel is the handling of the relationship between Deanna and Miranda. I felt that we never really receive a good answer for why Miranda abandoned her husband and daughter. Eventually we learn Miranda’s reasons for leaving through a short interior monologue, but she never explains those reasons to her daughter. One of my pet peeves is having a character reflect on why s/he wronged another but never explaining her actions to that other person. How will the wronged party know that the other person truly regrets her actions if what we readers know is never expressed to the other characters? I would have liked to see more interaction between Deanna and her mother before the resolution, because from the beginning it’s made clear that Deanna feels a great deal of resentment towards her mother and I found the resolution of those feelings to be explained away too quickly. The epilogue merely served to exacerbate my feelings about the mother-abandoned child theme of the novel. I won’t go into details, but I’m not really sure it was necessary, and it seemed to only resolve the conflict between those characters in a superficial manner.
Overall I felt The Fifth Kingdom was a fast and enjoyable read. The romance was touching, and the crescendo of action in the last half of the novel kept me on the edge of my seat. But it was the cultural aspects driving the conflict that made this book stand out for me, and I look forward to catching up on Ms. Piñeiro’s other books.
I received this book for review from the publisher through NetGalley.

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