"When I took The Sandoval Sisters’ Secret of Old Blood off my “to-be-read” stack it was none too soon and about time. What a treat to enjoy the joys of sly smiles and breathless intervals between racist attacks, yanqui invasions, local color, gender ambiguity, jealous lovers, patient lovers, huge cultural paradigm shifts.
Set in New Mexico in the decades leading to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the story of four women comes ready-made with cultural references and a literary heritage. Most notably, as a uniquely New Mexico story with plot lines filled with miracles and mystical prescience, O’Briant fits into literary space created by Rudolfo Anaya’s timeless Bless Me, Ultima.
O’Briant’s story of the Sandoval sister married into a slave-owning Texas family has a counterpart in Arturo Madrid’s In the Country of Empty Crosses. Set in New Mexico beginning fifty years after the Sandoval Sisters stories, Madrid’s depiction of ever-present tensions between Catholic and Protesant gente, raza and anglo, reflects the creative history O’Briant thrusts upon the indomitable Alma.
Historicity sets a background and defines cultural rules that constrains an author’s work. Eroticism has fewer boundaries, and here Sandra Ramos O’Briant gives herself an almost free hand. There’s the soltera sister, the keeper of familia knowledge. There’s the consolation prize bride, Pilar, a 14-year old. Her middle-aged husband looks forward to training her body. Alma, the intended bride, runs off to Texas with a nice cowboy. The author enjoys placing characters into sexual situations just because she can. But that’s why it’s a romp of a novel, lots of passion."