Isabela’s Dreams is largely set among the Mayan ruins of Copan in Honduras. The novel features vivid historical information that is well-researched and intriguing. This is offset somewhat by a weak conflict based on a Big Misunderstanding and two characters who don’t level with one another until much too late in the story. Hence, it’s an uneven read.
Isabela Santana dreams of a career as an archaeologist, and as the story opens, she’s enrolled as a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis. She’s also in a relationship with fellow grad student Mateo Esquivel. Lately, Isabela has the feeling something is wrong. Mateo seems to be looking over his shoulder a lot, and Isabela is having dreams of foreboding in which Mateo leaves her for a blonde woman. When Isabela spies Mateo in the arms of just such a woman, kissing her, she immediately leaves him without an explanation, drops out of grad school, and moves to New Orleans.
Fast-forward seven years. Having taken a year off to travel with her cousin Flor and then completing her PhD, Isabela is in charge of a dig at the Mayan ruins of Copan. Three years earlier, Isabela’s team uncovered a small temple, and Isabela is sure that a woman whom she calls the Red Lady once ruled Copan. If she can come up with some hard evidence, the male bastion of Lafayette University will have to make her the first female tenured professor of Latin Studies. Then Dr. Mateo Esquivel, renowned epigrapher, is assigned to her dig. Soon they are nearly at each other’s throats, and seven years of hurt is about to bubble to the surface.
Isabela fell flat on her face in the prologue and never really recovered. Here’s a woman who professes to want only two things in her life: a career in Mayan studies and studly Mateo. When presented with the so-called evidence of his infidelity, does she even stop to ask questions? Nope. Without a word, she dumps everything and runs. Mateo, whose reasoning for keeping Isabela in the dark is feeble at best, spends most of the book wondering why she left. He doesn’t come out and just ask her, though.
The problem with a setup like this is that it exasperates the reader and makes the characters more irritating than sympathetic. The “running-away-without-asking-for-explanations” bit makes Isabela seem immature and very foolish, and the fact that Mateo can’t put two and two together regarding her reasons for leaving makes him look pretty thickheaded. Readers may not much care if they get together or not.
The descriptions of the Mayan ruins are interesting and vivid, though, and for readers with an interest in Pre-Columbian history, this will be a definite bright spot. The author obviously has a love for this era and has done considerable research to bring the ruins to life.
If Big Misunderstanding tales don’t put you off, Isabela’s Dreams might be quite a satisfying read. If you have less patience for runaway heroines, then proceed with caution. Readers, take note that Encanto romances are now being sold separately in English-only and Spanish-only versions, with a corresponding reduction in price.