Here is a thing everyone wants: A miracle. Here is a thing everyone fears: What it takes to get one. Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado, is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars. At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo. They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.
In comparison to Stiefvater’s previous series, The Raven Cycle, this novel has a tangibly different style and tone. It’s a refreshingly simple sort of narrative which focuses on character and philosophy, all of which is executed through an artist’s eye.
If there is one thing I love about Stiefvater’s fiction, it’s that she has the ability to make the indescribable describable. She ventures beyond the limitations of language to pinpoint feelings and sensations in a way that is intriguing and entertaining all at once. This novel breathes life into metaphor while tapping into the tantalising myth of miracles. Stiefvater’s work tends to stray into the realm of magical realism given that it’s appropriately eerie and magical in the same breath, with a heap of reality spooned in for good measure to make it all seem appropriately plausible.
The imagery in the novel is really interesting, as the main focus of the narrative appears to be an exploration of what it means to be human. Antonia and Francisco’s relationship is one such relationship which touches on the conflict in relationships and how people deal differently with it. Despite a marriage filled with love and happiness, Antonia and Francisco’s communication began to falter and Francisco instead dedicating his time to cultivating a black rose – entirely the opposite of the red rose which has long been a symbol of romance and love. Francisco literally manipulates the flow of water in his greenhouse with metal pipes, and redirects the sunlight with shutters, manipulating nature in order to create something unnatural yet beautiful in its own right.
Beatriz, one of the novel’s younger central characters, is said to have no feelings, and communicates with her father in a language they themselves invented. This language works better through music than with actual words, and is often described as a form of ‘whistling’. Their ‘dysfunctionality’ within the community brings them closer together as father and daughter, allowing them to share a safe space and a form of communication which cannot be breached by the people who judge them. A big part of why they believe they have no feelings is because they have been told so for long enough that they began to believe it. In truth, they have deep feelings, but simply don’t show them as easily as other characters. They share similar personalities; they are both thoughtful and watchful, preferring to observe than to speak before they have considered all the facts. Ultimately, this is why they share such an intimate and singular form of communication.
The emphasis placed on Beatriz not having feelings suggests that this is in some way detrimental to both herself and to others around her. But when you examine her place in the narrative, it becomes clear that her ‘inability’ to feel actually makes her the heroine of the story. She is able to distance herself from the situation emotionally in order to tackle Daniel’s darkness and her own. She experiences romance in the novel. She cares deeply about her cousins enough to risk everything to save Daniel. Beatriz is different, but in the end, that is what makes her the hero of the story.
This novel is undoubtedly a study of people: of how different people deal with grief; of how different people think; of how people find their purpose in life and some don’t. The moral message which seems to be deeply ingrained within the text is that everyone has darkness in them, and it’s much easier to cower from it rather than face it. We all deal with life differently, and we all function in our own way. The novel explores deep conflicts between its characters in a quiet setting which is filled with mystery and possibility. Overall, the book has a steady pace which picks up intensity towards the end of the narrative, and is certainly worth a read.
May Book Review: TBC