Review | Valley of Shadows : by Rudy Ruiz

This tale of Soltario Cisneros weaves the history of Chihuahua, Mexico, near the big bend of the Rio Grande River, and Apache – Mexican spiritual beliefs into a read that is haunting yet compelling. Ghosts, both literal and metaphorical, in a desolate place, circa 1870-1883, transport this story to a spiritual realm. Well developed characters, whose stories are woven by a masterful storyteller, interact to create a tale, at times utterly terrifying. The prologue tells of the ritualistic murder of Sheriff Tolbert and his family. This startling beginning is a prelude to future mayhem.

“Unsettling and uplifting, both”

Key to the story is the historic shift in the course of the Rio Grange River in the late 1870’s. Olvido, a small bustling town on the Mexican side of the river, now is stranded on the Texas side, being swallowed by the desert. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the border between the United States abd Mexico as the Rio Grande River. Consequently, the Texas Rangerrs and the Anglos move in. Old Olvido is forgotten as its name implies (olvidar – to forget).

Solitario, the tragic hero of the story, is proud of his Mexican roots. His father’s family had come from Spain with parchment scrolls signed by kings and delusions of grand destinies in the New World. His mother, however, was from different stock, one of humble people persecuted for their beliefs and for their incantations and devinations.

Unfortunately, there is a curse (maldicion) on the Cisneros family. All male descendants of Mauro Fernando Cisneros, Solitario’s father, will be cursed to lose what they love most. With the death of his wife, Luz, Solitario (solitary) retires as sheriff of Olvido and retreats to his ranch, El Escondido, to commune with horses and ghosts.

A traditional charro, Solitario follows his chivaldric code of honor and justice, and returns as sheriff when Tolbert and his family are murdered. As further murders and kidnappings occur, each with its own gruesome, ritualistic twist, Solitario seeks the insight of Onawa, a young Apache-Mexican seer and spiritual traveler. Onawa takes him to an Apache bruja (witch, sorceress), who recognizes that the murders follow the Aztec calendar and the order of sacrifices to earn “gifts from the gods”.

The story is not complete without the help of Elias, Solitario’s compatriot in the Rurales. Together they fought in the resistance against Maximilian’s French invaders. Now, Elias rides next to Solitario as his deputy in Olvido. In life they are compared to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. However, Elias falls victim to the murderers.

Dead doesn’t mean gone.

Elias’ spirit, Elias’ ghost, is ever present when Solitario needs him.

My public school Spanish education rose to the challenge of the Spanish vocabulary artfully sprinkled throughout this book. The English context surrounding it was a great help to understanding.

“Poco a poco se llega lejos.”
“Little by little you get far.”

The supernatural and magical elements intertwined throughout this tale are fascinating – an enchanted sombrero, a guitar that produces hypnotic music, a protective seashell necklace, and a turquoise adorned belt buckle that delivers life saving energy. Wow, this is an intriguing life adventure. On the dark side are the Azted rituals reenacted complete with demons and a portal to another wlrld.

To sum it up, this is a tale of redemption and rediscovery, about loneliness and companionship. “No matter how isolated and lost we might feel, we are never truly alone. When we walk in the Valley of Shadows we are never truly alone.” p. 296

“All the dreams that had been dispelled by one imperciptible tremor of the ground in a remote wilderness, one avalanche of rocks, one swift river diverrted, one city forgotten, one man’s flaw, one persistent curse he now understood he could not out run.” p.235

Even the acknowledgments at the conclusion of the book are skillfully written. Rudy Ruiz gives his take on storytelling.

“Storytelling should be called storysharing because it comes alive through the connection made in the process of writing and reading, telling and listening, creating and remembering.”

– Rudy Ruiz – Acknowlegments for Valley of Shadows p.293

Published by Audrey Newhall

I am an avid reader and contributor to Penna Book Reviews

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