Title: La Florida
Author: James D. Snyder
Genre: Historical Fiction
Through the weaving together of fact and fiction, La Florida documents the conflicts that occurred when Early Modern Spanish explorers attempted to settle in Florida, home to a fearless and ancient Indian civilization.
La Florida is an intelligently written and well-structured novel. The chapters switch between the Indian point of view, involving fictional character, Lujo, and the Spanish perspective, told in the main by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, a Captain-General in Phillip II’s naval fleet, and the man responsible for sailing forth to cultivate Florida for the Spanish.
The level of historical research is meticulous and provides an excellent chronicle of the events and culture of the Native Americans. Every aspect of life from their daily routine to sacrificial rites and governance is faithfully recreated and woven through the narrative, building layer upon layer of authenticity and enabling the reader to move alongside the characters as they cook, clean, and perform the traditions of their tribes.
Lujo, born to a Mother from the Jeaga Indian tribe and a father who was King of the Calusa tribe is a curious, single-minded individual who combines hard work and integrity with an almost child-like sense of simple wonder at the world around him. He has a touch of the idiot savant and it works well, making his story credible and intriguing.
The chapters where he comes of age and meets Marinero, (VI) and where he spends time at Fisheating Creek (XV) are especially captivating, the latter echoing with the symbolism and allegory of the Native Americans and their noble customs.
The chapters from Menéndez’ perspective are concerned with the machinations of kingship and political maneuvering, which enabled him to finance his exploration of Florida, although this is fraught with difficulty due to the near bankrupt state of Philip II.
Menéndez is well-depicted as a ruthless, idealistic seafarer, although this dims a little in later chapters, which is understandable given how events unfold. The dynamic between him and his brothers is nicely explored and the loss of his son adds poignancy to his swashbuckling exploits.
Through the author’s meticulous source knowledge, the history is brought vividly to life, and the reader is fully immersed in the battles, brutality, and deprivation that ensue as Menéndez desperately tries to gain strongholds in the region. Menéndez not only faces threats from the indigenous population but also from the French, who manage to establish a colony to the north. All factions employ cunning and violence in their own way, and Mr. Snyder relates their struggles with consummate ease, skill, and objectivity.
This nicely impartial, yet informative, narrative is maintained even when the slightly uncomfortable territory of religious conversion is navigated. Although the majority of the Jesuits had the best of intentions toward the Native Americans, they were portrayed in this story as pawns in an increasingly futile and lawless game.
The book reads with a leisurely tempo, which makes it an ideal novel to lose yourself in, but the Menéndez/Spanish chapters could have been paced faster to provide contrast to the gentle rhythm of Lujo’s life. The historical excellency of La Florida is without question, but, in parts, the book could use more fictional drama.
Mr. Snyder provides an excellent Preface, Glossary, and two neatly illustrative maps and, at the conclusion of the novel, an “Afterwords” chapter, together with Reader Resources and Places to Visit information, all of which give considerate consolidation to the reading experience.
La Florida is an epic retelling of a pivotal period in the history of the region. The level of research is impeccable and the characters, especially the Florida-dwelling Native Americans, are wonderfully realized, making this a highly interesting and absorbing work of historical fiction.
This Editorial Review was written by the Book Review Directory staff. To receive a similarly honest, professional review for one of your own books, click here.