The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Today is the day to celebrate Mexican heritage and culture, and what an appropriate way to celebrate with my review of C.M. Mayo‘s in-depth look into one of Mexico’s most turbulent times when its government was plagued by invaders (the Yankees and the French), in-fighting, and disease, like yellow fever.

The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire by C.M. Mayo and published by Unbridled Books is a historical novel that chronicles the short reign (about 3 years) of Maximilian, the undercurrent of political ambition, the clash of cultures, and internal familial machinations.

The novel opens in Washington, D.C., with Alice Green who meets and falls in love with Angelo de Iturbide, a secretary for the Mexican Legation. They marry and move to Mexico, where Alice (known as Alicia in Mexico) gives birth to their son, Agustín de Iturbide y Green. Leaving the Mexican shores, readers will journey across the Atlantic to Trieste, Italy, to meet Maximilian von Habsburg who reluctantly agrees to become the Emperor of Mexico. There are a number of nuances political and otherwise that can get confusing for readers unfamiliar with some of Mexico’s history, but these instances are easily overcome as the story unfolds. It is clear from the use of multiple perspectives in this novel that the main character is not Maximilian, Agustin, Alice, Angelo, the Iturbides, the French invaders under Napoleon III, or the Republican upstarts led by Benito Juarez. The main “character” of this novel is Mexico and its future and how that future is shaped by all of these players, their decisions, and in some cases their indecision.

“There are eleven passengers, packed tighter than Jalapenos in a jar. Before reaching the coast, how long will they be trapped in this wretched contraption, two weeks? Five? The roads, if they can be called that, are troughs of mud. Last week La Sociedad reported that, past Orizaba, an entire team, eighteen mules, had fallen into the muck and suffocated.” (Page 93)

Mayo is an impeccable researcher and craftswoman who fleshes out historical figures in a way that remains true to their historical actions and creates characters who are well-rounded and memorable for readers. Her ability to juggle multiple points of view is unparalleled–from the perspective of Agustin’s nanny to Maximilian himself.

One of the most captivating sections of the novel occurs between pages 147-153 in which Maximilian is preoccupied with matters of state and the Iturbide family’s sudden breach of a contract with the emperor with regard to their son Agustin. Mayo weaves in Maximilian’s frantic thoughts, rants, and arguments with his physical tossing about in his bed, as he mashes the pillow into submission, kicks off the sheets, and sits upright in bed as he determines the best course of action to save face and depict Mexico as a strong nation.

Readers will agree that her prose is poetic, as she notes in her interview, here.

“Out the window, birds were being blown about in the sky, and in the distance, rain clouds draped like a filthy rag over the sierra.” (Page 135)

Overall, this epic novel takes on a convoluted period in Mexico’s history and the complicated families ruling or eager to rule in the mid-19th Century. Mayo does exceptionally well with multiple points of view, description, and character development to create a vivid dramatization. The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire would make a great book club selection and discussion.

Check out these images of Maximilian’s Miramar Castle in Italy.
Check out these images of Maximilian’s Chapultepec Castle in Mexico.

Check out an excerpt from The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, here.

For book clubs of 12 members or more, please check out C.M. Mayo’s guidelines for a telephone discussion with her.

Check out her book tour information to see if she’ll be reading and signing books near you.

Also Reviewe By:
Rose City Reader
Drey’s Library
Devourer of Books

About the Author:

C.M. Mayo is the author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books, 2009), a historical novel based on the true story; Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles Through Baja California, the Other Mexico (Milkweed Editions, 2007) and Sky Over El Nido (University of Georgia Press, 1995), which wonn the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Founding editor of Tameme, the bilingual Spanish/English) chapbook press, Mayo is also a translator of contemporary Mexican poetry and fiction. Her anthology of Mexican fiction in translation, Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, was published by Whereabouts Press in March 2006.

Check back after May 17 for more goodies about C.M. Mayo’s reading in Bethesda, Md., and a possible giveaway.

***Giveaway Reminders***

Giveaway for Eleanor Bluestein’s Tea & Other Ayama Na Tales short story collection, here; Deadline is May 6, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.

1 copy of Rubber Side Down Edited by Jose Gouveia, here; Deadline is May 15 at 11:59 PM EST