In Anna-Marie McLemore’s new novel, Wild Beauty, the Nomeolvides women have a special power: with just a touch from a Nomeolvides hand, luscious plants grow and flowers burst into bloom. But the women are also cursed: the people they love are doomed to vanish. And they cannot leave the place where they have been granted sanctuary, or they will die themselves.
The cousins live with their mothers and grandmothers at La Pradera, an estate where they have been granted sanctuary for their misunderstood gift. All five of the cousins have fallen in love with Bay Briar, the granddaughter of La Pradera’s owner. Knowing the curse on the family and fearing what it might do to Bay, they decide to ask the land to protect her:
The only thing stronger than the curse of their blood was La Pradera, this flowering world that possessed the Nomeolvides women so deeply it killed them if they tried to leave it. If they did not want Bay vanishing, they needed La Pradera to guard her. From them. If anything could save Bay, it was the force and will of this place. Bay had grown up here the same as they had. This land must have fallen in love wither light footsteps and loud laugh, too. So they would beg La Pradera to give Bay its charm against the venom of their hearts.
The next day Estrella finds a teenage boy in the garden, a boy named Fel who does not know how he came to be there nor even know his own name. From his clothing and the way he gazes in wonder at the world he has entered, it is clear to the cousins that this boy has arrived from an earlier time: “He seemed like he had wandered into a world he did not belong to.” Was he lost because he had been loved by one of their ancestors? And why has La Pradera given him back?
As Fel begins to remember small fragments of his former life, he becomes more involved in the lives of the cousins and their desire to save both Bay and La Pradera, now at risk from the estate’s new owner. But their quest to save their home and those they love reveals other, darker secrets.
McLemore has a sure hand with magical realism, bringing readers so completely into the world of La Pradera that the idea of a boy from another century appearing in the garden does not seem strange at all. She also has a firm grasp on her characters. These cousins have each other’s love, and the love of their mothers and grandmothers, but they live in fear of the dark side of their gift. Fel is especially poignant as he tries to make sense of the world he has found himself in and to sort out clues to the pain in his own past.
Wild Beauty is a gorgeously written novel of love, sacrifice, and redemption in dark times—and that may be one reason for why it seems so relevant, even to readers in an age without magic.
Faye Jones, dean of learning resources at Nashville State Community College, writes the Jolly Librarian blog for the college’s Mayfield Library. She earned her doctorate in nineteenth-century literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.