Editor's note: This is one of three books that are historical novels mixed with a little romance by authors with Utah ties.
Carla Kelly’s “Marco and the Devil’s Bargain” picks up right where the first installment in the Spanish Brand series, “Double Cross,” left off, bringing back lovable characters, an old Western setting and romance, and a historically fueled tension that keeps the pages turning.
Marco and Paloma have overcome the struggles they faced in the first book of grieving for their families, learning to trust each other and deciding who to trust outside of their home. They are married and living on the Double Cross Ranch, but all is not well.
Paloma longs to have a child, thinking it will help her and Marco grow closer. Toshua, the Comanche the couple rescued in the first book, is still living with them, and Paloma can’t decide if it’s what she wants. To make matters worse, the Dark Wind, or smallpox, is spreading throughout New Mexico and threatens to find its way onto the ranch.
When English physician Anthony Gill arrives at the Double Cross promising a smallpox inoculation, Marco accepts the devil’s bargain Gill offers him, not wanting to lose any more loved ones to disease. In return for the inoculation, Marco agrees to escort Gill into Comanche land to rescue his kidnapped daughter, and Paloma insists on accompanying them.
Kelly’s ability to transport the reader into the unsettled Spanish territory of New Mexico is remarkable. From the daily life on the ranch to the travels into the wild, every word and action is well researched and natural.
Another of Kelly’s strengths is in switching between characters and making each one feel raw and individual. The characters each have a distinct voice and a unique set of problems, and Kelly, who recently moved from Utah to Idaho, writes about them in such a genuine way that the reader will root for them, worry about them and want what they want for them.
Because of this, the theme of good people trying to make good choices in difficult situations resonates. The real struggles of making a marriage work and fighting for each other are shown again and again.
With historical events such as smallpox and Native American threats and alliances driving the plot, “Marco and the Devil’s Bargain” is a well-rounded story that is sure to please.
“Marco and the Devil’s Bargain” contains scenes of death and hunting but no violence. It also includes mild swearing and some references to nudity, but there are no detailed sexual references.