Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

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432 pages; Knopf
Gloriosa Ana María de los Angeles Larragoity Cubillas Nieves de Donostia—Ana for short—is slight for a Spanish aristocrat, and unfashionably dark-skinned. In convent school in the 1830s, having eccentrically buried her not-so-pretty nose in a journal of a conquistador, she decides to become one, after a fashion, herself. "Ana despaired that she was born female and centuries too late to be an explorer and adventurer," writes Esmeralda Santiago, author of When I Was Puerto Rican*.  A decades-long story about marriage, slavery, and calculated choices—Ana makes an unspoken, unnatural pact with her young husband and his twin brother—Conquistadora (Knopf) is a splendid expedition into colonial history complete with enrapturing suspense to the very end.

*Change made to the review on 7/6/11
— Celia McGee