Book Review: Piñata by Leopoldo Gout

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Piñata by Leopoldo Gout

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Horror

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Nightfire Books (March 14, 2023)

Length: 293 pages

Author Information: Website

In a unique take on the classic possession story, Piñata by Leopoldo Gout is a simmering horror that draws upon indigenous myths while incorporating a bloody colonial past. The plot follows Carmen Sanchez, a New York architect who is back in her home country of Mexico to oversee the transformation of an old cathedral into a luxury hotel. Tagging along for the summer are her daughters, Izel and Luna, taking this opportunity to learn about their heritage.

But even from the start, the renovation has been plagued with issues. Carmen is so busy that her daughters are left on their own most of the time. The three of them are treated as outsiders, and teenager Izel is especially having a tough time fitting in, missing her friends from school. Carmen is also locked in a power struggle with the local foreman and his workers who don’t respect her or follow her orders, despite her being the lead architect on the project. Then one day, the crew uncover a hidden room at the construction site containing a trove of ancient artifacts. An accident involving Luna which also ends up jeopardizing Carmen’s position on the project is the last straw, and she is ready to head back to New York with her girls.

Unbeknownst to her, however, something else comes home with them. Carmen begins having nightmares and frightening visions. Luna begins behaving strangely, acting out at home and at school with violent results. Carmen knows her daughter needs help, but getting it may mean opening her mind to the seemingly impossible.

Piñata was an enjoyable read, but maybe not as enjoyable as I’d hoped—after all, when it comes to horror, possession stories can be some of the scariest, but I simply did not get that from this one. Granted, there were some downright gory scenes described in graphic detail, involving plenty of disturbing situations, but these were relatively shallow, throwaway frights.

As it often is in these cases, I feel it was the pacing that threw off the flow. There was a rather long leadup following Carmen and her daughters as they settle in for their summer in Mexico, though this was actually my favorite part of the book. I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the sights and sounds, as well as reading about the characters’ cultural shock of being in a place where the local attitudes, beliefs, and values are so different from their own. As the story progresses, Gout also inserts flashes from the past, exploring the country’s complex history and the lives of those who have conquered or been conquered there over the centuries. Fascinating as they are though, some of these sections were admittedly overlong, dwelling protractedly on certain details that, at the end of the day, did not seem to add much value to the plot.

Which brings me to the possession arc itself. While I agree with other reviews that call Piñata a slow-burn horror, when we do reach the boiling point, things steam out way too quickly. One of my favorite parts about this book is the focus on Carmen’s attempts to balance her roles as a mother and a working professional while the family was in Mexico, along with all the turbulent emotions that they bring: love, guilt, pride, worry, etc. However, when it came to the ordeal with Luna, I thought her feelings were oddly muted, and the resolution felt cold and rushed as a result.

In sum, Piñata featured an interesting twist on a familiar premise, taking the supernatural elements from a possession story and presenting them through a historical, cultural, and mythological lens. I think some extra polish to iron out the pacing issues and to dial up the atmosphere would have made this a solid 4-star read. As it is, it’s close, but not quite there.

11 Comments on “Book Review: Piñata by Leopoldo Gout”

  1. The setting sounds perfect for this type of story. Possession stories really can be terrifying if done right, and even though this one might have missed a bit on the horror side it sounds like some of the setting was done well.


  2. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 05/28/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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