“The empire was a joke” (172). This is one of the culminating conclusions of Martin Austin Nesvig’s compelling and eminently readable study of the extension (or not) of colonial power to Michoacán in its first century of Spanish rule. In a series of chronologically ordered case studies, Nesvig examines the activities of various agents of Spanish religious and secular imperial authority. Virtually all of these “little hands of empire” (3), Nesvig argues, unabashedly and violently pursued their own interests at the expense of global order and royal justice. In so doing, Spanish colonists wielded the “promiscuous power” of the title, defined as such not only because of its flagrancy but also because it drew strength from overlapping institutions in perpetual conflict. The result? Michoacán became a “region of refuge” not just in the classic sense, for subalterns, but also for a veritable...

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