The implausible exploits of Pedro Bohorques make up a fascinating tale which belies assumptions that the midcolonial era was a straightforward time of stability and order. A threadbare vagabond from Andalusia who married into Quechua-speaking Indian society in Castrovirreyna, Bohorques eventually became a controversial, visionary conquistador, leading expeditions in search of the mythic city of Paititi in the Peruvian Amazon. When his semilegal frontier colony began to break down, he was sent under arrest to the fastnesses of southern Chile. He subsequently escaped into the highland Andean valleys of Tucumán, where he reinvented himself as a descendant of the Inca who would lead the unsubdued Calchaquí Indians to freedom from their colonial Spanish oppressors. He was finally executed after allegedly fomenting the 1666 rebellion of the kurakas while imprisoned in Lima. Though he is little known today, the fresh and engaging new portrait of him by Ana María Lorandi dispels the clouds of obscurity surrounding his story.

The book consists of two relatively separate parts. The first three chapters offer extensive historical and cultural discussions of themes central to the story of Pedro Bohorques. The author points to political tensions that she considers to have been critical in the seventeenth century, and to other instances of Spaniard-Indian alliances and anticolonial conspiracies. She next turns to the elaboration of a neo-Inca culture and historical memory that, she argues, had subversive utopian connotations. She then takes up the utopian imaginings of Paititi and El Dorado, as expressed in colonial literature and geographical exploration. The material presented in these chapters is interesting and valuable for specialists; and it fills out the context for the life history of Bohorques. Yet the narrative account and biographical reflections in the second half of the book are especially engaging and often gripping.

Was Bohorques a power-obsessed charlatan? A utopian dreamer or revolutionary? A picaresque trickster? The man who presented himself as both conquistador and Inca was charismatic, complicated, and intriguing. Ana María Lorandi situates him—“a man who had not fit in the world,” in the words of Peruvian viceroy conde de Alba—as one of a handful of extraordinary characters who moved ambiguously at the margins of colonial society and between its contrasting poles. For his hostile eighteenth-century Jesuit biographer Lozano, nothing was more bizarre than his inexplicable inversion of colonial cultural values: Bohorques cleverly sought to elevate himself to king of the Indies, yet he made the mistake of feigning to be an Indian, the lowest colonial subject. It is not entirely clear how Indians themselves, whether Ameshuas in the lowlands or Calchaquí community members in the highlands, might have viewed him (or used him, as Bishop Maldonado suggested at the time).

Lorandi seeks to make sense of her subject by drawing on a range of theoretical and historical references—turning most often to J. A. Maravall’s work on baroque culture, utopianism, and picaresque heroes. Yet ultimately she sees the limits of a priori or generic categories and refuses to assign a single, fixed valency to Bohorques. She reaffirms his enigmatic qualities while encouraging readers to reach their own conclusions. This they cannot help but do, for the tale of Bohorques fairly bursts beyond its telling. (It will undoubtedly find its way next into film or fiction, seeking a new storyteller perhaps somewhere between Manuel Mújica Láinez and Werner Herzog.) Yet Lorandi’s scholarly contribution is very important, and she communicates a passion for her story that will indeed be felt by readers. It is a story conveying the strangeness of the colonial Latin American past while also awakening a vivid, immediate sense for it.