The sequel to Aztec by Gary Jennings
Readers of these reviews may remember that I was a big fan of Jenning’s previous work, Aztec . I gave it my highest accolade – five stars. And here comes the sequel, which is almost as good.
The action in this one takes place 12 years after all the goings on in Aztec and concerns the adventures of 18 year old Tenamixtli, the son of Mixtli, the hero of the former novel. Indeed, in the first chapter, Tenamixtli witnesses an execution, a burning at the stake being publicly carried out by Spanish troops. Later, he discovers that the executed man was his father. How’s that for getting a story started? As you can imagine, revenge plays a big part in the plot.
It becomes Mixtli’s mission to rid his country of the Spaniards and he sets about the task with great deliberation. He starts by going to Mexico City and learning Spanish.
“Studying the white man’s tongue?” Netzlin said. “Is that why you are here in the city?” I went on to tell him how I intended to learn everything possible about the white man. “So that I can effectively raise a rebellion against them. Drive them out of all the lands of The One World.”
Tenamixtli also recruits a number of people with the same intention. By patiently working with the Spanish conquerers and learning their customs he acquires a great deal of knowledge about his enemies. While serving on a duck hunt, for example, he learns a something about weaponry and discovers how to make gunpowder.
Our hero also visits the northern part of Mexico which has remained unmolested by the Spaniards, at least at the time being written about. There he visits some of the northern tribes to try to recruit warriors.
When he visits Michoacan, which is under Spanish control, he recruits a small army of women warriors. He also meets a Spanish priest, who, somewhat against the will of his own people, is setting out to create a Utopia in that state. He is also trying to teach the locals how to make Spanish guitars!
All these travels and adventures and characters give author Jennings wonderful opportunities to exhibit his enormous research about the customs, religions and ways of life of these people. He also depicts extremely well throughout what it must be like to live in a conquered and subjugated country.
As in the previous book there’s the usual frequent use of Aztec vocabulary and the usual tongue-twisting pronunciations to wrestle with. Indeed, it’s occasionally overdone. For example, in one exchange a character says to another: “Are you tlahuele, friend, or merely xolopitli?” What he’s really asking is: Are you stark raving mad or are you just acting silly?” And as all the other things these characters say are written in plain English, one wonders why that particular question couldn’t be written in plain English, rather than holding up the narrative to explain what was just said. There’s an overabundance of such exchanges, both in Aztec and Spanish. However, on the positive side, the foreign words do lend something to the feeling of reality of the overall narrative. I suspect the author would defend those passages on those grounds.
There’s also an interesting sex scene where our boy loses his virginity. I find I’m getting a bit long in the tooth for sex scenes but it at least gave me the opportunity to learn a bunch of new naughty words, like xacapili, tepuli, tipili, omicetl, and cuilontli. If that turns you on, it’s on page 119.
The last two hundred pages of Aztec Autumn are great fun, with stories of sieges, battles, guerrilla warfare – complete with lots of treachery, heroism and cruelty. In one scene 138 prisoners of war are each given the choice of their method of execution. And although the story naturally conforms with history – i.e. the Aztecs don’t win – it’s still satisfying.
Verdict: Good stuff. One for the shopping cart.
By Gary Jennings
Tor Paperback, 1997