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Title: Out of the Shadows

Author: Gabriella Hewitt

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pub Date: 2011

68 pages

My rating: 3 stars

Genre: paranormal romance

From the back cover:

When the last shadow warrior falls, so will all humanity.

With each demon he vanquishes in service to the Aztec sun god, Tomás fulfills his duty to defend humankind—and surrenders another piece of his humanity to his wolf spirit. All hope seems lost until a mission leads him to the door of the one thing he thought he’d never find…his spirit mate. The only woman who can save him from oblivion.

When Carolina hears the wolf’s howl, it pierces the very core of her lonely heart. Yet she dare not answer. As the last guardian of her land and the secret it contains, she is haunted by the mistake that cost the lives of her family. Never will she repeat that mistake, especially with a warrior who is more beast than man.

Chasing away the demon is easier than breaching the barriers around the heart of the young woman who possesses a strange power over water—and his very soul. But if they are to survive the night, he must convince her they are destined to stand together.

Or not at all.

I actually enjoyed this book more than I expected going into it, because I’m not really a fan of either urban fantasy or paranormal romance (I’m more into historical romance), but being a fanatic of all things Aztec–and really wishing I could find any Aztec romance that doesn’t involve modern white girl traveling to ancient past via a cursed object–I couldn’t not give this a try. And in the end I enjoyed the story, though I also found it frustrating on several levels.

I love love love that the author didn’t shy away from using the actual Nahuatl names of the gods (Chalchiuhtlicue gets shortened to Chicha, though given that it took me a couple tries to actually pronounce the Nahuatl one, I don’t consider this a bad decision). I loved that the Tzitzimime play an important role, and the author uses the proper name for the obsidian bladed sword.

But then at other times, the author leans back on Western-Christian ways of talking about concepts; there is no Hell in Aztec theology, not in the way it’s used here anyway; there are places of fire in Mictlan–the Aztec underworld–and there was no reason that specific allusion couldn’t have been used in place of Hell, especially given the POV character that allusion was coming from.

Tomás himself is my biggest disappointment in all of this. He appears to be a stock American Indian werewolf/shapeshifter character with some Aztec trappings glued on in places, but not glued very well. The fact that his spirit animal (which I kept wanting the author to call a nahual instead of spirit animal because the Aztecs had a name for the concept) was a wolf made little sense within the mythological context; the wolf is not a particularly revered animal in Aztec mythology. One assumes Tomás was a warrior in real life, before becoming a shadow warrior, presumably a jaguar warrior, so why isn’t his spirit animal a jaguar? The were-jaguar is a traditional shapeshifter in Aztec mythology. Also, hummingbirds, not wolves were associated with his chosen god. A were-hummingbird would have been cool…hmmmm. I was also highly puzzled about why Tomás had a Spanish name, given that he lived during the Aztec empire. An explanation of why he took a Spanish name would have sufficed, though given his devotion to Huitzilopochtli, I have trouble believing he’d accept a name thrust upon him by his people’s oppressors.

And finally, it irked me to no end that both Carolina and Tomás referred to their people as Aztec instead of Mexica; Aztec is a modern, Western name, not the name the people of Tenochtitlan gave themselves, so I have real trouble with the idea of either Tomás or Carolina embracing it. Tomás lived during the empire, and Carolina was raised in a family that cared about the old gods and traditions for centuries, since the Spanish Conquest. They would use Mexica, not Aztec, just on principle alone.

There were some minor alpha male things that bugged me about Tomás, but he wasn’t so jerky that I couldn’t sympathize with him and want him to succeed. Carolina is a nice, strong character, and I really liked that she’s the one who saves him–saves them all–in the end. The tenderness between Huitzilopochtli and Chalchiuhtlicue was touching, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a story with them as protagonists. I would have liked to have known more about the trap Billy set to kill Carolina’s parents, but he was a good, sinister character. The fire serpent was way cool, and the battle scene was engrossing. Once I let go of the disappointment over the authenticity, it was an enjoyable story and I plan to read the next book, to see where the author is taking this universe.

While I am kind of hard on the story when it comes to the mythological and historical elements, I do want to applaud the author for taking on the challenge of presenting a story outside the more popular motifs of paranormal romance and telling the stories of POC. Romance in particular tends very heavily to white protagonists, so having not only a Latina heroine but also an indigenous hero is very welcome.

I’m on a quest to read as much Aztec-related fiction as I can find, to get a feel for what other authors have done and learn a bit–to help me in my own writing–and since much of it doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, I’d like to start reviewing these works I read on the blog. I’d like to do one a month if possible, and if you know of any books you’d like to see reviewed, drop me a line–even if its your own book (though I’ll make no promises to review it). To get started, I’m going to reprint some reviews I’ve already posted on Goodreads.

Mostly I will focused on how well authors use the source materials of the mythology and history versus stereotype, but writing style and skill will be addressed as well when necessary; after all, poor writing can kill even the most intriguing of ideas. I’m not making distinctions between traditionally-published books and self-published ones; I’ll read either kind.

So, without further ado, onto the review!

Five Dances with Death

Title: Five Dances With Death

Author: Austin Briggs

Publisher: Helvetica House (sp)

Pub Date: 2011

258 pages

My rating:  5 stars

Genre: historical fantasy

From the back cover:

In the days before the Conquistadors, Xicotencatl (Angry Wasp) is fighting to keep his family and his small Aztec nation alive.

Slavers have kidnapped his daughter. His wife has turned to powerful sorcery. His people have challenged Montezuma’s dominance and now face extinction. And the Spaniards have begun their march inland.

Now Wasp must rely on his military prowess, wit and even dark magic to regain his family and protect the independence of his nation, as he begins a desperate journey that will forever change the fate of the Aztec people.

I wasn’t expecting much going into this, with it being self-published and all, but I was very pleasantly surprised. I don’t have much trust in the quality of self-published stuff, but I’m willing to give anything about Aztec history and mythology a chance, so I downloaded a sample to see if it was something I could like. The writing style and pacing convinced me to buy. And I ended up quite enthralled with it.

Really, there’s isn’t much to not like about this book. The research shines through elegantly and is rarely delivered in clunky ways; it pretty much blends seamlessly in with the story. I wasn’t overly fond of Angry Wasp in the beginning and there are some inconsistencies with his character (like him having no concept of rape as a tool of power…yeah, not buying that. He’s a man of power who’s fought in many wars and seen horrible things. Him not agreeing with its use, yes, but not realizing it could be used that way, no.), but he grew on me after a while. At no point did I feel bored with the story and was disappointed that there was no more for me to read once I got to the end.

I would have preferred the author use the actual Nahuatl names for the cities and the historical characters, such as Moctezuma the Younger and Cuauhtemoc, but being familiar with the names, it’s just a personal preference. I would have also have preferred to get the full 5 parts in one book rather than broken up, since this really isn’t a very long novel, and if each part is a similar length, it’s still nowhere near as long as Aztec. It does break at a good point though, and I will be looking for the rest of the installments.

Finally, the author calls this a “paranormal”, but I think it’s closer to fantasy than paranormal. The magic is concrete with rules governing it, and it’s taken as matter-of-fact and accepted in the culture as portrayed. And Angry Wasp uses it a lot and gets himself in trouble with it. And the god Tezcatlipoca is an actual character in the book. It might be nitpicking, but it’s the difference between say X-Files (paranormal) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (fantasy). I don’t mind that it’s more fantasy than paranormal, since I love fantasy and am more inclined towards it than paranormal, so the fantasy elements didn’t in any way impeded my enjoyment of the book. If anything they enhanced it.

Note: the author was planning four more installments when I first read this, but in the three years since then, there’s been no movement on that front. Readers should be aware that this is not a complete story, so it might not appeal to those who are wary of incomplete series. I’m still hopeful that Briggs will continue the series at some point in time.

bone flower throneThe World Fantasy Awards nominees were announced last night, and I’m so thrilled to see Zelda Devon nominated under the Best Artist category. Zelda did the fabulous cover art for The Bone Flower Throne, and I have loved her work with Kurt Huggins for years; they illustrated my Realms of Fantasy story “The Hearts of Men”, and they created the wonderful art for my website. Both Kurt and Zelda’s work speak to me on a personal level, so I’m really excited to see Zelda’s art getting the recognition it so richly deserves.

You can see more of Zelda’s work at her website. You can also see the process for the cover’s original watercolor here.

Congratulations, Zelda, and good luck!

So, over at Facebook, my friend Theresa Crater tagged me to the seven lines meme, where you go to page seven of your WIP and post seven lines, so here they are, from The Bone Flower Queen:

In fact, one of those “late-night duties” was standing with the other men, looking annoyingly smug. For days, Flame Tongue, the King of our new ally Xico, had been aggressively seeking to join his house with my brother’s through a marriage to his youngest daughter Anacoana. A man’s mother customarily listened to such requests from the father or suitors, but with our mother long dead, that duty fell to me, as Little Reed’s closest female relative.

And the temerity of Flame Tongue’s request had struck me speechless. Anacoana was a fine young woman–bright and a highly-talented weaver–but she’d been one of my former husband’s concubines. Granted, Black Otter hadn’t exercised his “husbandly rights” with her–for she hadn’t yet bled a full year–but to even suggest that the King of Culhuacan should take his enemy’s former concubine as his legitimate wife was insulting. He’d come back last night promising to guarantee Anacoana’s virginity and it took every shred of restraint to not have the guards throw him from my palace.

——–

This other meme is one I’ve seen going around–no one has actually tagged me, but I thought it might be fun to do. Here’s how it works: list five facts about the main character of your current WIP. This one is tricky because to tell you the important things about her would be spoilery, and I don’t want to do that. So instead I’m going to use this to remind folks of things about her from the first book.

1. My protagonist, Quetzalpetlatl, was the only legitimate child of the king of Culhuacan, but seeing how she was female, her father married her to her cousin when she was quite young, to ensure a male heir to his throne.

2. While Quetzalpetlatl grew up to be the chosen high priestess of the god Quetzalcoatl, she’s never felt that she’s quite fit into the job as well as she should.

3. She’s inordinately interested in sex, despite her best efforts not to be, hence the reason she feels inadequate to be the god’s high priestess, who is supposed to be pious and celibate. In fact, her desire has a voice of its own and often takes over situations, particularly once she’s reunited with Black Otter, whom her father married her to when she was a child.

4. Despite being the god’s high priestess and often having to participate in the priesthood’s ritual sacrifices, Quetzalpetlatl is quite squeamish about blood thanks to having seen her father’s body after he was murdered and mutilated by her uncle.

5. Quetzalpetlatl’s dearest wish is to marry Topiltzin, her half-brother whom she loves deeply, but she sacrifices that future to save him from a rampaging, incarnate god trying to kill him.

——–

And so ends the memes. I’m supposed to tag some people to do these too, so I guess I will. They can do it if they want: Aliette de Bodard, J. Kathleen Cheney, Christopher Kastensmidt, Christopher Cevasco, and Douglas Cohen.

deviantART

deviantART mascot Fella

I haven’t done one of these in a while, so here we go! Today I’m featuring some cool art of Aztec gods/goddesses. If you like the art, be sure to click on over to Deviant Art, to check out the other work these fabulous artists have made. One of these was an illustration for one of my short stories, published in Space & Time Magazine. I’ve also included some brief discussion of the mythology behind each god.


Coyolxauhqui Moon Godess by Cangrejo-Volador on deviantART

Coyolxauhqui is the sorceress sister of the war god Huitzilopochtli. The story goes that when her mother became pregnant with Huitzilopochtli, she sent her brothers to kill her, but Huitzilopochtli sprang from his mother’s womb fully-grown and slew his brothers. He then chased his sister into the mountains, and when he finally caught her, he chopped her into pieces and tossed her head into the sky to create the moon.


Tezcatlipoca by doingwell on deviantART

Tezcatlipoca, also known as the Smoking Mirror, is the god of darkness and deceit, of sorcery and war. He’s credited with helping Quetzalcoatl create the earth by tearing the earth monster Cipactli in half, and during that task, he lost his foot, which he replaced with a magic obsidian mirror. It is also said that he and Quetzalcoatl constantly battled each other for supremacy in the Heavens where they would knock each other from the sky, causing the end of the world each time (the Aztecs believed the world had ended four times, and a fifth time was not that far off).


Jade Bones by MartinHanford1974 on deviantART

Mictlantecuhtli was the god of death and the ruler of the Aztec underworld, Mictlan. All those who didn’t die at the sacrifice would have to walk the road into Mictlan once they died, and to buy their eternal rest, they had to cut out their own hearts and give them to Mictlantecuhtli. The god of the dead wasn’t considered a very smart god; in the old tales, the god Quetzalcoatl traveled into the underworld to steal some bones to make the new generation of humans, but Mictlantecuhtli wouldn’t let him have them unless he could play a rock like a flute. Quetzalcoatl convinced some worms to eat holes in the rock, making it into a flute, and foiled Mictlantecuhtli’s plans.


Our Lord the Flayed One by DougDougmann on deviantART

Xipe Totec was the god of agriculture. He was known as the Flayed One because it was said that he had flayed himself to make the crops grown, and so every year the priests would flay a sacrificial victim and wear the skin, to honor this sacrifice.


Huitzilopochtli by AdriansWall on deviantART

Huitzilopochtli is the Aztec god of war, and in addition to his origin story already told above, he is also credited with leading the Mexica (the Aztecs) out of slavery in Aztlan, and told them that they should build their capital where they found an eagle perched on a cactus, eating a snake. Said eagle was eventually discovered on the island where Tenochtitlan was built out on Lake Texcoco. He and the rain god Tlaloc were the highest gods in Tenochtitlan, each having a temple atop the Temple Mayor in the heart of the city.


Tlaloc by DougDougmann on deviantART

Tlaloc the rain god was perhaps the most important and oldest deity in the pantheon. He poured rain from jars in the clouds and oversaw Tlalocan, the paradise where those who drowned went after they died.


Yo tambien Desaparecere by LiamSkitso on deviantART

Quetzalcoatl, also known as the Feathered Serpent or Precious Twin, was the god of civilization; he gave humanity life with his own blood, and he gave them the arts of writing and calendar-keeping. He was the light to Tezcatlipoca’s darkness, which was why they were always at odds. He was the founder of the priesthood, and the highest priests took his name for their title. He was also believed to be the father of the royal bloodline through Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, the legendary priest-king of the Toltecs.