Posts Tagged ‘Aztec’

Review: Out of the Shadows by Gabriella Hewitt

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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.

Review: Five Dances with Death by Austin Briggs

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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.