Throwback Thursday this week showcases the first in an excellent historical fiction series, based on fact. There are prequels which are just as good but not essential to read first.
The Rise of the Aztecs follows on from the pre Aztec series and the story picks up in 1409 with two boys from vastly differing backgrounds. Coyotl, a Lowlander, first son of the Emperor and Kuini, a Highlander and son of the War Leader from Huexotzinco. The boys meet by chance on Coyotl’s favourite hill which overlooks his altepetl, Texcoco, the capital of the Acolhua people. A growing friendship develops, both expressing interest in the other’s customs and culture. The story is told from each of their perspectives as they begin meeting in secret.
A few years later, Kuini and Coyotl are still meeting every so often and have discussions about how they would make changes for the better. Feeling torn and guilty about his friendship with the future emperor of Texcoco, the fascination with the altepetl and it’s architecture, especially the pyramids, Kuini resolves not to go to the hill again after his next visit with Coyotl. But Coyotl persuades Kuini to tour Texcoco as his guest. When Coyotl is required at the Palace Kuini has to find his own way out of the city. An encounter with a girl in the market place forces him into a dangerous confrontation, saved only by the visiting Aztec Warlord. Kuini has no idea of the impact this Warlord will have on his life.
Fascinated, Kuini watched the man, knowing that he’d been temporarily forgotten, and this would be the best time for him to slip away. Still, he could not tear his eyes off the broad face. There was something familiar in the wide cheekbones, in the large widely spaced eyes, in the way the man stood there, so straight and dignified. And there was this accent, too. Somewhere he had heard this accented Nahuatl before.
The Warlord turned his head and looked at Kuini, eyes distant and cold, but in their depths the amusement was flickering, too obvious to miss.
Kuini is not yet out of danger as, lost and confused, he is helped by the girl from the market, who is actually wayward princess, Iztac-Ayotl, Coyotl’s half sister. Kuini’s troubles begin in earnest as he is taken prisoner by the Palace guards for kidnapping. As he is hauled before the court the Aztec Warlord again takes a hand in Kuini’s future.
Plenty of action and intrigue reflect the differences and hostility between the defined groups of people who inhabit the area around Lake Texcoco. The interwoven stories from the characters’ observations build the plot and move it forward brilliantly.
Zoe Saadia has a gift which is evident in all her books. It’s the ability to craft delightfully engaging, realistic characters, while bringing to life, and giving clear visual images of long ago places, times and lifestyles, along with descriptive passages of food, clothing and social interaction. The storytelling flows intricately and effortlessly, the characters and storyline well-developed. Women are still at the mercy of men and used for their own purposes, whether it’s wives being deposed or daughters used to further their fathers’ political advances. Learning the history of a little known period in this way is fun and entertaining, as well as educational, and brings authenticity to the story.
About the Book
Born in the Highlands, Kuini thought his life was simple. You hunt and you fight, defending your towns against the raids of the Lowlanders and then raiding their lands in turn. His father was the Warriors’ Leader, and he wanted to be just like him.
Yet, Texcoco, the mighty Capital of the Lowlands, seemed incredibly beautiful, sparkling, its pyramids magnificent. A friendship with the Lowlander boy, the First Son of the Texcoco Emperor, seemed harmless in the beginning. They were just boys, and their clandestine meetings were always fun, providing great entertainment.
However, on the day Kuini agrees to finally enter the magnificent city, it would all change. He expected to get into trouble, but he could not foresee the extent of the trouble and, worst of all, he did not expect to uncover hidden secrets concerning his own family.