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Aztec Autumn by Gary Jennings Reviewed by Allan Cogan

Readers of these reviews may remember that I was a big fan of Jennings 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. Hows that for getting a story started? As you can imagine, revenge plays a big part in the plot.

It becomes Mixtlis 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 mans 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 theres the usual frequent use of Aztec vocabulary and the usual tongue-twisting pronunciations to wrestle with. Indeed, its occasionally overdone. For example, in one exchange a character says to another: "Are you tlahuele, friend, or merely xolopitli?" What hes 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 couldnt be written in plain English, rather than holding up the narrative to explain what was just said. Theres 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.

Theres also an interesting sex scene where our boy loses his virginity. I find Im 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, its 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 dont win its still satisfying.

Verdict: Good stuff. One for the shopping cart.

Book Review: Aztec Autumn Posted by Joe August 21, 2009 0 Gary Jennings novel Aztec Autumn is a fine example of how to make history more interesting through storytelling, but the history frequently overshadows the story and makes the novel a bitwhats the word?awkward.

The book follows the life of Tenamaxtli, an Aztec nobleman living during the early years of the Spanish colonization of the New World who leads a rebellion against the conquistadors several years after Cortez captured Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). To make things even more interesting, the hero was a real person and his rebellion really did take place during the Mixton War.

To showcase an impressive amount of historical research, Jennings has his hero wandering the countryside in preparation for his rebellion, giving him ample opportunity to discover and explore various settings, cultures, and historical figures of the day. To the history-minded reader, this is fascinating material and it is usually rather easy to tell when something historical (rather than narrative) is being explored.

Which brings us to the problem. Jennings sends his hero on a long, meandering quest around western and northern Mexico (the One World) in search of allies, but this is really a sort of picaresque in which Tenamaxtli serves as an unwitting tour guide to show us:

the rebuilding of Mexico City the cruelty of the Church the kindness of the Church the land of bald women the land of primitive savages the island of pearl-diving women

Spanish explorers the treatment of Africans cross-cultural politics religion All of which is fine and interesting, and while it is far more engaging than any history textbook, it makes for a clunky work of fiction. Tenamaxtlis grand rebellion against the Spanish Empire becomes more of an excuse to travel (and sleep with a lot of women) than a story of war or survival.

The last issue I have with the book is the hero himself. While I believe that Jennings has created the most authentic Aztecatl character Americanly possible, it is hard to like him. Again, Tenamaxtli himself is a historical and cultural exploration of attitudes toward men and women, children and the elderly, sex, food, marriage, religion, racism, etc. The end result is someone a bit mechanical, as well as someone a bit hard to empathize with.

So while Aztec Autumn succeeds mightily in delivering history in a highly engaging manner, it never quite reaches the moment in which you forget youre reading a book and just fall into the story.

Aztec Autumn
Aztec Autumn

Cover of 1997 First Edition Author Country Language Genre(s) Publisher Gary Jennings United States English Historical novel Forge (Tor Books)

Publication date August 1997 Media type Pages ISBN OCLC Number Print (Hardbound) 380 pp 0312862504 36350568

Dewey Decimal

813/.54 21

LC Classification PS3560.E518 A993 1997 Preceded by Followed by Aztec Aztec Blood

Aztec Autumn is a 1997 historical fiction novel by Gary Jennings; it is a sequel to Jennings's 1980 bestseller Aztec.

Plot summary
The narrative takes us to a time one generation after the Conquest, when the magnificent Aztec empire has fallen beneath the brutal heel of the invading Spaniards. But one proud Aztec, Tenamaxtli, refuses to bow to the foreign conquerors - and secretly begins to recruit from among the struggling survivors of the Conquest, an army of insurrection. On his courageous quest he finds high adventure, passionate women, unlikely allies, bright hope, and bitter tragedy. Driven by his dream of restoring the lost glory of the Aztec empire he will come to threaten the seemingly invincible power of mighty Spain. Until now, Tenamaxtli's rebellion has been little remembered, perhaps because it shed no glory on the men who would write the history books, but on its outcome depended the future of all North America.
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