Aztec Autumn: A review
Like AZTEC, Gary Jenning’s novel published in 1980, Jennings’ sequel, AZTEC AUTUMN. published in 1997, takes place in 16th century Mexico.
The novel AZTEC, as I remember it, was so vivid, the world of the exotic Aztec culture, mystical, sensual and incredibly blood-thirsty, so fascinating that though I remember few details, I remember my reaction–mesmerized. AZTEC AUTUMN begins with the death of Mixtli–the half-blind narrator of AZTEC, who tells his life-story to the Spanish clergy. Carlos, the Spanish king, wants an account of the Aztecs, who, in the view of Spain, are a sinful pagan culture.
Declared a heretic, Mixtli burns at the stake–a public execution witnessed by an eighteen-year-old Aztec, Tenamaxtli.
Visiting the City of Mexico with his uncle and mother, Tenamaxtli watches the old man’s death, which both fascinates and repulses him. When his uncle reveals that the executed man, Mixtli was Tenamaxtli’s father, Tenamaxtli vows revenge. He searches for a way to strike the Spanish invaders–making them pay for the brutal enslavement and exploitation of the Azteca. Tenamaxtli learns Spanish from the Christian monks and during this segment, Jennings describes the intricate caste system based on race, created by the intermarriage and mingling of European, African and Indian people.
After learning the language of the conquistadors, Tenamaxtli sets out on a journey to unite the tribes and drive out the Spanish.
The journey involves a lot of sex and violence and along the way we do learn some history as well as the different customs of the various tribes. While this is interesting, the point of the narrative often loses focus. In addition, Tenamaxtli often proves to be as heartless as the Spanish–not only with the invaders but with his fellow Azteca. The thing I most missed in this sequel was the element of mysticism and sense of the supernatural. Jennings does attempt to bring this in, for example with the Yaki woman who seethes with hate, causes mischief, and talks about herself in third person, claiming no man can resist her. Tenamaxtli has news for her. She’s not the boss of him and she proves to be an empty plot line.
I found AZTEC AUTUMN mildly interesting but not compelling.
It was a disappointment after the marvelous AZTEC. However, if you love historical novels and exotic cultures, you might enjoy spending some time with Tenamaxtli–an Azteca who fought against the tide of history.