Intelligent and strongly written debut historical-fantasy by a descendant of P. T. Barnum's. Excellently researched, this fantasia about New York City, Kentucky, and the Midwest in the 1840s mixes US history and Aztec mythology. In 1835, the Mesoamerican witch Lupita, who lives among the wooden tenements in Lower Manhattan, prepares the kidnapping of four-year-old Jane Prescott for eventual blood sacrifice to Thloc; instead, she causes a fire that burns down the whole ward, kills Jane’s mother, and leaves Jane deeply scarred with burns and half of her face puckered. Lupita sells the child to Riley Steen, who owns a medicine wagon and has come into possession of a mummy awaiting a virgin’s blood and hence reanimation as Thloc. Steen also works at times for P. T. Barnum, who has opened his great American Museum near Wall Street, and he means to park the mummy—in its great green-feathered cape—with Barnum, who will use it as a prime attraction. Steen, who has drawn much of his knowledge from the secret diaries of Aaron Burr (Burr was privy to the mystical background of Tammany Hall, a group known for its supernatural interests before it turned to politics), knows that the solar date for reanimation won’t arrive for seven years. Seven years later, he arrives in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, where the rival mummy of the evil chacmool has been discovered in the Bottomless Pit. Meanwhile, up in Manhattan, typesetter Archie Prescott, who thinks he saw Jane’s burned body, finds himself pursued by a scarred 11-year-old who keeps calling him Dad. It is indeed Jane, who has run off from Steen, who hires thugs to find her again. The climax, deep below the Bottomless Pit, in Lethe and across the River Styx, marvelously rips off Dante while whipping up Aztec gore.
Smartly written, unclichéd.